The Heartland Vineyard Church started in a living room twenty three years ago. When we first began to share our vision of planting a church, the question that seemed to always come up was, “Why plant a new church? Aren’t there enough churches in the Cedar Valley?”
To the casual observer, there seems to be a church on every street corner in every city and town in America. But when you look beyond the surface, there are important discoveries to be made in regard to American church life. Four out of five churches are either plateaued or are in steep decline. In other words, 80-85% of churches in America are on the down-side of the growth cycle, moving from plateau to decline to death.
The steep decline is especially prevalent among Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant Churches. If not for the influx of Latinos into the Catholic Church of America, the news concerning Catholicism would be abysmal. And attendance in mainline Protestant churches has simply fallen off the table. In America in 1973, 11% of Americans attended a mainline Protestant church service. Today there are only about 4% and the majority of these are over 65 years and older.
When researchers examined the World War II generation, they found that only about 5% of that generation claimed no religious affiliation when they were young adults. That doubled to more than 10% among the Baby Boomers who came of age in the late 1960’s through early 1980’s. Those claiming no religious affiliation doubled again to about 20-30% among post-Boomers, those who came of age in the 1990’s and 2000’s. In other words, with each succeeding generation, Americans are becoming less and less attached to organized religion, and less inclined to attend church.
So why do we need to plant new churches in the United States? Churches that are in decline or are dying are not likely to fulfill the Great Commission, and there is an increasing number of people who are utterly detached from church. Most of those people are young. There is a desperate need, therefore, to plant innovative, highly evangelistic, and Christ-centered churches to reach the increasingly unchurched population of the United States. The United States has become a great harvest field for the Gospel of Christ.
But why not simply renew existing churches which are no longer reaching people? Why not bring existing churches back to life? That would be a wonderful thing. If every church in the Cedar Valley sprang to life and began to fill the pews, the fulfillment of the Great Commission would be well on its way. However, as someone once said, “It is easier to have babies than it is to raise the dead!” Clearly, the future of American Christianity lies with church planting.
I believe there are those in the Heartland Vineyard whom God has placed a desire and a vision to be a church planter. Some don’t know it yet. Some of our church planters are still in KidZone and One Way. But as we make a concerted effort to pray for the opportunity to plant new churches, God will honor our prayers.