Thursday, September 13, 2007

AoG planning 1000 new churches in 2 years!

(August 30, 2007)

U.S. Missions Executive Director Alton Garrison (right) introduces MX9 church pastors at the U.S. Missions Luncheon Friday. The Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery, U.S. Missions and the ReachAmerica Coalition are embarking on an aggressive church planting initiative with the goal of starting at least 1,000 new churches within the next two years.

National officials outlined details of the creation of the Church Multiplication Network and its MX9 pilot program Friday afternoon at a U.S. Missions luncheon at the Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.

The ambitious combined effort represents a doubling of the current church plant rate. The MX9 acronym stands for the Roman numeral for 1,000 by 2009.

Even before the unveiling of details of the strategy at the lunch, AG officials had received commitments from personnel in the Fellowship to launch 346 churches by the 2009 General Council. By the end of the lunch, after the explanation of the project, the total number of pledges for new congregations had risen to 610.

The new congregations won't necessarily have red bricks and white steeples. The church plants will be meeting in shopping centers, movie theaters, rented schools, coffeehouses and homes. Some will be satellite churches and video spinoffs of existing primary congregations.

Steve Pike, director of church planting for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, said MX9 signifies a revolutionary way of thinking about how to begin a congregation.

The heart of the plan is a pool of matching loans that will be available exclusively to AG church planters in partnership with districts or parent churches.

The AG initially will match whatever funds local church planters raise for start-up costs, with a $30,000 per congregation cap. That limit will be raised later as money is repaid into the account.

The interest-free matching funds will be in addition to monies distributed through similar programs in individual districts. The Assemblies of God has committed $2 million to the Church Multiplication Network, which Pike is directing.

U.S. Missions Executive Director Alton Garrison, who came to the luncheon directly after being elected assistant general superintendent of the Fellowship, said MX9 is crucial because church planting is the most effective way to reach the unsaved. Studies show new churches have a much higher ratio of salvation decisions and baptisms than established congregations. In addition, while existing churches grow primarily from membership transfers, the majority of church plants attendees are new Christians.

"MX9 will be a great catalyst to help us move forward in our calling as Christians to fulfill the Great Commission," Garrison said.

Naysayers may conclude that the nation already has enough churches. In 1900, the United States had 28 churches for every 10,000 people; today it's only 11 churches per 10,000 in population. Most states have dozens, if not hundreds, of communities without an AG church.

Videos shown at the gathering highlighted recent progressive and non-traditional church plants.

Around 1,200 people attend church plants of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. The daughter churches meet for seven services in three locations. Pastor Mark Batterson said he believes the multi-site locations are biblical and ordained by God. The primary site is in the
middle of the nation's political marketplace, in a theater at Union Station, just four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

Elevation Church in Layton, Utah, involves nine house churches that meet together Sunday mornings in a cineplex. Pastor Trinity Jordan started the work two years ago with three families.

Last year, Pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tennessee, allowed a staff member to start an Assembly of God elsewhere in the Nashville area. Three other staff members, all with different giftings and interests, have planted regional churcDavis said the
attitude of sowing has not diminished Cornerstone; the mother church actually has grown in attendance - to nearly 3,000 - since the daughter congregations began. And the four church plants combined are now as large as the mother church.

Pike said the Church Multiplication Network will create a perpetual fund that should allow a significant stream of new churches to be funded indefinitely. The MX9 kickoff includes a realistic replenishment strategy designed to sustain and grow the original pool of funds from the fruit of the harvest itself, he said.

The Church Multiplication Network also will cover the cost of district church planting boot camps, which pioneering pastors are required to attend. Pike asserted that fresh churches have a better survival rate if partnership is involved.

"There isn't any other way to invest our time and money that's as productive as combining our resources for church planting," Pike said. "We have to overcome the thinking that everyone in America has been presented with the gospel. There are millions of people who are isolated
from any meaningful contact with the body of Christ."

While pioneering new works proved to be essential in the early days of the Fellowship, Pike said the practice slowed by the 1940s, after the establishment of the first generation of churches.

A renewed focus on church planting began in the 1990s, with the Decade of Harvest emphasis. Though hundreds of new churches have started since then, Pike said MX9 represents the first centralized strategy as well as source of funding to promote church planting....