How Many Churches Are Enough?

That's a question I've often pondered since I did a little experiment a few years ago.  I simply typed my church's street address into the "church search" feature on the Southern Baptist website, and did a search for all SBC churches within 15 miles of the church I pastor.  To my surprise, there were 75 SBC churches within 15 miles of mine.

Admittedly, many of these churches are very small, and in decline.  However, several are healthy churches that are reaching a good number of people and making an impact on the community.  And again, the website search only counts SBC churches, not evangelical churches of other denominations, of which there are many.  (In fact, there are three "mega churches" within 15 miles of my church.  Two SBC and one A/G.)

Despite the abundance of churches in my community, new churches continue to be planted.  And I get that.  Our area (greater Springfield, MO) is a desirable place to live and minister.  And to be fair, it is growing in population.

But contrast the number of churches in my community, to the number of churches in suburban Chicago, where our church has a mission partnership.  Three Rivers Baptist Association, on the south side of Chicagoland, ministers to 11 counties with an estimated population of 2.4 million people.  And how many SBC churches comprise TRBA, to try and reach this massive area and population?...  32 churches and four missions - less than half the established churches that exist within 15 miles of my own!

I know we need all kinds of churches in all kinds of places.  And it's not my place to question the specific vision that God has given a particular group of people to plant a church.  (I have been guilty of this in the past, and have judged wrongly.)  My desire is to be an encourager to new churches.  But in general terms, I just wonder if more churches in the suburbs of the Bible belt are the best use of God's resources.  And some would counter that argument by saying, "But we're filling this niche or that"...  (millennials, cowboys, bikers, artists, postmoderns, etc.)  But is that not like adding one more entre to our buffet of churches while others starve to death for the gospel?

We desperately need men and women who are willing to go to the great cities of the northern U.S. and Canada, and the great expanses of the western U.S., (such as my brother, Jordan, who is serving in Montana), and foreign contexts, and sew down Biblically faithful churches that will grow and reproduce.

On this topic...  David Platt, in his book Radical Together, affirms the importance of being "missional" in our local community.  But he also says this, "I am convinced that Satan, in a sense, is just fine with missional churches in the West spending the overwhelming majority of our time, energy, and money on trying to reach people right around us."

Another man has put it this way, "We talk of the second coming.  Half the world has never heard of the first."


I know that, in theory, this is the classic "both and" situation.  We need new churches everywhere, both in the Bible belt and elsewhere.  And no new church should be discouraged.  A big part of me believes that.  But considering the reality - limited church planters and resources - shouldn't our priority be on higher concentrations of lostness, with little to no gospel witness?  I guess that's the question.