Death of a Church

This week the 2 year old Andy Stanley Catalyst video church plant here in Greenville sadly announced that April is their last month of existence. Here’s the blog of one of the pastors, Casey Ross. Financial problems were cited as the primary concern.

I visited the church several months ago. Nice people, cutting edge contemporary music and a good video sermon by Andy Stanley. What went wrong? Here’s my two cents:

1. Location, location, location. Catalyst met downtown in a theater. Churches that meet in downtown Greenville have a history of flopping. Seacoast Greenville met in the same location for a time and nearly folded – they didn’t grow until they moved to a more accessible location in the suburbs (two short turns off a major highway.)

2. Transplants. From what I’ve heard, Catalyst didn’t use local musicians, but shipped in bands and worship leaders from Atlanta. I know of two good local musicians who played and were not asked back. One of the pastors mentions in his blog that he’s preparing to move back to Atlanta. The whole thing smacks a tad bit like the “pros” are coming to Greenville to show us poor local yokels how it’s done.

3. Market share. The Greenville church “market” is saturated. There’s literally a church on every corner (see my previous post about yet another new church in Greenville.) If I wanted to plant a church, Greenville would be the last place I’d pick: there’s simply too much “competition.”

I know, I’m using business terminology, but it’s this simple: go where the need is. I remember reading when Rick Warren decided to plant Saddleback years ago he carefully and prayerfully chose a spot that needed churches. Look what happened. Similarly, Seacoast in Charleston has boomed because there weren’t many contemporary churches in Charleston. The local Willowesque megachurch here in Greenville boomed 15 years ago when contemporary worship was unheard of in these here parts.

Church planters, what parts of the USA need churches? May I suggest some blue states?

NewSpring Church in nearby Anderson is busily at work preparing their Greenville location. Yes, another new church in Greenville, but this one makes a bit more sense. There are over 1,000 people from Greenville driving to Anderson each week. I’d just as soon drive 5 minutes literally around the corner from my house than drive the 30 minutes to Anderson. This is a church plant with support from the get-go.

3. Catalyst appealed mainly to the youth culture. It’s cool when a church has the latest, cutting edge songs and meets in a dark, vibey building, but this extreme programming generally attracts young people, and young people are notorious for not giving. I enjoyed the service, but I saw lots of Furman University students.

Therein lies the conundrum for the church planter: cool churches that attract young people with no money vs. traditional churches that attract old people with money. Hmmm, maybe there’s a way to somehow meet somewhere in the middle?

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