I submitted this proposal for discussion to Ken Bell and the Church of God Executive Council

I sent the following email to Ken Bell and all members of the Executive Council yesterday to place this on the agenda for discussion during the Executive Council meeting this week discussing formation of the General Assembly Agenda. The email read:

Ken,

Please add the following proposal to the agenda for discussion during the Executive Council meetings discussing the Agenda for the General Assembly. Should you have any questions, need clarification, or have formatting requirements, I can be reached in my office at 305.247.0889 on Monday. On Tuesday or later, I can be reached strictly on my cell at 305.505.****.

The brief comments on the proposal read:

I believe that if we seriously address property sales and church planting, we could do something significantly redemptive in our denomination with churches that have come to an end of their life span instead of liquidating assets to send the monies into a state denominational structure with no specific missional objective.

Imagine if every state/region sold only a single $1,000,000 property annually and turned the money back into funding new churches. In Florida, there are currently around 18 properties for sale, likely a typical amount of properties for sale in a state our size. Considering that, the above estimate is very conservative. The implications of such a guideline would be enormous, especially in comparison to our current church planting investment level. It would be a bold declaration that we are serious about the mission of Jesus and the role the COG will play in fulfilling said mission in the USA at a time when denominations in the USA are losing ground almost across the board.

This proposal comes with a healthy amount of consideration on my part as well as by way of dialogue that was had and suggestions made by Ed Stetzer at Engage 21 when we were discussing a plan to repurpose and capture resources from dying churches for the cause of church planting. Thank you for receiving this proposal in a spirit of cooperation and with an understanding that it has been made with an aggressive, mission-focused eye toward the future.

——
AMENDMENT CONCERNING PROPERTY SALES AND CHURCH PLANTING
P. 198 – S. 49 ALL PROPERTY HELD FOR CHURCH OF GOD

(Addendum to current three paragraphs):

All properties of disbanded congregations are either to be designated as a new field work, assigned to an existing congregation for an additional campus, or sold with proceeds less expenses associated with the sale of the property funding the establishment of new churches.
——

Best regards,

travis johnson
lead pastor
life pointe church <http://www.life-pointe.com&gt;
blog <http://travisjohnson.net&gt; – subscribe to e-news <http://visitor.constantcontact.com/email.jsp?m=1100768695356&gt;
305.247.0889 office

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35 Responses

  1. I received a call from Dennis McGuire in my office this morning saying that this proposal is being included for discussion in this week’s Executive Council meetings which will determine what the General Assembly agenda is. He also said that it was excellent and he agreed with the proposal whole heartedly.

    A couple notes:

    – This was only sent last night. The communication back and forth was incredibly prompt by Ken Bell and Dennis McGuire. That’s awesome. I had never submitted anything like that before. I waited until the last second. And, I was blown away by the responsiveness.

    -Floyd Lawhon and I discussed it prior to my sending it over and he helped me with the particulars of what I needed to do to get it on the radar.

    I’m looking forward to hearing how it develops.

  2. Something else I learned in this process is that any item or motion or letter which is addressed directly and specifically to the Executive Council is required by the bylaws of the council to come to the council unedited.

  3. Travis, that’s quite encouraging (the prompt communication I mean). I too will be interested to see what happens from here.

    Also, I tried dialing 305.505.**** but get an error message. I must admit, I had never heard of a number with asterisks in it. Is there something I am doing wrong?

  4. Stoner,

    You already have my cell. So, I consider your comments to be disingenuous in an attempt to crack a joke and be the wise acre you are. 😉

    Besides, I got a new phone number (911)505-8432. Give me a shout.

  5. Jon: the bigger problem is that, if you ever got through, you might have a conversation like this:

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=512

  6. Travis and Don, LOL!

  7. For what its worth, I’ve had about 6 people on the Executive Council contact me back with strong feedback on this proposal…hopefully all goes well this week.

  8. Great news, Travis. I still would like to see your proposal make room for funds to be used to “re-launch” older churches. I just personally think that with all of the “mediocre” churches we have, this should be a huge emphasis in the denom. These are the churches that are not small enough to close and sell, but are not really making any progress. If a forward thinking pastor were to propose to “re-launch” that congregation, he might have a better chance making a go of it, if he had some of this “missional” funding.

  9. Jerry, I’m wrestling with your suggestion about funding “re-launches” with these potential funds. On the one hand, I think it’s a great idea. And if we could expect a fair amount of “Glory Hill Church of Gods” to transform themselves into “Daystar Church’s” then it’s a no-brainer. My hesitation is that I don’t know how many Jerry Lawson’s are out there to lead a church in this process. I think a church plant and a church re-plant are two different beasts. I guess I cannot say from experience which one is easier, but I have always thought that it looked easier to plant a church than to replant one. That may or may not be true. Anyway, my other concern is that if we added ‘re-launches’ then we would find ourselves down the road with another large set of frustrating stories where these monies were poured into struggling churches that never did a true ‘re-plant.’ And so once again the next Travis Johnson is blogging like his hair’s on fire because we are not honoring the minutes with these funds, and essentially misappropriating them by throwing them at ‘dead churches walking.’

    Now, I know that a lot of church plants will fail. And so perhaps that will end up being a ‘waste of money’ as well. However, it seems like it holds a least a little more potential for establishing missional churches in the denom. I think I could ramble from here, and probably have already started. I’m just saying that I’m struggling come to a conclusion in my mind about how I would feel about adding ‘re-launches’ to this proposal.

  10. Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. Here’s why I am in favor of the “re-launch” idea: 1) We have THOUSANDS of potential re-launches out there just waiting. It’s the exact thing that is needed for 80% of our churches. If we do not promote the idea of re-launching them, what will we do with these thousands of churches? Wait on them to die so we can sell their property and get missional? Why wait for the slow process of a 15 year death??? Let’s get missional with them NOW. 2) While I did not plant Daystar Church, we are currently planting a church in the Birmingham area and there is so much uncertainty. Basically, we are supporting them for about 9 mos. and then….who knows what happens? We do know that in about 2 years over 90% of the churches that launched today won’t be around! So it seems to me that a re-launch model is maybe a “safer” investment from a fiscal standpoint. 3) This is probably the biggest reason. The last 6 years (since our re-launch) has been the ride of my life and IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!!! We are actually working on a “Church re-launch in a box” model that we could market to potential turnaround pastors. I would love to someday soon put together a network of guys and help them in the turnarounds.

    Now, to be honest, I also have a list of reasons why the turnaround/re-launch model is risky. Beginning with George Barna’s statement that “you are more likely to get struck by lightening than to turn around a church.” However, I personally know of 2 awesome turnaround stories going on in Alabama right now (Daystar and Pathway) and I just think it could be done elsewhere, too.

  11. Guys,

    A couple thoughts :

    1. As you can see there is nothing that prohibits re-launching a church currently in the minutes. Daystar has done it. Steve Parrish in Vancouver, Ca has done it. We’ve done it in Homestead. The amendment that I submitted in no way hinders relaunch efforts.

    2. Church plant survival rates are higher than 90% after 2 years. The most current research across denominational lines shows a 60% success rate after 3 years. The key to survivability? Appropriate expectation. If you go into a plant thinking you are Rick Warren, in two years when you only have 70 people, you feel like a failure. 70 people after 2 years is actually above average.

    3. The main focus of this proposal is to stop the bleeding. Properties disappear from our states with nothing to show for them. The funds disappear when they have no purpose.

    4. Currently, our greatest problem in church planting is that we have more church planters than we have money. If we pass this proposal, we could actually shift our problem to having more money than we have qualified church planters.</b?

  12. I was contacted by a couple more guys on the Council of 18 today expressing strong and even ardent support for the proposal to be placed on the General Assembly agenda. I am feeling more and more optimistic that this proposal has a decent shot at making the agenda. I’m looking forward to hearing how the discussion develops. I’ll share what I hear as I can.

  13. Thanks Jerry. That’s very provocative. The ‘90% of church plants fail within 2 years’ statistic is definitely sobering. Like I said, I can’t really speak from direct experience on a plant or a replant. Perhaps a plant would be harder than I envision (not that I think it’s easy or anything) and perhaps a replant would be easier than I envision. And perhaps a replant is actually a safer investment. I’m still struggling to think how the guidelines would be set up. I would hate to think of an A.B. throwing money at dead churches without doing a true replant. I’m okay with replants failing. I would just want to know they were given a wise and honest effort. Your thoughts are very helpful as I process this. And I’d love to learn more about the two ‘Bama replants!

  14. Jonathan,

    I am only speaking ideologically about the “re-launch” idea. To add it to Travis’ proposal would add some inherint difficulties (i.e. exactly what is a relaunch?). So I’m basically just throwing it out there for discussion.

    As for the statistic for failure, Travis, I realize that there are competing statisticians on this issue. Acts 29, Vision 360, and Next Initiative are among those who say the failure rate of church plants is 75-90%. However, Ed Stetzer has done some research that indicates that the success rate is greater. The big problem about knowing the actual stats is that many (if not most) of the churches being planted today are non-denominational and/or non-affiliated. Therefore, no one even knows they exist and cannot be tracking them. It is my opinion that those kinds of churches (with less support) are failing at an extremely high rate and that is why I quote the higher opinion of failure rate for church plants.

  15. I heard Driscoll quote the high stat last week…interesting, especially since Ed Stetzer is a part of Acts 29 and also the head of research for LifeWay.

  16. I think its definitely a great proposal. I think I have some concerns about the practicality of it though. I think there might be some issues with only selling one church, with leaving the others unsold – what about the expenses to simply keep them around? would it be worth it?

    Also, your quote on %90 of church plants failing within two years is concerning…Perhaps instead of more money to solve the problem, we could have a leadership training program specifically addressing the issues raised in planting new churches, and pay for church plant pastors to attend. Perhaps if they had some experience as to the difficulties they will face ahead of time, it would prepare them and in the long run fewer church plants would fail. Just a thought.

    Also, this is my first post on here, I randomly found this…somehow.

  17. Thanks, Jason.

    While I have heard the 90% stat before, I’ve never seen it actually cited…one of those Religious urban legends. If you want to see Church Planting done right, look to groups like ARC (don’t know that they’ve had a single failed church plant) and the Orchard Group or Acts 29.

    The answer to risky propositions is not to quit risking. It is to take smart, highly rewarding risks. Go for it. When organizations begin to play it safe, they begin to fail.

    Further, the answer to what do you do with unsold properties is:

    A. sell them and recoup carrying costs.

    or

    B. Give them to a church planter or Re-launcher. Let it be his responsiblity.

    It is a zero risk proposition for the denomination, unless they have some time of need for money from sold real estate.

    Finally, thanks for dropping in Jason. Keep coming back and be a part of the community here.

  18. Personally, I wouldn’t be as concerned about whatever failure rate of church plants as some seem to be.

    New businesses have a high failure rate, too, but that doesn’t stop entrepreneurs (and entrepreneuses) from starting new businesses. You assess the risks, pray for God’s guidance and blessing and do your best. Banks lend them money knowing this too (although you really don’t want to be around when things don’t go well…)

    As Jaques Benigne Bossuet put it three hundred years ago, “Thus the great miracle of Jesus Christ is not to make us all-powerful men. Rather, it is to make us courageous and faithful believers who dare to hope all from God, when it is a question of his glory…”

  19. I definately think the time is right for this kind of proposal to hit the floor of the General Assembly because in the next several years there will likely be hundreds of COG’s closing and selling the property. That’s not a pessimistic statement. I just know the trends of denominational churches and I know that the COG is following those trend lines.

    So then if there are many “fire-sales” there needs to be a policy set by the General Assembly so that we do not simply begin to turn inward for our financial solutions (i.e. eating our own body to stay alive).

    One of my concerns is that I’m not sure the COG has an adequate plan for church planting to make full utilization of these funds. Maybe someone who knows more about the Church Planting Department of the COG can inform us. Are we ready to use the funds in Church Planting or will we just be throwing good money after bad?

  20. Jerry,

    Absolutely right. We’d do a brilliant thing to get in a partnership with ARC or someone like Nelson Searcy and Church Leader Insights for church planting coaching.

    I may have to talk to Greg Surratt tomorrow. He’s here in Orlando where I am right now…that would be an awesome partnership.

  21. I agree with Jerry, We do not have an adequate plan for church planting. This proposal would be a step in the right direction for our denomination.

    The re-launch aspect is a little tricky to me. What would the definition of a re-launch or re-plant be? I could see money getting funneled to churches on life support with no real will to live.

  22. Good thughts, John.

    What I’d say is that the money is already in the hands of dead churches, controlled by a family that values control of a building they suppose is the church. An overseer would simply need to empower a planter/launcher to eliminate that issue.

    The efforts of the planter/launcher may or may not be effective. They were for Jerry and me and Brian Hunter

    As long as we have a centralized form of government, its important to have strong ABs that can attract, recruit, develop, and deploy strong leaders and give them the authority they need to get it done.

  23. What are the implications if this is accepted by the Executive Council?

    What are the implications if it is rejected?

    What do you think is the likelihood of either?

  24. Travis… for the record… it’s Vancouver WASHINGTON, not CA. 🙂 Jon Stone and I have tried repeatedly to un-brainwash you on this matter and it’s not working. You insist on sending me out of the Pacific Northwest!

    Glad you heard first hand Driscoll quote the higher failure rate for church plants. As involved as he is with planting… I’m going to continue to reference his numbers!!!

  25. According to LifeWay’s Church Plant Survivability Study of 2007 conducted by Ed Stetzer, after 4 years, 68% of 2,800 churches studied across denominational and non-denominational lines were functioning (page 13).

    The study revealed the following survival rates:

    99% after 1 year
    92% after 2 years
    81% after 3 years
    68% after 4 years

    I like Driscoll a lot and the others guys who quote those numbers. But, I’ve never once seen those stats cited.

  26. “Travis… for the record… it’s Vancouver WASHINGTON, not CA. 🙂 Jon Stone and I have tried repeatedly to un-brainwash you on this matter and it’s not working. You insist on sending me out of the Pacific Northwest!”

    I’m sorry…its so confusing. Ontario, California and Vancouver, Washington. I can’t get passed the California fascination with Canadian names.

  27. Travis,

    One question. Setting Stetzer’s study aside, do YOU, personally, think that 68% of ALL church plants survive year 4? Or that only 1% of church plants close by year one?

    About 20 minutes from my church, way out in the boonies a church was started in a tiny little storefront (about 1/5 the size of a good Dollar General Store). It was called “World Outreach Center”…it’s tenure of ministry was shorter than it’s name. I doubt it made it into Stetzer’s study.

  28. Travis,

    to add to Jerry’s comments, this is a study that focuses on an organizations that have focused church planting programs wanting to be a part of a successful survey. I think it no real shock that the COG and a few other larger evangelical organizations were not included in the study, probably because they don’t want to advertise their lack of success in the area. can you blame them? this study is similar to a study focusing on the likelihood of USC players making it to the NFL and assuming that is the same likelihood of all college players making it to the NFL. Stetzer’s report omits the thousands of independent plants and organizations that didn’t respond to the survey because of their dismal performance in the area being surveyed. since those numbers can never be documented, we will never know, but I would submit that Stetzer’s numbers, as much as a love his material, polls the strongest of the strong planting movements.

  29. 68% success after 4 years vs. 10-20% success rate after two years is quite a span. The 68% working with the data from over 2,000 churches, which includes the AG (largely like us…not heavily funding plants, etc…) is data dependent versus the other figures.

    Still, if we pick a number in the middle, say 45% success rate, I’d say we’ve got a substantial number to work with in reassigning monies from defunct churches…a much better plan than shipping of the proceeds from sold properties into the denominational abyss…my main point.

    Alas, no such luck with the proposal using the avenue it was presented in. We’ll have to see what the next steps can be.

  30. Not trying to be coy, but what was the definition of success in those stats.

    Was it just surviving? Or, was it growing and healthy?

  31. it was strictly survivability. Considering that church plants must have volunteers to survive, that church planting is the most successful form of evangelism, and baptism rates for new churches are incredibly higher than existing churches, I’d say that a new church (4 years old) by comparison is much more healthy than the typical church.

    One other thing the research showed was that the key to survivability was an accurate expectation. Going into a plant thinking you are going to be the next Rick Warren significantly decreases the likelihood of a church’s survivability.

  32. I was asking because many of the plants I have witnessed here, have not been what I would consider strong or even growing but they have survived.

    It just seems that surviving is less impressive than thriving, or even steadily growing. Most are about the same size as when they started. One didn’t make it past two years.

  33. I fully agree with Travis. Daystar has recently planted a new church in a suburb of Birmingham and it is doing well, so far. EVERYONE has a job and that is great. People who would have gotten lost in the crowd at Daystar are in the spotlight at this new plant because EVERYONE is so needed. There have already been several new converts and the church has grown to about 100 in attendance in less than two months.

    We started out with about 65 “transition members” who are training the new members to do all of the same ministries that we offer at Daystar. The transition members have started to rotate what weekends they are there and now only about 30 from Daystar are actually there on weekends. I think this is the model that will work. Churches beget churches. Unproductive old-school organizations which have lost sight of the mission beget the same.

  34. Jerry alluded to something that I would like to echo. That is, people want to ‘participate.’ They want to be part of the action. They are tired of the sidelines and the arena seats. A ‘dynamic’ church does not have to grow in numbers. However, it will be able to ‘involve’ as many of the members who are willing to ‘participate’ in the mission of the church as possible. Sorry…just wanted to add that.

  35. […]  For that reason, I think it is absolutely urgent that the International Executive Council place this proposal directing the proceeds of sold properties on the 2010 General Assembly Agenda. I will resubmit the proposal.  However, it was […]

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