More than 1,800 church planting beginners and veterans are gathered in Orlando, Fla., at a time when church growth is not just about being big.
"It seems like there's a shift that's happening on how churches 'keep score,'" said Dave Ferguson, lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill. "It's not just about being big ... but it's also about how do we continue to reproduce (new sites, churches, networks)."
The National New Church Conference had first drawn 250 people in Baltimore two years ago. Last year's conference grew to over 800 church planters and this year, the attendance has more than doubled.
And next year, conference organizers plan to call next year's conference "Exponential" to reach beyond the United States. "Exponential: Moving Beyond Addition" is this year's theme.
"God is doing a new thing!" said Ferguson, who also heads New Thing Network.
Participants of the Apr. 23-27 conference have come from various states and church groups, including the emerging church and mainline denominations, to learn the growing number of church models that have been developed, gain a new vision for church planting, and learn the how-to's of starting a new church.
And these are some of the most cutting edge pastors on what's happening in God's kingdom, Ferguson noted.
Church Planters on Brink of Failure
For church planters who are in their initial stages of setting up a church and wondering if they're going to make it next week, Ferguson advises: don't give up.
"If there's a dream that God has really given you, you just need to be unstoppable," he said.
A recent study by the North American Mission Board's Center for Missional Research found that 99 percent of church plants survive the first year, 92 percent the second year, 81 percent the third year, and 68 percent the fourth year.
Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., reminded church planters who are struggling to enjoy the journey and that church growth is in God's hands.
"All we do is plant water, we can't control the growth," he said.
Batterson tried starting a church in Chicago and it failed. He moved his family to the nation's capital where it took five years to grow from 19 to 250. Soon attendance in a theater jumped to 750 and then remained stagnant for another 18 months. And 10 years later, the church is a successful multi-site making impact in unique ways.
"Failure is not final ... but some of the greatest things that can happen to us," Batterson said.
At National Community, Batterson focuses on preaching the best message every week whether there's a crowd of three or over 1,000. Service evangelism is also a major thrust for the church's growth.
"We've got to focus on input and not worry about outcome."
"God gives the increase," says Batterson. "Just hang in there."