NOTE: This is a modified, expanded post taken from an earlier piece that focused on my city. When the response to the first piece was so positive, I realized I had made a mistake in not broadening the article for a wider audience. So, I’ve tried to do that here.
I heard it again. This time from a pastor who recently commented (not to me) that we don’t need any more church plants in Oklahoma City because we have lots of great churches here. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim, and it won’t be the last. It’s a good reminder to me that we have to continually cast the vision for why new churches are needed in the Bible Belt.
The pastor’s statement reveals both a general lack of understanding of the church planting movement and a specific lack of awareness of the changes taking place in many cities. For years, people have referred to a certain grouping of American states, where church influence remained strong, as the Bible Belt. Some have wrongly assumed this region would not shift, but the data says that change is on the horizon. If Christ’s church is to rise and be all she’s designed to be for the next generation, we need as many churches, pastors and people engaged in the planting of new churches as possible.
I’m convinced that Manhattan pastor, Tim Keller, will go down as one of the most influential church leaders in our generation. His take on church planting? Keller writes:
“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.”
[If you read just one article on church planting, read Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller for more on his reasoning.]
As I continue to explain to others the heart of church planting, here are some ideas I’ve found to be helpful in those conversations.
EVERY CHURCH WAS ONCE A CHURCH PLANT
I think this is an important acknowledgement to demystify the concept of church planting. What about the church where you grew up? Yes, it was once a church plant. The church you now attend? Yep, church plant. The church led by the pastor who made the comment above was also a church plant, and I imagine that someone at the time didn’t think it was needed. Yet the years have shown how much that church was needed, and it has been a tremendous blessing to our city. We need more biblical, healthy, gospel-centered, people-loving churches, not less. Biblical mandate and practical experience both point to church planting as the primary way that Christ’s kingdom advances.
WE NEED TO ADD A MEGACHURCH PER MONTH
Bible Belt cities mirror the rapid growth trends of major cities around the globe. A recent Guardian newspaper article in Great Britain states, “According to the United Nations, almost 180,000 people move into cities across the world every day. That is nearly 5.5 million people a month, or a new San Francisco Bay Area being created every 30 days.”  It seems ludicrous to think that our current slate of churches are poised and ready to minister to the 180,000 people per day moving into our cities.
While the global stats are overhwhelming, the cities of America’s Bible Belt are experiencing similar shifts that are the localized versions of these global trends. These changes impact rural and mid-sized towns as well as large urban centers, and the church will have to adjust to meet the needs of each of these communities. Let me offer a couple of examples of shifts in Bible Belt cities.
A recent Oklahoman article (OKC’s rise in population ranking reflects job growth) claims the OKC metro area is growing by 1729 people per month. Yes…per month. With rapid urbanization in our world and a healthy economic outlook, projections say OKC will continue to grow at a rapid clip. How will the church keep up with population growth? Numerically, we need to add nearly a new megachurch per month just to keep up with all the new people moving into the area. Add into the equation the vast numbers of people already here who do not know Jesus, and you start to get a sense of the burden we should feel for planting new churches.
I first heard this phrase, “add a megachurch a month,” from Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, a church of 5,000+ which just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary (obviously, a well established church). His region, the Houston area, is growing by about 2500 per month, so Bruce and Clear Creek Community Church are seeking to be a part of a church planting movement that continually sees new churches launched in order to meet the needs of gospel proclamation in this huge metroplex. We need more pastors of established churches with eyes to see the needs of their city and a gospel-compelled passion to launch new churches.
NEW CHURCHES ARE THE BEST WAY TO REACH UNCHURCHED PEOPLE
I said this in an earlier post, but it is worth repeating. Studies reveal that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another. 
Because I am planting in Oklahoma City, I have more info on my city than others, but I believe other Bible Belt cities would yield similar results (if you have valid stats on your city, I’d love it if you would post them in the comments below). Statistics vary, but my best estimate based on reports I’ve seen is that there are more than 800,000 people already in the OKC metro area who do not regularly attend church. I’m not happy about that. If we want to reach these people for Jesus, the evidence says church planting is the best way to do so.
I’m not against existing churches. I’ve been doing ministry for nearly twenty years, almost all of that time has been invested in existing churches that ranged from 50 people to 4500 people. I love those churches. In addition to that, let me state the obvious: our new church will become an existing church in a just few years. We will still have the same mission that we have now, but our ministry will work itself out in different ways during those years. There will be things we do better then. And there will be things we likely won’t do as well. Each church needs to enjoy and maximize the season that they are in. Our city needs both of us.
THE “BIBLE BELT” IS LOOSENING
For the first time in 200 years, Bible Belt states have seen a decline in the percentage of people attending church. This doesn’t mean we need to panic, but it does argue against the idea that we only need new churches in other parts of our country and/or world.
A friend of mine pastors a church in an area where the church has been greatly marginalized. In a recent conversation, he mentioned to me that only 11% of the people in his area go to church. He and I both agree that new churches are needed in his city. But it does not follow that towns where 22% of the people attend church do not need new churches. That’s just not a reasonable assumption. Both places need new churches. A hungry person who only had one meal in ten needs nourishment, but so does a hungry person who eats two meals out of ten. Both need to be fed.
We need a multitude of churches planting churches. One of Redemption Church’s foundational commitments is to be a multiplying church. We are committed to multiplying disciples of Jesus, multiplying discipleship groups, and multiplying churches. Our prayer is that we always remain more focused on growing Jesus’ Kingdom than growing a church.
One of my prayers for my city (and the other cities around the world) is that the Holy Spirit would create a movement of Bible preaching, Jesus exalting, self-sacrificing churches who commit to training, resourcing, and empowering new leaders to plant churches all around our city, state, region and world. We don’t just want to plant a church, we want to join a movement of churches who continually plant churches for the glory of God and for the good of our world.
What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the data or information above? Is God stirring your heart to join, financially support, or pray for a church plant? Love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
 This quote was taken from an excellent book, Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church. If you want more statistics and more clarity on this topic, I’d encourage you to pick it up.
 Taken from Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller