When is it Time to Start Planning for Something New?

As churches grow they must develop new strategies and methods to sustain the growth that God has blessed them with.  Eventually sanctuaries fill up, parking lots become crowded and children’s ministry areas become cramped.  There are several options that churches can use to sustain their growth.  These strategies might include ideas like starting another service, going multisite or even microsite, planting another church, or expanding their current facilities. But how does a church know when it is time to begin one of these endeavors?

Charles Arn in How to Start a New Service: Your Church Can Reach New People, shares the following scale as to how a church service feels to those in attendance based on how many people are in the room:

Room Capacity Filled Unspoken Message

Growth Potential

0-30% Uncomfortably Empty Unlikely
30-40% Awkwardly Empty Low
40-60% Comfortably Empty Fair
60-85% Comfortably Full Ideal
85-100% Uncomfortably Full Low

From the scale above one might conclude that the time to start planning for something new when the church services are 85% or more full, or when the parking lot or children’s ministry space is 85% full (because the 85% capacity rule applies in these areas as well).  However, this does not account for the planning and preparation that goes into starting another campus or planting a church.  Even starting another service on the same campus requires casting vision, perhaps developing another worship team, certainly recruiting additional ushers, greeters and children’s ministry leaders, and other logistics that all together take months to prepare for.  This means that ideally the time to begin planning for a new endeavor is before the church is a church hits the 85% capacity mark, maybe as much as a year or two before, not after it gets there.

Most church people don’t think in these terms though.  Most people look around, see empty seats, and don’t even think to ask the question of “when are we going to start another service or site?” This means that vision has to constantly be cast.  One answer the question of “when is it time to start planning for something new?”, is NOW!  As a pastor if you are not asking the question of what is next, then you may already be behind.

Having a sanctuary that is 85% full, however, may not be the only time that a church may want to consider beginning something new.  A church may also need to start something new to reach new people.  Maybe there is a felt need in the community that creating a new and different service would help meet.  Maybe there is an area nearby without a viable growing church, and by planting a church in that community new people would be reached.  Even if a church is not 85% full there are still many reasons they may want prayerfully consider starting something new.

So, regardless of whether it is due to cramped facilities or a burden to reach new people, when is it time to expand?  Geoff Surratt in The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations gives three questions to ask yourself in order to determine if your church is ready to start a new service, site or church.  The first is, is your church healthy?  Is your church growing, are people being discipled, are people excited to bring others to your church services?  Second, is there a driving motive behind your desire to expand? That is, do you have services and campuses that are nearing being maxed out or do you see an opportunity to reach new people in a new area?  Third, are your key leaders behind the decision?  You will never get everyone on board with a 100% consensus, but adding a service or a site requires a lot of work so the team needs to be on board.  If the answer to these three questions is “yes” then it is time to start planning something new.

What about your church, is it time to start thinking about another service, another site or a church plant?

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