Snohomish Community Church is now fourteen years old, having been founded in 1993. Within a few years of the church’s birth, a handful of other churches were planted in Snohomish County, which have prospered in the past decade. They are now old enough to be susceptible to the calcification of tradition and institutionalism. On the other hand, they are young enough to yet remember the thrill of pioneering. The leader pastors are still firmly enough ‘in the saddle’ to possess strong leadership traction. They are almost all entrepreneurially nimble. Most of these churches are currently well-established with large attendances, multi-staffing, dedicated campuses, and healthy regional reputations. It is now a key time for Snohomish Community Church and each of these other churches to measure their posturing for a vital, growing future. This sense of urgency has framed the research question this project pursues: ‘What actions can a maturing church plant take that will ensure a vital, growing future?’ The churches in view are: Snohomish Community Church (the author’s church), Cascade Community
Church (Monroe), New Horizons (Monroe), Gold Creek Community Church (Mill Creek), Lakeside Community Fellowship (Lake Stevens), Calvary Chapel (Lake Stevens), Hope Foursquare (Snohomish), and The Lake Church (Lake Stevens).
As the founding pastor of Snohomish Community Church, the author possesses intimate knowledge of the life-stages of this church. He also possesses a unique vantage point from which to view and assess the other mature church plants in his immediate region. He knows these churches and their pastors personally. As fellow founding pastors, they have journeyed together and cross-pollinated their thinking. They have shared joys and sorrows, and have prayed for one another. They each pray for the ongoing success of the other churches.
The goal of this study is twofold: (1) To identify the most fruitful changes Snohomish Community Church should make to durably break through the eight hundred attendance barrier and regain its outreach momentum, and (2) To develop a diagnostic ‘self-check’ tool for now-established, ten-to-fifteen-year-old church plants that will identify incongruity between their missional ideals and their missional practices and stimulate strategic adjustments to the ministry trajectory. It is an oft-stated statistic that 80 percent of the churches in America are plateaued or declining, a dismal and alarming figure. It fills a church leader with dread. What kind of future does that represent for
Christianity in America?
On the other hand, there is a new wave of church planting in America. Church planting has come into its own in the past few decades. It boasts a growing and mature body of literature. Increasing numbers of gifted pastors are choosing to plant new churches rather than simply inherit vacant pulpits. There is now a muscular presence of church planting boot camps, assessment clinics, coaches, and denominational agencies.
All this is for a very good reason: new churches reach new people better than existing churches do. Since church planting may well represent the rising sun of hope out of the night of that ’80 percent’ statistic, it would be tragic if those church plants themselves began to plateau and decline after their first decade. The seeds of destruction are sown in every church plant. If those germinating seeds are not painstakingly torn out by the roots, they will grow and accomplish their evil and deleterious work. The reason for this paper is to explore and find correctives to counteract this insidious ‘doom cycle’ of church growing, plateauing, and declining. It is expected that this project will contribute to (1)
the stimulus for doubling the Sunday attendance on the current campus within five years, (2) the propulsion of new investment in church planting, and (3) the sharpening and expansion of the church’s global involvement in missions.