News and Views

New academy for church planters begins

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More and more churches close their doors in the United States. Large sanctuaries sometimes only have a dozen bodies in the pews on a given Sunday. The church faces a new era: a country of people less inclined to attend their church than in past decades.

The Planter’s Discernment Academy hopes to combat those trends.

The Rev. Bill Brown, director for innovative evangelism for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, wants to develop church planters to address the decline in churches in what he calls a post-Christendom world. Through a discernment academy, Brown hopes to help clergy and lay members who feel a “nudge” from God to plant a church.

“The goal of the discernment academy is to affirm and confirm that calling from God … through the process of, as the title suggests, discernment,” Brown said. 

“We hope to provide some training, some equipping, some undergirding to those innovators to kind of give them the foundation of what it would look like to start new expressions of faith in this post-modern, post-Christendom context,” he added.

The virtual Academy begins Oct. 9, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and ends the week of Dec. 4. Learn more about the Planter Discernment Academy

The church planting course comes at a time when the church faces serious challenges, particularly as the United States drifts into a new era.

If trends continue, the Pew Research Center projected that only a third of Americans will identify as Christian in 2070. The religiously unaffiliated — sometimes referred to as “nones” — would make up more than half of the population. So learning to plant faith communities in this present context matters.

But who is called to do this work? 

“Yes,” Brown answered. “Anyone can be called.”

While there is no one particular mold for a church planter, there are certain indicators that confirm a calling, which Brown mentioned as one of the purposes for the academy

Perhaps the most important requirement is that people “see the world through the eyes of Jesus,” he said. “These are people who already have relationships with, already know and love people who have left the church, or have problems with the church.”

Brown said they are looking for people who have created new things, whether it be a Bible small group or a business venture. The creation did not have to exclusively take place inside the four walls of a sanctuary or chapel. Those who have grown and experienced making disciples are also promising planters.

Raising up successful church planters, though, requires innovation in this new — and at times uncertain — era. Business as usual, studies have found, are not working.

Lifeway Research found that 4,500 churches closed in 2019, while only 3,000 opened. These statistics have only been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Church planting figures from the report are even more startling.

Less than a third of churches in the United States are actively taking part in church planting. Twelve percent of churches were “directly or substantially involved” in opening a church in 2018, which includes seven percent of churches that were the main financial backer of a church plant.

Sometimes one must innovatively evangelize outside the institution of the church to reach those unfamiliar, uncomfortable or even hostile to faith. To turn around these trends, innovation is the key in faith communities.

“It plays a significant role in helping the church recapture, reengage its relevance,” Brown said. “The church that has been fruitful has always had a relevant connection within the context of the community. And it’s a connection that is based not on the needs of institutions, but based on the needs, hopes and dreams of the people within the community. 

“Innovation helps us begin to listen deeply to the community in order to discover, in order to truly have a transformative conversation. One that not just transforms the person engaged, but hopefully that will transform the institution,” he added.