CP Study Part 4: Higher Baptisms in Church Plants

Buildings, baptisms, and budgets—the benchmarks most people use to evaluate church health. But are these the best measures? There are many who question which is most appropriate, but we wanted to see church plants that are reaching the lost through conversions. In most cases for denominations in our study, that was measured in baptisms.

A recent study by the Center for Missional Research among twelve denominations or networks provides some clues as to what church plants with higher than average baptisms are doing. With over 1,000 church plants contacted and more than 500 completed phone interviews, the study indicates that flourishing church plants share certain characteristics.

  • Among the factors associated with higher than average baptisms are
    • evangelistic emphases,
    • effective ministries, and
    • expanding leadership.

As seen in the graph below, the average (or mean) annual baptisms (or conversions) among the denominations studied show an increasing trend: 10 baptisms the first year, 11 the second year, 13 the third year; and 14 the fourth year.


We tested more than 100 possible factors, and listed below are those that consistently make a difference for higher than average baptisms during the first four years of the church plant. Only a few factors made such a difference that they were statistically significant.
Missions and Evangelism
Church plants with higher baptism counts engage in ministry evangelism—food banks, emergency shelters, drug and alcohol recovery programs, and other ministries. They recognize that the community will not connect with their church unless they connect with their community. They look for needs, and find ways to meet those needs.
High baptism church plants start at least one daughter church within three years of their church plant. They look beyond themselves and are willing to do whatever it takes to reach others.
Stewardship and Finances
Higher than average baptisms are also associated with a proactive plan for stewardship development. This basic aspect of the Christian life is nurtured, not neglected. Church plants that consistently grow their members and challenge them in stewardship, grow toward financial self-sufficiency.
Events and Ministries
Block parties, mid-week children's programs, and children's special events—Fall festivals and Easter egg hunts—are all utilized by higher baptism church plants. Many of these church plants conduct a mid-week children's ministry that touches numerous families in their community. They engage in activities that engage people and the extended family.
Promotion and Publicity
Sending out mailers to invite people to services and church events is part of a strategy they use to reach their communities for Christ. The church plants with higher baptisms would not consider "hiding their lamp under a basket" (Matt. 5:15). They promote and publicize. They use various means to tell their story, so that ultimately they can tell His story.
Training and Development
Training is high on the list of priorities for those church plants with higher baptism counts. Development of members and staff is a constant process. The church planter is assessed prior to the beginning of the church plant and almost always works full-time rather than in a bi-vocational role. Church planters also receive training, often in a boot camp or basic training format.
Church plants that show the best baptismal counts also conduct a new member class for all new church members. They provide leadership training to help support the requirements of their expanding ministries. And, of vital importance, they delegate leadership roles to church members. They believe in a team approach to ministry. And as in all church plants or established churches, the ministry should far exceed what the staff can do. It should far exceed their individual giftedness. The church plant's ministries and impact should recognize and utilize the interdependence of the body of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Church plants that evidenced consistently higher baptisms over a four-year period were intentional about their ministries and involved in their communities. They practiced what they proclaimed—evangelism, church planting, stewardship, and training for leaders and new members. They used promotion effectively. They help us understand that higher baptisms are not an accident. Neither are they a work that we accomplish. But they are a work that God does through us as we focus on the things that matter most. May we soon celebrate the day that all church plants share the joy of seeing more people baptized each year.

Download Research Reflection (Part 4) 
Next, in part 5, the full research report (including methodology)

Ed Stetzer is Missiologist and Sr. Director of the Center for Missional Research, NAMB
Phillip Connor is Research Missiology Manager for the Center for Missional Research, NAMB