Conversation: Steve Pike
As church attendance nationwide across denominational lines continues to decline, Steve Pike, director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions' Church Planting Department, says new churches are needed to curb the trend. Pike recently spoke with Jennifer McClure, assistant editor, and explained why church planting is part of the solution and how existing churches can be involved.
tpe: Aren't there enough churches in the United States? Why should we plant more?
PIKE: George Barna estimates there are 100 million people in the United States who would not say they're Christians, or by our definition would not be considered Christians. On any given week, more than 80 percent of Americans are not connecting with the local church — Catholic, evangelical, mainline Christian denominations and Orthodox (TheAmericanChurch.org).
Now, consider this. Evidence of numerous studies — including a study conducted among Southern Baptist churches, a report by Aubrey Malphurs, and research by Dr. Ed Stetzer of Assemblies of God churches — shows new churches have a higher rate of effectiveness at reaching the lost than do existing churches.
One of the reasons why that's true is it's easier for someone to join something that's starting than something that's already in progress because when something is starting everybody's new. Part of it is a spiritual reason. When a new church is started, they are focused on reaching lost people.
tpe: If new churches are more effective, then what role can existing churches play?
PIKE: Every healthy church should consider planting a church immediately; and every church should aspire to it, whether they're healthy or not. I don't think that's supposed to be unusual.
The problem is we've accepted as normal what is actually abnormal. It's abnormal for the church to be a static presence that's identified with a building. It's normal for the church to be an organic force of God that's transforming the community.
tpe: How does planting a church impact the parent church?
PIKE: According to research by Dr. Ed Stetzer, churches that plant churches reach more unchurched people themselves, not counting those reached through the churches they plant. Other research reveals that over time churches that plant churches tend to experience a higher level of health than those that are not reproductive.
Churches focused on planting other churches also tend to avoid disagreements about peripheral issues (like music style or the color of the carpet). They stay focused on God's mission and tend to be happier and healthier.
tpe: What does it mean to be a Pentecostal church plant?
PIKE: I hope it's more than just a label. Pentecostal implies recognition of the provision of the Holy Spirit, and a dependence on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, with the understanding that the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to empower us to be witnesses. The core function of the church is reaching the lost. That's what the Holy Spirit empowers us to do. We must not squander that empowerment.
tpe: What's the best way to plant a church?
PIKE: There are many different ways you can do it. We don't advocate any one form of church planting as the best.
tpe: What principles are essential to any church plant?
PIKE: First, in order for a church plant to be successful you've got to identify the right leader. Second, the church needs to be started with the lost, or the harvest, in mind. Right along with that, they need to be culturally informed. Different approaches, different styles of ministry, are effective in different settings. Also, a church is going to have the greatest chance of being successful long-term when it has a plan of discipleship.
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