THE OREGON EXPERIMENT
By: Raymond W. Hurn
From the snow-clad flanks of Mount Hood to the rocky Pacific coastline, Oregon Nazarenes are planting new churches at a record pace.
* In western Oregon a 20-year pattern of closing 16 churches while starting only 7 has dramatically turned around: Last year 20 new churches were organized and another 40 are planned for the coming year.
* In Buffalo, New York the only church in a metropolis of nearly 2 million has officially declared its intention to plant 20 new churches as quickly as possible.
* In Canada, where a total of one new church was planted in the last quadrennium, 16 have already been planted this quadrennium (1976-1980).
* Congregations in North Carolina and Southern California are each planning on 18 new churches by 1985.
For the Church of the Nazarene, this is a dramatic turnaround. In the early years of the denomination, growth in membership and new church starts was explosive. In one quadrennium there were as many as 600 new churches planted. And denominational membership grew commensurately. But in the early 1960s the growth rate began to plateau. Church planting in one quadrennium dropped to 180. Membership growth also slowed. This leveling off of new churches and new members in the Church of the Nazarene began to alarm its leadership.
Was there a practical approach that could rekindle new growth, new churches, new outreach to new people ?
After several years of preparation, planning, and prayer, I believe the Church of the Nazarene has now passed a major watershed mark in an effort to reach new levels of ministry and growth. The cases mentioned above are just the rising tip of the iceberg . . .
What is causing this dramatic new turnaround? And will it continue?
The foundations of all growth efforts in the Church of the Nazarene, I trust, can be identified in the evangelistic heartbeat of a denomination committed to reaching the lost. This basic commitment is crucial to our new growth efforts and is at the forefront of all our efforts.
But conviction alone does not reach people.
The Oregon Pacific District, including 65 churches and 11,336 members, discovered that over 78 percent of the population of western Oregon was unreached. Yet. mathematically there was no way for existing churches in western Oregon to reach and disciple 2.3 million people.
A slow rate of growth-say one new church per year, would take 50 years or more to achieve any significant impact, and by then the population would have changed significantly. It was impossible to impact the population of western Oregon with existing churches, or with a slow rate of planting new churches.
With such a realization, District Superintendent, Carl Clendenen and the Oregon Nazarenes began work on what was to become “The Oregon Plan.”
The events that have since been happening in Oregon amount to the field testing of a major new concept in church growth-rapid intentional church planting to impact a population with the gospel, using the local church as the primary agency for church planting. The Oregon Pan for church planting is our first major conceptual approach to the mission of making disciples that is based from its inception upon church growth principles.
Every phase of the project is being done “in the open” with every strategy open to scrutiny, evaluation, testing, and discard, if necessary.
This is how it began; how it will end is a chapter still unwritten.
Superintendent Clendenen appointed a District Church Growth Committee with the approval of the District Advisory Board. That was in 1976.
The committee had a single reason for existence: to determine how to best impact the 2.3 million people of western Oregon for Christ and the gospel.
Under the leadership of Chairman Kent Anderson, pastor of the Eugene First Church, the committee set to work, studied church growth, met with outside consultants, and went to the Scriptures for their authority.
The entire committee joined Dr. Win Arn in an Advanced Church Growth Seminar in Pasadena. Later the committee sent an even larger contingent of pastors and laymen to Pasadena for the Advanced Seminar.
At the same time denominational leaders were being led through church growth training. All were being prepared for changing some denominational assumptions regarding goal setting and church planting responsibility. Historically, goals had been set from the denominational headquarters in Kansas City, and church planting assigned to district superintendents. These assumptions have since been changed. Local churches are now looked upon as the primary agency for church planting.
Preliminary Oregon studies identified some existing barriers to why new churches were not being planted:
1. The institutional barrier. The Church of the Nazarene was rewarding our pastors with recognition and status according to how many people the pastor had under him. This put the church planter at the bottom of the totem pole, and the new church at the end of the line.
2. The social barrier. “Smallness” carried a stigma. We have always been encouraged to “think big. ” All eyes and attention turn to bigness. As a denomination, Nazarenes were convinced that they were too small to seriously think of impacting a total population.
3. The cost barrier. The first thing our church planters have traditionally done is to figure the cost of buying land and erecting a building. When multiplied by the number of church starts desired, most leaders found they had figured themselves right out of business.
Whatever the plan, leaders in Oregon knew they would have to deal effectively and directly with growth barriers along the way.
Given the evangelistic heartbeat as the foundation, an understanding of church growth principles, and an awareness of the potential roadblocks that stood in the way, Oregon Nazarene leaders developed their strategy:
1. The local church was considered the primary agency for church planting. A consortium of local churches could join to sponsor one or more new churches. As a last resort, the district itself could sponsor a new church.
2. The purpose of the new church should be primarily to reach new people, not to take away from the membership or financial strength of existing churches.
3. The new churches would go through four stages of development: from a Bible study, to a preaching point, to a chapel, to a fully organized church.
4. Recruitment of new church staff was to be on a national basis. The district committed itself to provide opportunity for anyone who would come.
5. New staff were not promised a regular salary, and thus church, district and/or denominational funds were not a limiting factor.
6. Buildings and land were not to be considered until after the new church was fully organized. New converts and members were the highest priority.
7. Support systems were developed to pay moving costs, insurance, housing, and weekly groceries for six months to new staff.
With the program thus conceptualized, Clendenen (District Superintendent) and Anderson (Task Force Chairman) went on a recruitment trip to Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs and Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
All told, 26 young men accepted the challenge to plant a new church in Oregon under the sponsorship of a local church. In three places two couples worked together on planting projects.
By the end of July, 1979, the new churches were averaging a total attendance of 114. The August average was 252; September was 304; October was 404; November attendance averaged 467. Nearly all of these people, according to our data, would not have been in church otherwise.
In December 1979, Clendenen and Anderson were back on campus recruiting more young church planters for the 1980 church planting season. The district is placing no limit on its growth. “We will plant as many churches as God gives us workers to plant,” says Clendenen.
What about failure?
There is no failure rate. To date, no church planting effort in Oregon has failed. To a great extent this is because each week the work and results of the past week are carefully analyzed. If something isn’t working right, it is changed. Professional consultants help spot problems and suggest changes.
For example, Sheldon Church was one of the stronger new projects, but was having difficulty with inconsistent attendance. Why not try a Sunday night preaching service instead of Sunday morning? They switched to Sunday night for a full program of Sunday School and worship. Attendance increased dramatically. Why? Apparently the unchurched people, who were the target audience. were more accustomed to sleeping on Sunday morning and going places in the evening.
Contingency plans are available if a certain pastor seems not to be “making it” in a certain location. Either he is reassigned, the location changed, the program altered, or assistance given to raise his competency level. This flexibility, coupled with continuous monitoring. greatly increases the chance of success.
The concept of the Oregon Plan is catching on. There are a growing number of examples of other local Nazarene churches who have seized the vision and are expecting to plant not just one or two, but as high as 15 or 20 churches in their cities.
The Central Florida District is hosting a Sunbelt Church Growth Seminar for the entire southeastern sector of the United States to learn about the Oregon Plan. Upstate New York churches have ambitiously raised their level of faith for new churches and are endeavoring to plant 50 churches by 1 985.
Best of all, because church planting is a conceptual approach to evangelism based on church growth principles, it can be continuously monitored and adapted to insure its success. It is not another evangelistic fad or passing fancy-it is an important conceptual framework for evangelism that 11 take us into the twenty-first century or until Jesus comes again.
“What about denominational goals?” you may ask. Here’s the bottom line: there are no denominational goals. Eighty-two local districts have set goals almost four times higher than the usual quadrennia achievement for the total denomination. Why should the denomination stand in their way?
Ownership of goals at a local and district level is so important to us that we have erased the bottom line total and will only promote district goals. We do not intend to announce denominational goals. We believe the Holy Spirit is doing something marvelous among our people. We exist at headquarters to facilitate and encourage our district leaders and to promote their leadership in fulfilling the Great Commission. With God’s help we believe we can do it.
(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)
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