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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Church Multiplication Network

Fellowship meeting urgent church planting needs

By John W. Kennedy
Jan. 9, 2011

In the past two decades, most denominations have either lost members or experienced stagnant attendance, even though the U.S. population has increased by 60 million. The Assemblies of God is among the few religious movements in the nation to gain adherents in the past 20 years.

Yet that growth has been gradual. Soon after George O. Wood became general superintendent in 2007, he realized that for the Fellowship to keep expanding, more of an emphasis needed to be placed on church planting. Subsequently, one of the five core values the AG has adopted is to “vigorously plant new churches.”

In 2008, the AG created the Church Multiplication Network (CMN) to put muscle behind the higher priority to plant congregations. The organizational infrastructure that supports church planting efforts has been under the oversight of the general superintendent since then.

“We exist to equip, fund and network people who are planting churches or helping others to plant churches,” says CMN Director Steve Pike. While retaining elements from before such as BootCamp training, CMN now offers a host of other supportive measures.

The AG is on pace to open more churches in 2010 than any year since 2003. As of Nov. 1, the AG had planted 279 churches in 2010. In the past decade, the AG has averaged 269 annual church plants.

The recent surge has been aided by a matching fund strategy, in which the Fellowship matches the $30,000 raised by a church planter as a way to assist in start-up costs. During the past three years, 132 churches have participated in the program. As the congregation starts taking in offerings, the church pays funds back into AGTrust’s Transform America Campaign account.

The Transform America Campaign, an initiative kicked off in August, is raising $15 million to invest in new churches. Once this amount is in the system, Pike says CMN will have the ability to start 500 churches that perpetually “pay it forward.” Churches that have benefited from matching funds have replenished the Transform America fund with $620,270 in the past three years, helping to launch an additional 20 congregations.

Pike is encouraged by the statistical payback that matching funds congregations show. CMN reports that pastors and staff members in those 129 churches have made 307,565 face-to-face contacts with unchurched people. Of those, 7,309 individuals have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ. 

After meeting for one year, matching fund churches have a higher average Sunday morning attendance (78) than other church plants (51). They also show higher levels of confessions of faith, baptisms and missions giving.

Newfound enthusiasm
In the first four decades of the AG’s existence, church planting boomed because there was a great need for congregations that stressed the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But by the 1950s, just about every county had a Pentecostal presence. Enthusiasm for church planting waned. 

The AG currently has 12,377 congregations. Since 1965, a total of 12,054 AG churches have opened — but 8,087 have closed. Pike says in order to keep up with overall population growth, the AG should be opening roughly a church a day.

Yet, Pike says, enthusiasm for church planting has returned. Reflecting diversity of the Fellowship, churches are being planted in urban, suburban and rural areas. Among others, they are Arabic, African and Spanish-speaking. They are meeting in rented halls, schools and theaters.

“The Holy Spirit is calling us back to the core mission of reaching lost people,” Pike says. “A lot more decisions are being made to go to the harder places. Church planters are going into cities where it’s economically depressed but expensive to operate. Some of these areas are dangerous.”

To boost the likelihood that new church plants will succeed, CMN has fortified the support system accessible to church planters. For instance, Pike and others on his team visit AG schools looking for students willing to commit to a year of assisting. In the past two years, 1,200 students have made such a pledge.

Josh Watts, a senior at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., plans to assist Anthony Johnson, another CBC senior, in starting a church in Seattle in July. Johnson will be lead pastor, while Watts will serve as creative arts pastor in charge of music, drama and media.

Watts says he didn’t really consider being a church planting helper until he attended a CMN Start event that dovetailed his conversations with Johnson.

“I knew that I had a call to ministry,” says Watt, a native of Alabama. “I knew I wanted to raise a church from the ground up. When I went to the Start event I had this awakening.”

“We never encourage a church planter to go it alone,” Pike says. “As church planters go out, we strongly encourage them to take a team with them. The Start events are helping us find team members.”

In addition, CMN is launching a residency program to allow lead planters to spend a year working in an established church to experience some of the everyday workings of a pastor’s life.

CMN also is benefiting from the emerging network of coaches in the Fellowship.

AG Coaching, a new initiative overseen by AG General Secretary James Bradford, helps to provide church planters with certified coaches to assist them in clarifying their purpose and action plan.

Planters and developers
Before 2008, U.S. Missions had primary fiscal responsibility for supporting church planting. But rather than missionaries, most new churches are either self-supporting or started by individuals sent by individual congregations. So rather than U.S. Missions carrying the burden alone, the entire Fellowship now shares in the costs.

In the organizational realignment, management of church planters shifted to the office of the general superintendent. However, church planting missionaries continue to be deployed out of U.S. Missions via Church Planters and Developers, a department headed by Darlene Robison.

Robison explains that church planters who work through U.S. Missions are traditional missionaries in that they raise their own support via family, friends, churches and businesses. Rather than an influx of funds up front, Robison says this method provides for a steady income stream for a lengthy period.

She says such a strategy works best for those whose heart is to repeatedly offer church planting assistance in various locations. Likewise, it benefits those starting a congregation in a challenging environment where it might take years to bear fruit.

Church Planters and Developers has a network of unassigned people with specialized skills, such as children’s missionaries, who can come alongside to strengthen those starting out.

“We have a great working partnership with CMN,” Robison says. “Our missionaries take advantage of CMN resources such as BootCamps.”

The mission for both CMN and U.S. Missions remains the same.

“As we start these new churches, we increase the awareness and knowledge of God,” Pike says. “We believe as this happens, communities will be transformed in a positive way.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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