June 1, 2006


I have topped the list in the Google search for "percentage of church plants that fail." Now that is what I'm talking about! I guess this is like being on the worst dressed list?

So in light of this, I thought I would think a little bit about failure. (Being a verbal processor, that means I think while I write or, more troubling, while I speak.)

Failure - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Failure (or flop) in general refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective. It may be viewed as the opposite of success."

To define failure as the "opposite of success" is rather arbitrary. In the first two years of church planting, I felt like a failure. I expected more from the people and the process than I was getting. Our group was faced with one hurdle after another. I was convinced it was me (and I was partly right).

What I discovered was that nothing is a complete failure if you simply get out and risk something. Too many people sit in the "boat" and do nothing for fear of failing, or loosing everything, or being made fun of, or even succeeding! To fail is to fail to do anything.

Granted, the church I planted didn't reach the big numbers. We didn't even see too many people "accept Christ as their savior," but we served the poor and the unchurch more than any other church in the community. I had to discover success apart from the numbers. I had to discover what was really important for that community of people, and become really good at doing that.

When asked about all the failures during the invention of the light-bulb, Thomas Edison said he had found a thousand ways NOT to do a light-bulb. Failure is failing to learn anything from what went wrong. That is why so many churches are living in failure--they keep doing the same things thinking they will get different results.

I don't know that the answer is in the "results" but in the purpose. Why are you doing what you are doing? Is the "why" a good reason to do what you are doing? Are you accomplishing that? I think that leads to success.

Sometimes, the target (what is "success") for something must be shifted, and sometimes the "weapon" must be shifted. Sometimes our definition of success has to be re-thought. Maybe large numbers are not the measure of success. Sometimes we have the right definition of success, we are just using the wrong methods.

Here is an example. Every church should be ministering to the poor in their community. Success in this case is not how many poor people come to your church, but how many poor people are served through your church.

I found a lot of help in this area from Andy Stanley's book The Seven Practices of Effective Ministry. The chapter "Clarify The Win" was especially helpful. Here is a link to a page of podcasts on the various chapters of the book: NPCC * PRACTICALLY SPEAKING.

Here are a few additional articles on Church Plants and some of the reasons for their "failure." I assume they define failure as "no longer existing":

Next-Wave Ezine > church & culture: "church plants have an 80% failure rate and only pain and frustration will result for those who are not called to plant."

Lessons from failed and weak plants - Encounters on the Edge - Church Army: "There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback!

We cannot deal well with failure if we do not take seriously the risk (or should that be faith?) element in church planting. New congregations are vulnerable even when planted well. However we must also accept that not all new congregations are planted well. A survey of a number of new congregations in the Baptist Church showed that many of the leaders did not actively seek outside help for their projects. Most had not undergone any training and some had not even read a book on the subject!
Experience of a large number of Church Plants shows that the most common reasons for failure are:

*Poor planning
*Leadership issues
*Inward focus / poor outreach
*Cultural blindness
*Lack of team dynamic
*Lack of resources"


  1. Hey bro!

    Just ran across your blog. Love your post on failure. I'm a fellow church planter getting ready to plant our second church and I'm currently writing a series of posts on my blog about the lessons I learned during our first church plant.

    I'm going to put a link to your blog on mine which is www.windowatspringhill.blogspot.com.

    Feel free to link me as well if you like. I'm looking forward to reading your future posts!


  2. Failure is a constant companion in this life. How many times did you fall before you learned to walk. More to the point success is getting up one more time than you have been knocked down. And on theology. The conversation/ argument is the life blood of religion. You don't need smaller words just a more humble presentation. Remember, when developing theories in Ivory towers they have to be applicable to the people in the trenches.

  3. Hrm... those words sound familiar...

    Eric, without failure, we have nothing to show what success is. And man's definition of success is far removed from that of God's.

    You learned. Others learned from it. I wouldn't call that failure. I'd call that growth.