Without business savvy new churches often fail

Thousands of ministers establish new churches each year. Heeding God’s call, they seek to preach the gospel and aid the poor. Despite the good intentions and true calling, many new churches fail shortly after opening.

About 4,000 new churches come into existence every year. According to some estimates, 80 percent of them close or become nonfunctioning within five years. A detailed study of more than 2,000 new churches by Life Way Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 32 percent of them failed after four years—that’s nearly one out of three.

Many newly planted churches fail not because they lack vision or calling or because their ministers lack basic business management skills.

“In many cases, the world doesn’t expect the church to do good business, so we tend to operate substandard in our business practices,” said Dr. D’Ann V. Johnson, executive pastor of New Covenant Christian Ministries in Lithonia.

Johnson and her husband, Pastor Billy R. Johnson, founded New Covenant in 1991. Since then, the congregation has grown to a membership of more than 2,000. In addition to sharing the pulpit with her husband, Johnson oversees the daily business operation of the church and manages its staff.

A man or woman who feels God’s call to ministry may be able to preach the gospel to draw people but may not have business skills to manage the ministry, Johnson pointed out. “It could be disastrous if a pastor doesn’t realize that he or she does not have the fiscal skills and fails to bring someone alongside who shares the vision and has the skills,” added Johnson, who left a corporate position to engage in full-time ministry.

New Covenant plans to host a church leadership conference in October to share the principles of successful church development.

The leadership conference evolved from workshops that New Covenant co-hosted with other churches under the title “Building from the Ground Up.” Johnson said the group noticed several churches starting in the Atlanta area that are like New Covenant in its early years—figuring out how to develop without a model to emulate.

The conference will address a range of issues that include church administration, tax and finance management, as well as leadership workshops designed specifically for senior pastors and lay leaders.

New ministers frequently tell Johnson that their biggest challenge is identifying potential leaders, such as elders and deacons, in their congregation and training them effectively.

For elders and deacons, it is important, Johnson emphasized, that they understand their role in fulfilling the church’s vision. “Anything with two visions is di-vision,” she quipped.

When asked about New Covenant’s formula for success, Johnson responded that the ministry measures success in terms of “doing what God told us to do.” The ministry has flourished because of its commitment to fulfilling God’s calling and being “satisfied to stay in our lane.” She further explained: “We cannot do what everyone else does.”

New Covenant committed early to teaching its members how to develop a good marriage relationship. Consequently, this focus attracted more married couples with children to the congregation. With more children attending services, the ministry decided to invest resources into children programs. With high-quality children’s programs in place, New Covenant naturally drew more families.

Struggling ministries in DeKalb also have a great resource at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The seminary offers a course of study through its National Institute in Church Finance and Administration (NICFA). NICFA seminars at Emory run from June 3 to 28. The course of study is open to the public and members of all denominations.

Another resource to develop professional church management skills is offered through the Texas-based National Association of Church Business Administration. This is an interdenominational association that offers comprehensive programs, conferences and resources to promote competence in church administration.


Web sites

New Covenant Christian Ministries Leadership Conference Oct. 11 – 12 (www.newcov.org)

Emory’s National Institute in Church Finance and Administration summer session begins June 3 (www.candler.emory.edu/programs/oll/nicfa)

National Association of Church Business Administration national conference July 11-15 (www.nacba.net)

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