Church Planting Boom
As American Christianity faces a diminishing presence in society, Adventist church planters are determined to reverse the trend.
A growing number of Seventh-day Adventists in the North American Division's Southern Union are working to avoid the disappearance of Christianity from American life "within a generation," which church growth experts such as Neil Cole fear. 
A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates the percentage of those who identify as Christian has dropped by nearly 8% in the past seven years.That suggests a harrowing prospect: If the church can’t learn to grow today, the next generation may not have the chance to know what church is.
The life of the church would seem to be in an unrecoverable tailspin were it not for the belief that Christ is guiding us. While our church is always perilously one generation away from extinction, Cole is quick to remind us that through “the power of multiplication, we are also one generation away from worldwide fulfillment of the Great Commission.” The power of multiplication to which Cole refers is the power of planting new churches to reach the diverse needs of those around us.
Church planting has proven to be an invigorating way to advance the kingdom of God in all areas of our globe, particularly in North America.
Church planting has proven to be an invigorating way to advance the kingdom of God in all areas of our globe, particularly in North America. Chris Donavan, Lay Pastor/Leader Coordinator for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference agrees planting new churches is an effective way to reach people and make disciples. Donavan, who has worked with church plants in the conference in various ways for the past 9 years, said, “The fastest way to grow disciples is to plant a new church.”
Research supports the idea that church planting is an effective way to expand Christ’s kingdom in today’s culture. An extensive study of over 100,000 churches in North America revealed that the newer a church is, the more likely it is to see growth. The report shows that church growth rates are much higher in younger churches but drop below 2 percent growth when churches are between 11-20 years of age, and never recover. Clearly, with such dramatic growth potential in a church’s early stages of development, church plants are pivotal as they provide a new avenue to expand God’s kingdom.
The study also revealed that churches with an attendance between 1-49 or above 1,000 typically had the most significant growth while those churches with attendance between 50-999 often struggled to grow, and often declined. The study hypothesized that the reason for this was that “small churches are helped by their intimacy. Large churches are helped by their ministry excellence. Mid-sized churches are too large to be intimate and too small to have the level of excellence in ministry as large churches have.” Because churches of over 1,000 in attendance are often unrealistic in many ministry settings, church plants, with their young age and intimacy, may provide the best option for growth in many locations. This is an important consideration for the 161 churches and companies within the Georgia-Cumberland Conference that have a membership between 51-1,000 in attendance. Not only is this likely to be a catalyst of growth in the community where the church is planted but it is also likely that the parent church will experience revitalization after giving birth to a healthy church.
It is encouraging to see that planting new churches already has a foothold in Georgia-Cumberland Conference. This conference's past emphasis on church growth has caused it to be one of the leaders of church planting in the North American Division. Donavan states that there are currently 26 mission groups, and over a dozen "pre-plant" efforts undertaken in various locations around the conference, and he hopes to see that number grow.
“By God's grace, Georgia-Cumberland will experience an increased joy in Jesus as we work together to recapture our mission of advancing God's Kingdom through planting a wide variety of God honoring, disciple making churches, that are effectively reaching people who are far from God, and helping prepare as many people possible for the soon return of Jesus," he added.
Annette Michaels echoes this hope. She's a layperson, who, along with her husband Ron, planted a church in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Michaels was born and raised an Adventist but never dreamed of planting a church until she moved to an area geographically isolated from any Adventist presence. While the decision to lead a church plant was daunting, Michaels can’t imagine life any differently now. She states that church planting has, “changed my whole opinion of what it means to be a worker for God. We love it and want others to have the same experience.”
It's highly possible that others will have that same experience: At the end of 2015, the North American Division voted to establish Plant 1000, an initiative aimed at planting 200 churches a year during the next five years. Many, if not most, of the church planters will come from the lay membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church — might that mean you?
Church planting provides an incredible opportunity for us to effectively share the gospel within our conference. Those interested in church planting are encouraged to speak with their local pastor or Chris Donavan for more information. (And, if you are interested in specific Church Plant training, the Southern Union will host a SEEDs conference at the College Drive Church in Pearl, Mississippi, May 6-7.)
 Neil Cole. “Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.” (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Location 1410). Kindle Edition.
 Pew Research. “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.” http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/. Accessed June 17, 2015.
 Ibid., (Kindle Location 1412).
 Ibid., Slide 76.
 Ibid., 75.
 Based off of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference 2015 1st Quarter Changes of Membership by Region Report.
 This is the opinion of church planter Ralph Moore whose efforts have resulted in planting more than 700 churches. He states that, “I believe a stalled congregation can nearly always grow its way back to momentum by preparing for and launching a new church. The process is invigorating.” Ralph Moore. “How to Multiply Your Church: The Most Effective Way to Grow.” (Kindle Locations 866-867). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Georgia-Cumberland Conference was one of only four conferences in the North American Division noted for its net increase of at least 45 churches in the past ten years. See S. Joseph Kidder and Dustin Serns. “The Forgotten Movement: Church Planting Trends and Lessons (Part 1 of 2).” Ministry Magazine. October 2014.