Short-Lived (but Successful) New Churches

Would you plant a new church if you knew it would live only five years or less?  What if – in those five years – lives were changed, communities were enriched, and saints were equipped?

My husband recently preached at his home church as part of the 100th Anniversary of that congregation.  He once served a church that was established in 1639.  It’s, frankly, a miracle that these churches are still active, much less thriving but we value churches with long established ministries.

According to the Assemblies of God, 32% of new church plants close within four years.  Common wisdom is that the majority of new churches will not succeed long term.

Several (most?) of the Emerging Churches that started in the past 5-10 years have chosen to (or were asked to) close:  Portico in Charlotte, The Living Room in Atlanta, Neighbor’s Abbey in Atlanta, Holy Grounds in Alexandria, VA.  These communities had much in common (amazing people, holy practices, strong bonds) but they could not sustain themselves for a variety of reasons.

They were successful church communities.

They won’t ever celebrate their 100th anniversary – or their 20th – but lives were changed, communities were enriched, and saints were equipped.  Can this be enough for us?  Can we be okay with starting short-lived new churches?  How long does a church have to live for us to call it successful?

I’d love to hear what you think and believe.


4 responses to “Short-Lived (but Successful) New Churches

  1. The question behind the question is: what is success? We tend to equate that with numbers related to size. Even the most humble nonprofit has to report numbers of clients served to the board. Presbyterians are not much different. What would change if we shifted our success categories from the two b’s – bottoms in the pews and budget dollars – to things that are almost impossible to measure.

    What if we measured ministry impact like this:
    1. How many parents were accompanied in the transition from house full of teenagers to empty nest?
    2. How many compassionate conversations were had about important things like: the death of grandma or the choice of preschool or the frustrations found at work?
    What if we measured participant commitment like this:
    1. Who showed up for the neighborhood clean up day?
    2. Where did we go to demonstrate our care for the world on World Communion Sunday?
    3. How many times did you bring someone to one of our events?

    There are lots of ways to measure success. Booth building (a la the Transfiguration story) also known as infrastructure (bottoms and budget) is only one of them. It seems the moment were in asks us to turn our focus to other metrics thqt might not be so obvious or have the expected outcomes.

  2. How long do any of us living to be called faithful?

  3. My husband and I were co-organizing pastors of an NCD in the Poconos – New Life Presbyterian NCD. It was an amazing Christian community that was racially and culturally diverse. Long time residents of rural PA mixed with recently transplanted NYC urban families all worshipping God together. Lives were changed, people shared stories of healing and hope, the Word was heard and studied and lived, people discovered and used their gifts to help others, an after school ministry for latch key at risk kids was started…. and it lasted about 4 1/2 years before the grants ran out. Many called it a failure. We did not raise enough money through congregational giving to support one let along two pastors. And yet…. I believe God’s Spirit was moving and people grew and disciples went out to share good news. “These communities had much in common (amazing people, holy practices, strong bonds) but they could not sustain themselves for a variety of reasons.” Yes, that was us. Thank you for posting and acknowledging a deep truth.

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