On Failed Church Plants: How Many Are There? and Why?

Fifteen. That’s the number of “failed” church plants we’ve recorded in Louisiana since 2010. 15 out of 124 churches planted. I tracked this number down, because it’s one of the regular remarks I hear from people wanting to question or disparage the role of church planting in the ministry of the church.

  • “Don’t most church plants not make it anyway?”
  • “History tells us that most church plants won’t be around in 10 years.”
  • “I’ve heard 80% of church plants fail.” (Don’t know where this number came from, but it has to have joined the ranks of most quoted bad stats).

So that means we have an 88% “success” rate in church planting in Louisiana since 2010. The North American Mission Board has reported a 68% success rate across North America. (not an 80% failure rate! Please quit saying 80% of church plants fail!)

As a church planter, I hate using these words – “failed” & “success.” Here’s why?

  • You can’t fail in attempting something great for God. If you’re sharing the gospel, you might not get immediate results, but you plant seeds for the future. The word of God never returns void. In the context of church planting, that might mean you run out of time on financial sustainability, but you can look back & see seeds planted, people that were lifted, & deep lessons learned that led to spiritual growth & character development in the life of a planter & team. I don’t think God would call that a failure.
  • Defining success in church planting can be muddy waters. Successful Church Planting is evangelism that leads to the birth of a new congregation. Is it success, then, if a church plant stays open, but reaches very few new people through evangelism? Is it success, if a church plant grows at the expense of other churches in town? Is it success, if a church plant doesn’t impact the community around it through evangelism & people in the immediate area don’t even know it exists? Questions like these lead me to look back at my list of 15 & see a few churches that made the tough decision to close, but may have been more “successful” than some of the 109 that are still open. Self-sustainability is an important factor in church planting, but evangelism & reaching new people, should ultimately define our true success.

Why do Church Plants Fail? 

Looking back at our list of 15, & a factoring in a few others that I’ve been involved with prior to 2010, here are the reasons for their failures:

  1. Character & Calling issues. 4 out of the 15 I mention closed because of moral failure or a deficiency in character in the church planter.
  2. Wrong Context & Culture. Another 4 in our list, can be chalked up to the church’s strategy & focus or the church planter himself not being a good fit for the context & culture.
  3. Ran out of Time. The other 7 just simply ran out of time before achieving critical mass or financial sustainability. Lots of factors could go with this one, including work ethic issues of the church planter (which may go back to character & calling), lack of partner development, lack of evangelism & team building, difficulty of the soil in the area (which may go back to context), etc.

These are all things that we can counter with good solid assessments of planters & partner churches on the front end, good equipping & networking opportunities for planters & their teams, & by building great partnerships to come around each new plant.

In Louisiana, we offer these opportunities as part of our Church Planting Networks. Connect with our Facebook Group to keep up with opportunities. Our Greenhouse Training coming up this Spring is specifically designed to help a church planter in Louisiana design systems & strategy to get to self-sustaining status in 5 years.

Church Planting is a risky thing. Not failing every now & then may be a sign that we’re not pushing into the absolute hardest to reach areas. The great axiom is “Failure is never final, it’s only feedback.” If a church plant doesn’t make it, it usually leaves behind some changed people & we can say it’s cultivated the ground for something in the future.

Check out these resources to help you or your church to get started on your church planting journey:

 

Posted on January 21, 2016, in Church Planting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have worked in an around church planting for 15 years, with successes and “failures.” I hate calling those that don’t stay open failures. I especially hate that many church planters, whose churches don’t endure are deeply wounded and are often left to fend for themselves. In many cases, I blame myself and our oversight leaders for failing planters in not assessing them, their communities, and the strategies well enough.

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