Why Are Wesleyans Starting New Churches?
As Christians with a Wesleyan heritage, we are not starting new faith communities and churches to compete with the Baptist, Assembly of God, or Latter Day Saints. Nor are we starting new churches to ensure the survival of a denomination. Rather, Wesleyans are starting new faith communities and new churches across the land because it is the Wesleyan thing to do.
New church planting is faithful to our DNA as Wesleyans. John Wesley and his early companions (Francis Asbury, Philip William Otterbein, Martin Boehm, and Thomas Coke) all had a passion to disciple those who were already active in church. But their passion didn’t stop at the church doors. They also had a passion to disciple those outside of the church walls; for the downtrodden; and, for the lost who needed a Savior. That passion drove them to give their time and energy to preach outside in the city parks; to preach by the exit doors when the factory shift changed; to preach at the coal mine entrance at 5am as miners walked to work; and to send circuit riders out into the wilderness of the American Colonies looking for settlements that did not yet have a church.
It is faithful to our DNA as Wesleyans to start new churches and new faith communities with a passion for those in our pews, and a passion for those who are not yet in any pew. For me, a second compelling reason comes from Jesus’ invitation found in Luke 15. In Luke 15, a crowd was wondering why Jesus was spending so much time with sinners and outcasts. Jesus turned to his objectors and told them a parable. He said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Do you not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the one lost sheep until you find it? And when you find it, you joyfully put it on your shoulders and carry it home.
You call your friends and neighbors together and say, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.”
That parable compelled me to start a the new church in Conway, Arkansas. Today, Luke 15 compels me to be part of a movement to start 1,000 new Wesleyan churches across American by 2016. I believe that there will be rejoicing in heaven as these new churches search and find the ‘lost sheep.’
A third compelling reason for me comes from Jesus’ command found in Matthew 28. In Jesus’ parting words before He returned to heaven, Jesus said, “…Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Those words are called “The Great Commission.” I believe we should start new churches and new faith communities because we have a great commitment to the great commission. Our local churches are invited not only to make disciples at home in ‘Jerusalem’ but also to start new churches in ‘Judea and Samaria’ (Acts 1:8). We are also faithful when we follow the pattern of the Antioch church (Acts 13), sending our pastors to start new churches in new mission fields across town and across the state.
A fourth compelling reason for me is the fruit we are already witnessing in the early stages of this recently revived Wesleyan church planting movement. There is an interesting fact about new churches. We may wish it were not this way, but it seems to be true. Steve Compton for the United Methodist Church and Kirk Hadaway for the Southern Baptist Church have studied the effect of establishing new churches in both denominations. They discovered that in the first thirty years of existence, a new church grows faster and witnesses more professions of faith than established congregations. Compton and Hadaway propose to us, that if we want to accept Jesus’ invitation to find the lost sheep, to be about the business of welcoming the prodigal sons & daughters back home, or to obey Jesus’ command to make new disciples – one of the best ways to do that is to start new churches.
Years ago, Lyle Schaller proposed a dozen reasons why a central component of any evangelistic strategy should be to plant new churches (44 Questions For Church Planters, pp. 13 – 36).
If we are called by this variety of sources to have a missionary heart for the unchurched, how do we best reach the unchurched? We reach them every way we can, and every time we can.
Lyle Schaller proposes that a denomination needs to start 1% new churches (one new church for every 100 existing churches) each year to offset those churches that disband or “move into the terminally ill stage of their institutional life.” Schaller also proposes a goal was for substantial growth, would be to start between 2% to 3% new churches each year (two to three new churches for every 100 existing churches).
I am thankful that revitalization of our existing churches is a priority in our Wesleyan conferences. I am also thankful that so many Wesleyan conferences and local churches are catching the vision to support the planting of NEW faith communities to spread spread Scriptural Holiness across the land.