New church plants typically start out small, some as a Bible study in a home or in the basement of an office building. But pastors launching a new church planting initiative this year are telling fellow leaders, "Launch large!"
Hundreds of pastors and church workers are scheduled to attend NEXT Conference on Tuesday to play a role in a network's newest initiative - starting 1,000 new churches in the next five years. The two-day conference in Ocala, Fla., will teach the popular Purpose Driven church model - coined by megapastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church - for successful church starts across the nation.
The Purpose Driven Planting network, separate from Saddleback Church, steers away from the word church "plant" in its latest effort. Instead, it encourages a church "launch."
"'Planting' denotes slow growth ... like a tree," the Rev. Jim Cowart, one of the conference speakers, told The Christian Post. "We started using the analogy of 'launching' because the Purpose Driven model tries to teach pastors to launch large and healthy."
Rather than encourage a small start, NEXT conference is aimed to help pastors skip over all the growth barriers, Cowart explained.
One of the most common mistakes church planters make is starting with "a core group rather than a launch group," said Cowart. "It goes back to the old model of planting churches - starting small." Although Cowart is not opposed to small beginnings, he said the Purpose Driven model teaches the opposite - launch large.
"A crowd can be turned into a church."
Plus, times have changed.
Six years ago, Cowart began a Purpose Driven church - Harvest Church - with around 120 people and is now up to 900 attendants in Warner Robins, Ga. The Purpose Driven model was the most successful one Cowart and his team had found and although spearheaded by a Southern Baptist congregation, Cowart says the model works for any denomination. Harvest Church is a United Methodist congregation.
Going back to American society some 30 years ago, pastors who planted churches might have had it easier. Whatever model was used, if they built a church, people would come, Cowart indicated. "That's when most of America went to church."
"That's really not the case now."
There are new and different challenges today. Although the majority of Americans still say they believe in the existence of God, church attendance, on average, is at 33 percent, a Gallup poll last year revealed.
Cowart's advice for starting new churches: choose a model and stick with it. Churches that are "too eclectic" in their approach, taking bits and pieces from various church models, largely do not result in successful growth. The Purpose Driven paradigm is not the only model available, Cowart notes. There are also other popular models such as that of the Willow Creek Association with megapastor Bill Hybels in South Barrington, Ill. But if a church makes its start without following a certain paradigm, it can get "beat up," as Cowart described.
NEXT Conference begins Feb. 27 at Church at The Springs. The conference is free of cost to help draw church starters who typically do not have much financial backing. Following this week's conference is another two-day event slated for June 19 in Lynchburg, Va.