African-American Church Planting
At our recent CPLF meeting, we released the findings of a detailed study of African-American church planting. This was the first study of its kind and the private sponsors were gracious enough to share it publicly. Thanks to Mission to North America (PCA), Assemblies of God (AG), Path 1 (United Methodist Church), International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC), Southern Baptists of Texas, the Foursquare Church, and North American Mission Board (SBC) for their commitment to research into African-American church planting.
LifeWay Research has conducted large national studies on church planting in the past. But it would be wrong to assume that national factors are the same for every particular culture or contexts of church planters and plants. Furthermore, it's a bad idea to even generalize from research and say, "All African-American church plants are like this." This study had a particular focus culturally and a set of participants denominationally, but we were also able to compare to a larger sample including all ethnic and racial groups.
This research has begun productive conversations among church planting leaders across the U.S. about how best to train and equip new church plants led by African-American planters and in African-American contexts. As denominations become more and more diverse, it's important that we note the differences in the contexts in which we are planting. As it is with many ministry methods, one size does not fit all.
We were very pleased to do this research under the oversite of people like Carl Ellis and in partnership with key African American leaders who shaped the survey and sifted the results. I learned much from all the participants and am thankful for their wisdom and leadership.
LifeWay Research surveyed 290 African-American church planters who started churches prior to 2012. Almost half (43 percent) were started since 2007. Church planters from more than 20 denominations participated plus several from non-denominational churches. Ninety-four percent of the church plants studied are still in existence today. Among the churches that closed, lack of financial support was the most common contributing factor.
The study found a steady increase in attendance to be the overall trend among African-American church starts. Average worship attendance for the first year was 37, and by year four, the average attendance doubled.
The survey identified three characteristics that had the most positive impact on worship attendance. Those characteristics were present in more than two-thirds of the churches: delegation of leadership roles to volunteers, leadership training for new church members, and a plan of personal spiritual formation for the church planter.
The study found worship style impacts attendance. The most common worship style used by African-American church plants was blended, cited by 45 percent, followed by contemporary gospel, contemporary and urban contemporary, ranging from 12-14 percent. However, church plants with a more distinctive style, urban contemporary for instance, had higher attendance than churches using a blended style.
Six characteristics were shown to impact both worship attendance and new commitments to Jesus Christ:
• Church planter compensated for their work (52 percent of the new churches)
• Week-long Boot Camp or Basic Training provided for the church planter (42 percent)
• Church planter worked 60 hours a week or more on the church plant during the first two years of the church plant (39 percent)
• Sponsor or mother church permitted the church plant to meet in the sponsoring church building (32 percent)
• Church building of their own during the first five years (20 percent)
• Contemporary worship style (13 percent)
Other notable findings from the study:
- The average number of new commitments to Jesus Christ for the first year of a church plant was 16. The average number of new commitments peaked in year three at 20 and then remained at 12 or higher for the rest of the years measured.
- On average, African-American church plants started in communities that were largely made up of the following ethnic groups: African-American (42 percent), White (35 percent), Hispanic (13 percent), African or Caribbean decent (4 percent), Asian (3 percent) and other (3 percent).
- About two-thirds (68 percent) of churches focused on reaching African-Americans.
- 48 percent of new churches were sponsored by another church. Among the sponsoring churches, 79 percent provided active prayer support while 53 percent provided mentoring to the church planter or church planting team.
- The primary funding sources for African-American church plants were funds provided by core members (84 percent), funding from the affiliated denomination (62 percent), funding from the church planter or church planting team (49 percent) and the personal financial support network of the church planter (44 percent).
- The average amount received by church starts from outside sources was $21,818 in the first year. Average dollars received from members or attendees in the first year was $33,301. During the first seven years, outside funding declined 44 percent while dollars from members or attendees grew 211 percent.
- 29 percent were self-sufficient by their first year. Half achieved self-sufficiency by the fourth year, and 60 percent by year 10.
- Sixty percent said they received church planter mentoring, coaching or supervision as well as training for themselves or their team.
- 55 percent of planters received church planting training prior to starting a church. But only 16 percent received specific training on the dynamics of the African-American context prior to planting.
- Two-thirds (69 percent) of the church planters were bivocational the first two years of the plant's existence. Only 38 percent of the planters stated the financial compensation was adequate to meet their basic needs and that of their family.
- The majority of church planters arrived on the field as a single staff member. Only six percent of the church plants had a paid, staffed team of more than one person to start the church.
I've shared Dr. Carl Ellis' introduction to the study here on the blog. And I echo his sentiments that "it is hoped that the findings of this study will better equip denominations and church planters in their efforts to address today's African American community."
We'll be looking at multiethnic church plants at the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship in November, thanks to a partnership with the Evangelical Free Church. You can find more information about the CPLF here.