“There is an urgent need to plant churches if the North American Division (Seventh-day Adventist denomination) churches are to maintain their current presence in North American communities,” says Dr. Joseph Kidder in a recent article entitled “Reflections on the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America: Trends and challenges (part 1 of 2).”
It is alarming that there is an “urgent” need to plant churches just to “maintain” our presence in our cities. But does God call us simply to maintain our presence? As I read scripture and particularly the great commission the goal from our Lord is always to “GO and make disciples”, to increase presence. Dr. Kidder states, “Increasing the Adventist presence and visibility in local communities would require even more aggressive church planting efforts.” To me what this is saying is that we must become multiplying churches! Viral churches! Churches that not only plant once, but that plant over and over again, or churches that plant churches, that plant other churches, that plant other churches…
Why does Dr. Kidder make these assertions and why do I agree with them? In 1913 when our church was growing at one of its greatest rates we had one church for every 52,000 persons, but in 2005 (and I am sure the gap has grown even more in the 6 years since) there was one church for every 65,000 persons in North America. This is one of the factors for the church going from a 3.61% growth rate from 1913-1975 to a 0.06% growth rate from 1976-2005. If we were to have the same ratio of churches to population as we did in 1913 we would need more than 1,000 new churches.
What does this mean for my community?
The current population of Visalia, California is just a little north of 125,000 persons with 2000 professed Adventists, 1.6% of population, but in actuality only 800 active (attending church at least once a month) members, 0.6% of population. If we are going to reach all these people we are going to need more churches! I used to think we would just need bigger churches, but after reading Dr. Kidder’s article and doing a fair amount of other research, “New Churches” are better able to reach folk than necessarily “bigger churches.” Which is why I think it is time to begin looking at a model of church multiplication rather than just church growth.
Three zip codes make up Visalia and in those three zip codes which include some outlying rural areas as well. The zip’s are 46,000, 38,000, & 56,000 (136,000 total) in population. Why couldn’t there be an English church of at least 500 active members in each one of those zip codes? Along with a Spanish church of at least 500 active members in each one of those zip codes? Do you know that would still only be 3000 active Adventists only 2.2% of those zip codes combined? That means there would still be 133,000 persons still to reach in just this one part of the valley. So why not then dream bigger? Why not six churches of 1000 or maybe 12 churches of 500?
Here is the great thing though, none of these churches would be competing for members! The goal would be multiplying churches not just growing “my” church! The goal would be increasing the presence of Jesus and sharing the Three Angels’ Message not increasing our membership rosters. Right now what to often happens is a competition over the Adventists that already exist, even church plants are more often church splits that just siphon off members from other already existing Adventist communities. And in reality even our growing churches mine included, is more transfer growth than conversion or Kingdom growth. We need to stop competing and we need to start planting churches TOGETHER to grow the Kingdom of God and increase His presence and His message in the hearts of all people.