Dear Church Planter, Launch Size May Not Matter as Much as We Thought

Man in Pew


What we know: 

In 2014, Lifeway Research estimated 4,000 churches began. If the first year of a church plant costs around $150,000, then those new plants together cost $600,000,000. If this number rings true each year, then the American Church is investing over half-a-billion dollars in new church plants each year! But, the question is- what’s working? There’s surprisingly sparse research on what factors contribute to a successful plant. Ed Stetzer contributed to two great resources. Here’s one from, and here’s a PDF to download of his initial research.

Anyone involved with church planting will share time-tested factors contributing to successful church plants. These include finding the right planter, plan, people, place, and lots of money! But, do any of these factors contribute more or less to the potential success of a church plant more than the others? More research is needed. (If you haven’t yet- make sure you check out my post, “There’s no such thing as a ‘failed” church plant“)

The Research:

I set out to compare church plants who closed their doors within 5 years to those who remain open. The most complete data I found compared church launch size. So, I compared launch Sunday attendance between 18 closed church plants and 18 church plants remaining open. I assumed that continuing churches would have significantly larger launch Sundays than those who have had to close their doors.  What I actually found is very interesting…

The Results: 

The average launch size for a closed church was 119.6 while the average launch size for a church remaining open was 188.9. This does show that, on average, churches who closed their doors had about 70 fewer people on their opening Sunday. BUT, both open and closed plants had a church opening with 50 people. The largest launch Sunday attendance of a closed church was 290, while the remaining open church’s was 515. But, these facts don’t tell the whole story.

When comparing the two groups and looking for a significant difference, I found the two groups were only slightly significantly different (.044). This is VERY interesting and can be encouraging and potentially challenging to church planters. This means that launching larger slightly increases your church’s chance to remain open long-term. A large launch does NOT guarantee success. And conversely, a smaller launch Sunday does NOT guarantee a plant will have to shut its doors prematurely. Launch size does contribute in some way to a church plant’s ability to remain open, but to a much smaller degree than I would have ever expected.

The Application:

I remember having trouble sleeping the night before Velocity’s launch Sunday. I wondered if anyone would come. I worried what we’d do if no one came. I wish I had this data at the time, so here’s what I’d like every church planter to understand:

Dear Church Planter, I want you to know that the number of people attending your first launch service will not guarantee your launch’s future success or danger. Yes, it does matter and it’s always good to launch as large as possible. But, churches have flourished from a launch size of 50 and fizzled from 290. Yes, a larger launch raises the potential success rate of a church slightly, but only slightly. No matter how many people attend your service that first Sunday, do NOT lose hope. Whether you have 50 or 550, rally your team and keep going!

The Data: 

This data only compares 18 churches. Many more churches would be needed to make sure this number significance proves true regardless of the sample size. If you are looking for more specifics, I’ll share some data info below:

Unpaired t test results

P value and statistical significance:
The two-tailed P value equals 0.0436
By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be statistically significant.Confidence interval:
The mean of Group One minus Group Two equals -69.28
95% confidence interval of this difference: From -136.45 to -2.11Intermediate values used in calculations:
t = 2.0961
df = 34
standard error of difference = 33.051
Review your data:
  Group   Group One     Group Two  
Mean 119.61 188.89
SD 67.21 123.07
SEM 15.84 29.01
N 18 18

So much to share, so little time. Make sure you subscribe to never miss a post.