In the past decade that just closed, most congregations in the U.S. have reported they are declining in size. In some denominations that is as high as 80%, while for Disciples around 66% of our congregations are in decline. The church at large is losing participants at the highest rate in decades according to numerous studies.
Yet in the midst of this decline, a small number of Disciple congregations (less than 3%) are growing at phenomenal rates. These congregations understand what it means to be a part of God’s mission on earth, and have leadership that can inspire, empower and engage people into a higher purpose and calling.
Disciples are also blessed with a number of entrepreneurs who have been successful in business. These individuals have an uncanny creativity that can take a simple idea, with meager resources and turn them into profitable ventures.
Finally, the Disciples have a superior infrastructure for supporting new congregations. This process, which came into place in 2001, has now shepherded the start of more than 710 new congregations, with 80% sustainability rates.
The Antioch Project imagines what would happen if we blended the gifts of growing churches, entrepreneurs, and New Church Ministry towards the goal of establishing 20 exceptional congregations during the next decade. Each church will have as a part of its DNA to achieve an average worship attendance of more than 500.
There has been much research over the years that indicate that the success and failure in church planting centers around the leader (or planter). While Disciples have been successful in developing many new churches, we have yet to break the barriers of growth that leads these congregations into being truly exceptional.
The plan creates a recruitment and accompaniment system that matches top planters with outstanding Disciple pastors and their congregations, with some of our top entrepreneurial business leaders. It takes the necessary time to develop exceptional leaders by placing them in congregations that have demonstrated excellence, with exceptional leaders, knowing that these experiences make a difference in the kind of congregations they plant. This experience will be led by Disciple pastors and will be implemented through Disciple lenses. However visits will be made to growing dynamic churches in other denominational traditions as well as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).