Connections: Steve Pike
Jan. 12, 2014
A Rich Church Planting Heritage
Steve Pike has been director of the Assemblies of God Church Multiplication Network since its formation in 2008. Pike recently sat down with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy to discuss the history, current status, and future of church planting in the Fellowship.
evangel: Some may think church planting is a recent phenomenon, but how has church planting been important throughout the 100-year history of the Assemblies of God?
STEVE PIKE: By the end of the first year of the Movement, there were 117 churches. By 1965, there were 8,500 U.S. AG churches. Now we’re just shy of 13,000 churches. So we’ve only had a net gain of 4,500 churches in nearly the last 50 years.
The early part of the Movement was prolific in starting churches. Historical accounts show that starting new churches was so normal they didn’t make a big deal about it. They were compelled to have a Pentecostal voice in every town possible. It was a spontaneous, unstructured, unplanned sort of expansion.
During the 1930s, a recognition of the need to prepare church planters was one of the reasons for establishing Bible institutes, which became today’s colleges and universities. Also in the 1930s, the Assemblies of God formed a Home Missions Education Department, which had the sole goal of planting churches.
We already were sending missionaries around the world to establish Bible schools to start churches committed to the indigenous principle. The U.S. followed this same motivation. So we can truly say this Fellowship from the very beginning was a church planting Movement.
evangel: Why is a “Global Church Planting Summit” one of the three emphases at the AG centennial celebration in August?
PIKE: God looks past borders. Over the last five years, church planters in the U.S. have become more aware of their international counterparts. The number of international churches is exploding. According to AG World Missions, an Assemblies of God church is planted somewhere in the world every 39 minutes. What would happen if this global church planting network became more visible in the U.S.? What might we learn if we invite effective church planters to interact with U.S. church planters?
Church plants around the world are usually connected to missionary activity or compassion ministry: providing water wells, medical missions, rescuing people out of sex trafficking. The summit is an opportunity for cross-pollination, for relationship building, a more holistic connection between American church leaders and leaders in other parts of the world. It’s the start of a conversation. We’re going to discover ways we haven’t dreamed of to step into the future.
evangel: How is the AG being more intentional in planting churches in urban areas?
PIKE: In 1914, the world population was 1.8 billion compared to more than 7 billion today. The entire globe was more rural than urban. The impetus was on the highways and byways — all the small towns without a Pentecostal witness.
Today, we are deliberately strongly encouraging church planters to go to urban centers where the most people live. But urban center planting is expensive and complicated. You have to understand the cultural situation. It’s like thousands of towns smashed together in one place.
If you cross the street in an urban center, you can enter a different world. That has to be factored into a church planting strategy. But there is a whole new wave of pioneers figuring out how to thrive in urban centers.
evangel: What is the correlation between church planting and church growth?
PIKE: Starting new churches is the way the Kingdom advances. If you look at the Book of Acts, you see how the church grew in different locations. Paul didn’t plant churches in every town because he understood those churches he started would plant other churches.
When a church moves forward rapidly, the principle of multiplication is unleashed. Churches that are generous toward the mission of God — sending out other churches and missionaries — make the Kingdom grow rapidly.
evangel: Do you believe the AG is growing because of church planting?
PIKE: It can only be God behind our strategy. But there is no question our emphasis on church planting is the reason the Assemblies of God is growing. We look at the ratio of church plants to the number of existing churches, so we target planting at least 3 percent of the total each year. So we need to plant around 360 churches a year just to keep from going backwards, accounting for closures and population growth. We hope to get to 4 or 5 percent.
evangel: The number of church plants has increased every year since you began the Church Multiplication Network.
PIKE: We became more intentional in planting churches in 2008, after General Superintendent [George O.] Wood identified church planting as one of the Fellowship’s five core values and after the Executive Presbytery agreed to allocate assets for a more strategic approach. We planted 247 churches in 2008, 266 in 2009, 325 in 2010, 368 in 2011, 391 in 2012, and a projected 425 in 2013. We hope to plant 450 in 2014 and by 2020 be planting 850 churches a year.
An advantage we have always had in church planting is we expect to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. But along with that, we have added intentionality and a strategy to that anointing. Research shows churches that have coaching through the start-up phase and those that match the gifts and skills of the leaders are more missionally effective.
It used to be rare that churches launched with more than 100 people. But in September, 16 churches launched on one Sunday had an average size of 218; the smallest was 120. Churches are starting with more missional momentum. They are starting to make an impact from day one.
evangel: And new churches are targeting the unchurched?
PIKE: We plant churches to reach people. A brand new church reaches a set of people who haven’t been reached before. An increasing number of people in our country have no memory of church at all. Newer churches go after people who need Jesus.
Church planters and their teams are motivated to evangelize because they don’t have any existing attendees. They ask, How do we reach the people in this community who are lost? Some do tent crusades; others use a compassion bridge approach to meet a need in the community.
Our planters are not only evangelizing people — leading people to a place where they accept Jesus as Savior — but also leading them into a discipling community. Church planters who go through our training processes are developing intentional strategies for meaningful discipleship activities where there is a plan in place. We care about more than how many people raise hands. We care about how they actually grow in their faith.