When Is the Right Time to Plant a Church?

Pastors, are you fed up with the snail’s pace of your church’s evangelistic growth or conversion growth? If so, consider planting a church.

Studies show that the vast majority of churches are growing very slowly by adult conversions, especially in the Western world. One big reason for this is that only about 5 to 7% of churches plant new churches.

We are simply not using the most effective evangelistic tool known to man, church planting. If you don’t use the right tool, you won’t get the right results.

Simply nothing accelerates evangelistic growth like church planting.


Myth One: The size of the mother church must reach a certain size before planting.

When asked about when they should start considering when to plant, most pastors say something like, “When we get to 200, 500 or 1,000 in attendance.” The chosen size is often about 50% larger than they currently are.

One popular study a few years ago said that new churches grow faster and larger when a church sends a large core group of 50 or more out to plant. There is some truth to this, but there was a fatal flaw in the study. The study did not consider the type of growth measured.

The growth could have been largely transfer growth, not evangelistic growth. I am not really that excited about new churches that grow mainly by rounding up Christians.

It is true that larger churches can send planting teams with less pain, but size is not the crucial criteria if you want evangelistic growth.

Myth Two: “We will only plant when we have enough extra money to plant right.”

These leaders incorrectly see money as the key factor for church planting success. Money is helpful, but it is not the most important ingredient for church planting success.

What, then, is the key factor for when to plant a church?

Planter readiness. When a church has a planter who is properly prepared for his mission, send them.

Consider this: a small church of 10 adults that is dirt poor may have a member whom God has called and equipped to plant effectively. No matter the size or budget of your church, an adequately equipped planter may be ready to go. All you need to do is discover him and deploy him.

A prepared planter does not need a large core group or tons of money from the sending church. With his evangelistic gifts and recruiting skills, he can win his launch team from his target community.

Plus, with his vision casting ability he can raise adequate funds from those outside the church if necessary. Paul raised money from other churches to plant the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:8).

Don’t get me wrong, if the sending church can send a few of the team members and financial resources it can be very helpful. My point is that it is not necessary.

The church planter is the primary factor for the success or failure of church plant.

What about the health of the mother church?

Some say a church should not plant if the church is not healthy and growing. I disagree. Of course it would be better, but even an unhealthy, dying church can send a healthy, competent planter who can plant successfully.


Being plateaued is a signal that a church should consider reproduction.

What if plateaus are intended for planting?

The church can be viewed as a living spiritual organism. The Bible commonly uses human bodies and plants as illustrations of God’s church (1 Cor. 12; 9:7). Church planters are compared to spiritual fathers (1 Cor. 4:15) and are called “planters” for a reason (1 Cor. 3:6).

How does pretty much every life form function? Mature organisms create offspring.

Newly conceived life starts small, grows fast, and when it is mature, it reproduces. I believe the church functions similarly.

Most organisms grow to a predetermined size and then level off for a long time. Humans grow to a human size range, as do trees, mice and elephants. They stay at their mature size for many years.

They can be at the peak of their health even though they are not growing larger. In fact, it would generally not be a good thing for an adult to grow significantly larger. The body’s mature years are for reproduction.

Maturity is for multiplication.

God’s plan for life is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” I believe the same is true for the church. We have the choice to obey or not.

Imagine for a minute that a new church grows to 100 members in its first three years, raising up and sending out a new planter in the process.

What if the new church continues to prioritize the developing future planters in the years to come? What if each church followed the same pattern? Each could produce several offspring in their lifetimes. This would produce a multiplying effect and exponential kingdom growth.

The most exciting thing to me is not just the potential numbers, it is the evangelistic potential. If the church planters use evangelistic growth principles and practices, then there is a good possibility that 50 to 70% of their growth could come from adult conversions.

For example, my wife and I moved to California for our second church plant, used the biblical principles of evangelistic growth church planting and saw 97 adults come to Christ, get baptized and become involved in the church during the first two and a half years. This was about 70% of its adult growth.

So, if someone asks you, “When should we plant a church?” You can say, “When we have a potential planter who has been called by God and equipped for the task.”

John Worcester
John Worcester

John Worcester and his wife Diane have raised two sets of twin sons that are all heavily involved in college ministry or church planting. The Worcesters have planted and pastored eight evangelistic growth churches in a variety of settings. They also created a training nonprofit organization called Church Planting Leadership that has trained over 5,000 church planters from over 30 countries and 42 denominations.