A few days ago, Rich Nathan, the lead pastor of Vineyard Columbus, sent out an email detailing the church’s decision to cast a new vision for planting churches. Here is the message in its entirety.
Vineyard Columbus is part of a larger association of churches known as Vineyard: A Community of Churches which is comprised of approximately 550 churches in the United States. This past year, the leaders of the Vineyard movement put forth an audacious goal: to plant 750 new Vineyard churches in the next decade. This goal means that the Vineyard movement is seeking to more than double the number of Vineyard churches in the U.S. by the year 2022.
To accomplish this goal the movement asked for local church commitments of varying size. So, for example, the movement sought to find 10 churches who would individually commit to planting 10 churches each in the next decade. As Vineyard Columbus’ leadership team prayed, we sensed that God was calling our church to a much greater faith commitment regarding church planting. Vineyard Columbus communicated to our movement that we wished to plant at least 20 new Vineyard churches in the next decade. We are now rolling up our sleeves and focusing much of our energy upon this bold church planting goal.
Historically, Vineyard Columbus has been energetically involved in domestic and international church planting. Domestically, we have planted 24 Vineyard churches over the past 20 years. And internationally, we have planted many churches in such diverse places as Uzbekistan, Amsterdam, Sudan, Russia, and Brazil, as well as Indonesia and Zambia through our partnerships.
Why Plant New Churches?
It may seem odd, at first glance, to spend much time or money planting new churches in the U.S. when it seems to the casual observer that “there is a church on every street corner in America.” But when one scratches below the surface, one discovers some very troubling trends in American church life. Four out of five churches are either plateaued or are in steep decline. Put another way, research reveals that 80-85% of churches in America are on the down-side of the growth cycle, moving from plateau to decline to death.
The decline is particularly steep among Anglo-Roman Catholics and among mainline Protestants. Research demonstrates that just about the only thing that is keeping Roman Catholicism afloat in America right now is the massive influx of Latino Catholics. In terms of actual people in the pews, the Catholic Church has lost roughly one-quarter of its strength over the last 35 years. And attendance at mainline Protestant churches has simply fallen off the table. Whereas about 11% of Americans attended a mainline Protestant church service in 1973, today there are only about 4% (and the majority of these are over 65 years old).
But there is still more depressing news on the American church front. When researchers examined the World War II generation, they found that only about 5% of that generation claimed no religious affiliation when they were young adults. That doubled to more than 10% among the Boomers (those who came of age in the late 1960’s through early 1980’s). But it doubled again to about 20-30% among post-Boomers (those who came of age in the 1990’s and 2000’s). In other words, with each succeeding generation, Americans are becoming less attached to organized religion (primarily Christianity), and less inclined to attend church.
So why do we need to plant new churches in the United States? Simply put, we need to plant new churches in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. Churches that are in decline or are dying are not likely to fulfill the Great Commission, and there is an increasing number of people (primarily young) who are utterly detached from church. There is a desperate need, therefore, to plant innovative, entrepreneurial, highly evangelistic, and Christ-centered churches to reach the increasingly unchurched population of the U.S.
One might ask why not simply renew existing churches which are no longer reaching people? The Vineyard is absolutely committed to church renewal and to assisting churches that wish to move out of decline and do what it takes to grow. But it’s clear that the future lies with church planting. As someone once said, “It is easier to have babies than it is to raise the dead!”
Lyle Schaller, a brilliant mainline church consultant, once said, “Some think we need to make all our existing congregations vital before starting new churches. What’s wrong with that is nobody knows how to do that… and nobody is young enough to live long enough to do it.”
How Will We Plant 20 Churches?
Here is the strategy that Vineyard Columbus is employing to plant at least 20 new churches in the next decade, as well as to start other campuses of Vineyard Columbus, and to plant several new churches overseas.
Last fall, we launched the Church Planting Residency Program (vineyardcolumbus.org keyword: church plant) here at Vineyard Columbus with 10 church planters. Each year, our goal is to identify 7-10 people to train for church planting through intensive leadership development, spiritual formation, theological training, and ministry skill development. After spending a year with us in this Program, they will be sent all over the world to plant thriving Vineyard churches. Some of these church plants will be targeting specific international communities in Central Ohio.
In addition to the Church Planting Residency Program, we also have the Vineyard Leadership Institute (vli.org) which is a 2-year, part-time, academic program which offers courses in biblical studies and theology, and covers topics like interpreting scripture, church planting, leadership, preaching and teaching, power ministry, counseling, spirituality and many others. VLI plays a vital role in helping train up new church planters and team members.
At the local level, Vineyard Columbus is committed to starting new campuses so that we can continue to make an impact for Jesus in Central Ohio. In addition to the main campus here at Cooper Road, we also have campuses on Lane Avenue and Sawmill Road. We also have two smaller campus initiatives in Circleville and Mansfield. Our campuses have played an important role in helping us reach new people for Jesus as well as giving opportunities for new people to lead and serve. This fall, we will be launching our third campus on the east side of the city. It is our hope to launch other new campuses in the future as we identify other strategic locations.
The mission of Vineyard Columbus is to develop a community of passionate, mature, reproducing, Christ-centered disciples; to plant passionate, mature, reproducing, Christ-centered churches; and to transform the world by love and good deeds for the glory of God. Whether it’s church planting domestically and internationally, or starting new campuses, in order to do what God has called us to do, we are going to need dozens of new leaders and hundreds of new volunteers to step up to head up these new initiatives. Let me encourage you to pray and seek God about how you might personally get involved!