Recently Baptist Press reported erroneous numbers regarding the number of churches we have in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, north Idaho). I don’t know the source of their information, but no one in the Northwest was asked to verify those numbers. Counting the number of churches has never been simple in the SBC. When I came to the Northwest in 2013 we had 446 total churches and church-type missions. We began 2020 with 508 churches and church-type missions. In the SBC, they recently began counting “campuses” of existing churches in the total church count. They also count new “affiliations” and “replants” of existing churches in the new church count. It can be very confusing.
So, to be as transparent and clear as possible, these are the new church starts that our church planting team has reported at our NWBC Annual Meeting each of the last 7 years. The criteria for when we report a new plant is based on when the planter began funding, or, if they were an apprentice when they became a planter. Apprentices are not included in the church plant numbers while they are still apprentices.
These numbers will differ from the New Congregation report we complete for NAMB each year because those reports require plants to have SBC ID#s before we report them, which the NWBC does not obtain for them before they launch publicly. Thus, the reporting dates for a plant could vary since some plants do not launch until year two or three after the planter has begun the work. It’s important to note that no church plant is reported more than once. Each of the below numbers represents a new, unique church start. Here is the direct report of our church planting ministry assistant when I asked for the numbers:
2014 – 16 new plants (which includes 2 apprentices who became planters)
2015 – 24 new plants
2016 – 22 new plants (including 10 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2017 – 23 new plants (including 6 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2018 – 16 new plants (including 5 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2019 – 19 new plants (including 3 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2020 – Gary reported 12 in his report, but based on what I have counted in the past, I would count 6 plus several in the works that I would normally report as new plants after they were approved/started.
I would note a couple of things about these numbers. Some of them represent church starts that did not get past the first two or three years. That always happens, and it happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the church planter just “gives up.” Sometimes there are health issues. I just spoke to a highly successful church planter that was asked to apply to be the pastor of a large church in the South that is sponsoring his church plant. I don’t think he is going to do that, but things like that happen. If it does in his case, his 2 ½ year-old church might not survive.
The bottom line is that the NWBC has been growing, even as we have reduced our church planting staff due to reductions from NAMB over the past several years. Evidence of our growth since 2013 includes numbers of churches, a 14 percent growth in Cooperative Program giving (while nationally CP has been declining), and we have even seen growth in the number of people coming to faith in Christ and following Jesus in baptism. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!