Since the day I have been involved in conversations about church planting, I have heard statements like: “Why would you plant another church – we already have enough!” We heard that before planting Village Church, and I’m sure I’ll keep hearing it.
So I want to respond to that question with 3 observations that will hopefully keep us on the same page.
1. The idea of “enough” churches is rather silly in principle and practice.
By that I mean that we will never reach a point in life where we can stop telling people about Jesus because “enough” people are saved. And for Augusta County, as long as there are still hurting families, broken marriages, needy widows, lonely children, wayward Christians, and lost souls, then we will still need more and different kinds of healthy believers, groups, and churches.
2. We actually do not have enough churches already.
There are about 150 churches meeting in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County combined but a growing population of 120,000. Most churches are not growing and some are in critical condition and will close in the next few years if nothing changes. The national attendance average is 89 people, but even if every one of those 150 churches had 200 people, that means that only 25% of the people around us are churched. This is more than a little issue, it is a pandemic of church-less-ness, brokenness, and ultimately lostness among the families in our neighborhoods, that we work and play with, and that we see everyday. And it only gets worse across our country.
3. Not every church is healthy.
A sobering reality that has become more and more clear is that just because a church gathers, sings, and teaches, does not mean that it is preaching the true Gospel or is healthy and making disciples. Some churches are even teaching false doctrines that has produced (at best) malnourished, immature believers or (at worst) false-converts.
Because of that, I believe that we need to plant more healthy churches!
A read some research this week that I think is important to note here. I’m not a Prophet or the son of a Prophet, but it is helpful to consider where things are going so we can have a more realistic idea of where we are. The research is about the trends in society and the American Church that paints a picture of what the year 2050 will look like. That is 30 years from now, which is the same distance as the year 1990 when some of us were not yet born, some of us were growing up, and some of us were raising families. 2050 isn’t far off at all.
Here is what the research predicts: In 2050…
- The US will have no “majority race.” And our mixed culture means religions as well.
- Declining numbers in Churches will be old news. Some denom-inations will have folded, much of the “old” style of church will be gone, and declining numbers will no longer be motivating.
- There will be a new generation of leadership. Institutions, churches, and networks will no longer be led by Boomers or even Gen-X’ers, leaving Millennials (who will be close to retiring), the Gen-Z’ers, and the generation not yet born to be in charge. So whatever resources, systems, structures, and traditions we are building up now will be what they inherit.
The research also noted that ten years ago (in 2010) the population of the US was 328 million and there were 350,000 churches – making the church to population ratio about 1 church available for every 1,000 people. If everything stays similar, by 2050 the population in America will be 400 million. That means just to maintain that 1 church for every 1000 people ratio (which isn’t great already), denominations need to work together to begin a net 2,000 more churches each year in America. That is 38 new churches, every year, for 30 years, in every state – including Virginia. But we are working from behind because as of 2020, the ratio is closer to 1 church for every 6,000 people.
We could point to a lot of reasons for this decline, but when it comes down to it, existing churches are closing and we are not planting new churches at a high enough rate to keep up with population growth. In fact, in 2014 our nation only grew by a net gain of 300 churches – which is a long way from 2,000.
Now before these numbers start running together as ink on a page (or pixels on a screen), we must remember that these numbers all tell a story about people. A story that we need to listen to. So with those being said, let me be clear about what all of this has to do with us here in western Augusta County.
Here is what all this means… for our church (as a whole):
First we need to be thankful for what God has given us here. But also, every year that the American Church does not make new disciples, develop new leaders, send out new pastors, and plant new churches, “we leave that much more burden for the next generation.” So Village be invested in mission-minded networks nationally (which is why we give to organizations like North American Mission Board), state-wide (which is why we are part of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia), and locally (which is we try to work hand-in-hand with several other churches in our “network”).
Instead of competing, we must find ways to collaborate with like-minded, Gospel-centered churches. Instead of focusing inward, we must strive for inward health WHILE focusing outward. We must keep moving, be unified in the Spirit and the Word of God, and find ways to work together to plant new, healthy churches and help out struggling existing churches.
In John 17, Jesus prayed what we call his “High Priestly Prayer” for not only his disciples, but for all of us who would ever be saved and follow him. He prayed:
 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate [dedicate as a sacrifice] myself, that they also may be sanctified [dedicate as holy and set apart] in truth…  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:18-21)
We need to work together so we can do the difficult, time-consuming, and faithful work to plant more churches for at least 4 Reasons:
1. New churches reach new people.
2. New churches reach different people. (as they contextualize themselves)
3. The Bible models it. (In the New Testament)
4. Sending churches brings growth. Being open-handed and generous results in spiritual growth and often numerical growth because of the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping (or “God-math”) that Paul wrote about when he said that:
“ …whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
But all these numbers and the story also mean something for us individually.
Here is what all this means… for us individually:
In Jesus’s prayer in John 17, he “sanctified” us that believe in him, and he “sent” us into the world to be a witness of his love. Everyone of us that are Christians have a calling on our lives to be workers or laborers in the fields. We are the sowers of the Gospel “seed” and the field is our world. The row we are working in is the people we are around. We must not get sidetracked or envious of others’ work that seems easier or more convenient. Listen to how Paul encourages believers in 2 Corinthians:
“ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10–15).
So for all of us individually, let’s keep working as laborers in the field. Let’s keep giving our time, our talents, and our resources to the task at hand. And let’s keep praying for laborers in the field and invite other people on to our team. Listen to the compassionate words of Jesus that he said to his followers in the Book of Matthew:
“ Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35–38).
Let’s pray for more godly men to be added to our Elder team (including my replacement this year), for more qualified men and women on our Staff and Leadership Team, and for more volunteers on our Dream Team. Let’s pray that God will equip and empower more men, women, teenagers, and children to be godly examples and witnesses of the Gospel in the world we live in as fathers and mothers, students and athletes, employees and employers, coaches and teachers, board members and political representatives, and all the rest as laborers in the field.
So let’s keep working, let’s pray for more laborers, and then let’s keep sending laborers in the field. Let’s keep training up men called to be pastors and planters and missionaries. Think about this: this week I counted 15 people that in these last 5 years, we have been able to in different ways to bless, invest in, teach in our Leadership Track, pray over, and send out as short term missionaries, long term missionaries, more equipped leaders, planters, and pastors. I wish I had the time to talk about the difference that we as a Church have been able to have with folks that are serving God and leading others.
So let’s being open-handed with the resources that God gives us and the people he gives us. Let’s keep encouraging our young adults, teenagers, and children to be involved, serving, and attending groups, camps, and mission trips – for we will turn all of this over to them in a few years. So all those numbers and trends mean something for us as a church and for us as individuals. And part of that is…
Here is what all this means… for me (your pastor):
My heart is to be a catalyst for growth in others. I love encouraging others to take their next step on their faith journey, to worship with a little more surrender, to open themselves up a little more to build community, to hone their gifts to better serve, to be a little bolder in their leadership, and to step out a little further in their faith. That is the focus of my life. I strive to be the kind of pastor that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4 that works:
“ to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
In addition, Paul goes on to say that God gave to the church the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,” to also unify the Church body, teach it, help it mature so that it will no longer naively follow wrong doctrines, “human craftiness,” and “deceitful schemes,” so that we will:
“ …grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16).
As I shared last year, I have been been blessed to be in the role of Lead Pastor and Elder here since we started meeting in the Fall of 2014 upstairs of Calvary Baptist Church. And because I want for nothing more than to see Village to not just maintain but to thrive, I know that God is leading me to step aside to make room for God to bring someone into my place that can reach the culture better, that can make a difference in the community in the way that it needs, and that has the leadership gifts that Village needs.
Now I want to do everything I can to set the next pastor up for success. And I’m excited about that, and I’m excited about the progress we have made in that. Everything we do is an act of faith, of course, but we are confident of how God is leading us, and we trying to do what the Early Church did in Acts 15 based on what “[seemed] good to the Holy Spirit and the [leadership].”
So… what is next for my family and me? In many ways, I am at the same place I was 6 years ago when trying to discern what God’s will was for me. I am positive with what God has called me to do and how he has gifted me and I am aware of how God has arranged events and relationships over the last couple years. Because of that, it seems that God is leading us to continue in our calling to be an encouragement and support to pastors around here and to plant another healthy church. I hope to remain here in the valley, and right now God seems to be pointing us toward the South side of the county to further reach the families in the Stuarts Draft, Waynesboro, and Greenville – but wherever it is we are in complete surrender to him. I feel like Abram when God told him to: “Just go… and I’ll tell you what I want you to do when you get there.”
It is Jesus who is important and we need to use whatever gifts God has given us to build his kingdom whatever that takes and wherever it takes us. My life verse is what Jesus said to his followers in his Sermon on the Mount:
“ But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
These thoughts were shared in a Sunday morning sermon on March 8, 2020 at Village Church.