Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Million-Dollar Party

Pastor's Pastor: Million-Dollar Party

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Recently, Greg Nelson, pastor of the 2,000-member College View Church at Union College, surprised his congregation and shocked most of his colleagues by announcing that he was leaving the comfort zone of Lincoln, Nebraska, to venture planting a new church in Seattle.

What would motivate one of the most successful pastors to enter the apparently risky venture of planting a new church in one of the world's most secular cities? Why are so many pastors and laity becoming increasingly excited about planting new churches?

Perhaps you have wondered if new churches are really worth the effort. Maybe you have seen some new churches started by disgruntled members who swarm to form a new group which remains essentially the same size for many years. Or perhaps you have known dedicated laity who moved to a dark county in order to establish a light house where no previous church presence existed after years of struggle, they seem barely to have impacted the community.

What's different about church planting today? If you were able to observe ten recently-planted congregations in the Mid-America Union (USA), you would be amazed at their vigor and the dynamic spirit that drives their success. In fact, next May the pastors of these ten new churches which will have been meeting for an average of only 24 months will celebrate a million-dollar party to commemorate returning over $1 million dollars in tithe from these new congregations. Several factors explain why these new plants have been so successful when other past projects have languished.

Evangelism does not cost. It pays! Through many years of itinerant evangelism, I demonstrated to conference finance committees and local church boards that, beyond the joy of bringing new individuals into a relationship with Jesus, winning souls is a sound financial investment. Typically, newly-baptized members return the entire expense of an evangelistic crusade within the first 14 months of membership. Any financial gains after that is "new income" to the conference and local congregation. Likewise, new converts are an excellent network strategy for reaching even more potential members. Ron Gladden, director of church planting for the Mid-America and North Pacific Unions in the North American Division, states that the conference treasurers have studied tithe patterns for churches adjacent to the newly-planted churches and report that those already-existing churches have experienced no tithe decrease.

In other words, these new churches are not in existence only because of a shift in members away from other churches. In fact, statistics for these ten churches, demonstrate that over 440 individuals are participating who would not be attending any church if they were not involved in these new congregations. No wonder they will host a party to celebrate the million dollars net tithe increase to the conferences.

Go where the people are. God's strategy is to target people centers. The early Christians planted new churches first in the large cities. They went to urban centers where shifting people groups and repeatedly replenishing populations offered the best potential for attracting new people. Suspicion or prejudice about new projects is much less of a factor in metropolitan areas.

New churches fund more new churches. Just as baptisms inspire others to be baptized, so new churches can actually pay for planting more new churches. Gladden says that in Mid-America Union, each conference places an equivalent of 60 percent of the tithe from their new churches into a specific purpose fund for establishing even more churches. Thus, not only is the initial investment recouped, but future congregations are already funded by those recently planted.

Church planting must be intentional. Each of these projects is an intentional, planned outreach, funded by the union and local conferences and following established, proven methods for planting new churches. Qualified pastoral couples are designated as church planters and undergo rigorous training and establish long-range objectives with specific implementation assignments. An up-front funding investment of salaries, time, budgets, and energy helps guarantee success.

Church planting principles can be taught. Each year the North American Division sponsors a SEEDS convention on the campus of Andrews University. Russell Burrill and Marti Schneider, who coordinate these events, report that attendance grows every year. Plenary sessions and topic-specific workshops offer the best training for those who want to understand church planting. If you dream of launching a newly planted church, your first priority should be to register for the next SEEDS convention, July 18-21.

Enthusiasm can be caught. Like influenza, enthusiasm for planting churches is highly contagious. As 1 had opportunity to hear the reports and share the experiences of church planters at SPROUTS, another convention which Ron Gladden has introduced for those who are actively engaged in specific new church plants, I was reinvigorated with the imperative of reaching the lost and building new converts into God's church.

Why a party? Jesus said "all heaven rejoices when one sinner repents." Imagine the joyous celebration when whole congregations of people are won for the kingdom!

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

March 2001

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