CRC Pastor Draws Startling Conclusions Regarding Church Planting

David Snapper, pastor of Anchor of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Silverdale, WA, is a self-described 'failure'. One of the church planters sent out by his denominational Home Missions Committee to do church planting in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, he "failed" reach the standard goal of church growth: "two years, 200 members, or too bad for you."

Snapper states that the contemporary Church Growth Schools maintain that the right minister, the right leadership style, a seeker-sensitive service, proper worship strategies, and other formulae practically assure one of success. But based on his study, he has concluded that church growth does not automatically follow from such an approach.

As he considered his own difficulty in reaching new members, he realized that he did not know of more than a few CRC church plants which had successfully reached 200 members. This became the basis of his D.Min. dissertation, in which he analyzed growth rates of all 136 CRC churches in the United States organized between 1970 and 1990, and reporting in 1995.

The research asked this question: Do environmental factors of the new congregation affect its growth rate? Environmental factors were defined as any measurable quality of the community of the congregation for which research data was available.

Among the environmental factors utilized were these: 1. the number of CRC congregations in the same zip code; 2. the number of CRC people in a 20 mile radius; 3. the presence of a Christian Schools International school in a 20 mile radius; 4. the number of community persons evangelized; 5. the geographical distance from Grand Rapids; and 6. whether the church plant was started by the denominational Home Missions or as a daughter congregation. These factors were compared to the membership size of all 136 congregations organized between 1970 and 1990, reporting in 1995.

From the entire dissertation a few facts are extracted. The primary finding is that the congregational environment is an enormously important factor in predicting a new congregation's growth success. For

example: FAVORABLE: A church planted in a community of 2000 or more CRC persons, with a local CSI school, and started as a daughter congregation had an 85 percent chance of reaching 200 members.

UNFAVORABLE: In dramatic contrast, a church planted with fewer than 2000 local CRC persons, with no local CSI school, and under Home Missions sponsorship was only 15% likely to grow to 200 members.

Pastor Snapper cautioned against drawing unwarranted conclusions from the research.

The first point he wants to make is that congregations in difficult environments may not see 200 members in church. This is not the fault of the pastor or the congregation; it is routinely a result of the environment.

Pastor Snapper concludes that church planters need to be warned up front that in certain environments, they have an 85 percent chance of failure, and they need to be asked, "Are you sure you want to go?" If they are sent by a denomination into such a ministry, they should be supported and helped to relocate if the ministry disbands.

A second point is that an isolated congregation, planted far away from the covenant relationships of the denomination and its Christian infrastructure, may not have enough strength to weather the storms of

the first years.

Following from that point, a third observation is that most isolated congregations had some sort of leadership crisis, such as losing the core group. In isolated congregations there seems to be little prospect

of recovery from such a crisis.

A fourth conclusion is that evangelism growth does not correlate with membership growth. That is, a large congregation and a small congregation are equally as likely to evangelize the same number of people. "This runs contrary to all expectations and to common sense, but it is true," Snapper laments.

Pastor Snapper notes that it has been common to criticize and disregard the established and traditional congregations of the CRC as if they were of a lesser stature than the "cutting edge" congregations established with contemporary Church Growth Principles. The remarkable fact is that daughter congregations of traditional parent congregations are more effective at growth than those planted as "high-tech Church Growth" ministries. Seeker Sensitivity, Telemarketing, Large Nucleus, Small Nucleus, worship choruses, and practically every Evangelical technique known has been used in CRC new church development. In spite of the huge investment in techniques, most successful congregations are those

found in a favorable environment and most congregations with unsuccessful growth rates are in the unfavorable environment.

Snapper concludes, "that we shouldn't bash established churches-they still have a major part to play in church growth. Christian schools are closely attached to church growth" (although he is not able to determine if that is a leading or following indicator.)

"If I had one paragraph for a summary of this multi-year project, I would say this: Donald McGavran, in 1955, set off on a quest to discover a technique that would create revival among masses of people.

McGavran's quest spawned the Church Growth Movement eventually engulfing most evangelicals of North America. It was as fruitless as a Friday night snipe hunt, for it produced few results and consumed

countless millions of dollars of people who believed that the right technique, applied in the proper manner could save souls. The effort, in the CRC, and probably among most denominations, has been unproductive

to date."

Copies of the 200-page dissertation are available for $15.00.

Rev. David Snapper

Anchor of Hope CRC

PO Box 3050

Silverdale, WA 98383