Valley Life Churches plant churches. In fact, we disadvantage our congregations so that new congregations can be established. We send our best members, best volunteers, and sometimes our best friends away to be a part of new churches. The question that pastors and church leaders sometimes ask is, “What about the math? Isn’t it bad math to give away so much before the original church is established in strength?” The answer lies in the difference between addition and multiplication.
On January 8, 2012 we started weekly services in a movie theater in Phoenix, AZ with 72 adults and 16 kids. After that service I wanted so badly to write to our sponsor churches and brag that we had “nearly 100” people at our opening day, but I knew those numbers were skewed. At least 18 people were helpers from a nearby church and some were visiting from my home state of Oklahoma. And, as always, there were a few people just checking out a new church who will never come back.
At best, I figured we would have maybe 60 people by the end of January. We averaged 55 people in February. We averaged 71 people (kids and adults) in all of 2012. The last Sunday of the year we had the same number of people (88) as we did that first Sunday, but I knew that by now they were all truly a part of Valley Life Church.
In summer of 2012 we rented a commercial building and began using it for weekly services. It was a big move for a tiny church that meant we didn’t have to set up and tear down each week in a movie theater. As we worked to get the building ready for public meetings, the excitement began to turn into momentum. Our average attendance for 2013 was 135 and 2014 grew to 170.
By 2016 we had purchased our building, built it out, and started a second Sunday service. Easter and Christmas would see between 300 and 400 people while regular Sundays would average 250 between the two services.
As 2017 approached we made plans to send out some of our best friends as church planting teams to make two new churches. We didn’t really know what would happen. We had done our best to keep track of where everyone would land and how many people we were losing to these new churches, but it was more difficult than we anticipated. We learned that people make those kinds of decisions at different paces and at different levels of commitment.
The four weeks prior to the churches leaving Valley Life Tramonto, our attendance averaged 280 people. The question we kept asking was, “How many of these 280 people will leave us to become Valley Life Arrowhead and Valley Life Camelback?” They both had different starting dates (January 8 and January 22) so we would need to wait until the end of the month for any results. Here are those results:
January 22 attendance:
Valley Life Tramonto: 265
Plant 1, Valley Life Arrowhead: 91
Plant 2, Valley Life Camelback: 115
The Sunday attendance at Tramonto dropped by 15 people, but obviously Tramonto sent more than 15 people to plant the other churches. Instead of being a church of 280 people we are now a church of about 265 people. However, the churches that we planted totaled over 200 people worshipping Jesus. (In addition to these two churches, Tramonto planted Valley Life Surprise a few years ago. When the attendance was totaled between all three of our church plants, there were more people in the churches we have planted than in the church that sent them out.)
The pressure on a pastor and leadership team to manage energy, money, and momentum is real. A pastor who doesn’t recognize this pressure is being foolish and may not take seriously the stewardship of leading his church. So the question a pastor must ask is, “Do we have enough energy, money, and momentum to plant other churches?” In other words, “How does the math work?”
A pastor thinking only in terms of addition and subtraction may be disappointed. Our church is just a bit smaller than it was before January, but consider the multiplying effect. By subtracting a few dozen members from our congregation we were able to multiply ourselves. Sure, we might have been able to break the 300 barrier in January had we not planted those churches, but those churches are already reaching people that we wouldn’t have reached. They have already baptized five new believers that our church didn’t even have on the radar!
Church planting math is multiplication. While not every church should send out their best leaders and strongest members to start other churches right away, every church can take steps to prioritize multiplication. In the follow up post I will outline five different ways church planting benefits the sending church.