I have been serving as the pastor of my church since 2005. Prior to that I served in the same church as Student Pastor and for a season as Single Adult/Young Adult Pastor. When I joined the staff here at my church in 1994 our area was much different than today.
In addition to the changes in our community there were far fewer churches. The largest churches in the city in 1994 are no longer the largest. Some of the most well-known churches in Jacksonville did not even exist then. Times have changed and with that change has been a growth of church planting and new churches popping up.
As a pastor of a “legacy church” (a nice term that means an older church that has been around for quite some time) I have heard some church members in our church and pastors of other churches actually lament that more churches are now in the community.
I have said over and again throughout the years that “these new churches are not our competition” and I mean it. But, in full transparency, it is easier to make that statement to a pastor of a church in a different area of the city than it is to actually believe this when a new church plant starts in a strip-mall less than three blocks from my church.
Americans are consumers. We may decry this reality, but we are. We like to buy things. We like to have things. We like to buy and have the things that we want, when we want them (usually immediately), and we do not like to be inconvenienced. I’m not throwing stones. I’m just sharing my testimony.
Sadly, this consumer mentality has become the norm in many of our churches. We may preach against it, but we actually fuel this with how we program and do ministry at times. Again…just a personal testimony.
Nevertheless, many pastors and churches who have been in communities for decades, faithfully proclaiming the gospel, serving the membership of their church and the community around them wonder why there is so much emphasis on new church plants and new works when, to quote a brother “We already have a church in this neighborhood.”
Consumerism leads to competition. There seems to be a need for a winner and loser (even if ultimately, we are on the same team).
Thus…the new churches sometimes are viewed not as welcomed neighbors but as competition.
Years ago, Dr. John Sullivan, the former Executive-Director of the Florida Baptist Convention stated, “We don’t know why this is true exactly, but over the years we have noticed in Florida that the more new churches we see started, the more conversions we see.” In other words, God has been and continues to use the “newness” of church planting to reach people previously unreached.
What if legacy churches began to see quality, solid, theologically-sound new church plants in their community as partners in ministry rather than competition? I know most legacy church pastors would never consciously view a church plant as competition, but sometimes (again…personal testimony) we behave as if they are.
In my case, I have led our church to intentionally and strategically partner with church planters and new works in our community. I have done this because it is the right thing to do and also because by doing so, I am able to squelch my own insecurities and competitive nature. In some cases, this has been offering space in our buildings for the new church to meet. In other cases, we have been able to provide resources and curriculum. More often, it has provided me the great benefit of praying with, encouraging, and supporting new pastors who sometimes feel that they are carrying the weight of leading all by themselves.
It is better to have a partner in ministry for the glory of God than a competitor for customers.
One is healthy. The other leads to bitterness.
 This statement was made in a conversation at a Florida Baptist Convention State Board of Missions meeting at Lake Yale. I was in the room and Dr. Sullivan was emphasizing the need for more church starts in Florida.