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‘Real Followers of Jesus’: This Church Is Planting 1,000 Churches to Offset Alarming Closures

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One church family has made it their mission to plant 1,000 churches in our generation to offset the alarming rate of church closures. 

About 4,500 Protestant churches closed their doors in 2019, the most recent year on record, according to Lifeway Research. Experts believe the rate of closures accelerated since the pandemic. About 3,000 new churches opened that year. 

Pastor J.D. Greear, former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president from 2018 to 2021, told CBN News a growing population of ‘religious nones’ is likely part of the problem. 

“So, every demographic study that I’ve seen as of recent, that’s growing maybe the fastest is this N-O-N-E group – ‘the nones,'” said Greear. “They’re very skeptical of institutionalized religion. One of the things we can get wrong is to think that they’re not interested in spirituality.” 

Greear was president of the SBC from 2018 to 2021. At its peak, the denomination grew to more than 16 million members in some 48,000 churches, nationwide. Since then, a slow yet steady decline has stripped away more than 3 million of its members. 

“Honestly, (they) were probably not practicing believers anyway – but they, them, and their descendants are dropping out,” said Greear.

Others may connect this decline in the SBC to internal divisions over LGBTQ rights, a sex abuse scandal, and the question of females serving as pastors.

“So, a lot of the decline in those numbers is cultural Christianity,” Greear said. “But if you look at the statistics in the amount of what I would consider true disciples – those numbers are actually encouraging.”

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Today, Greear focuses on his own ministry in Durham, North Carolina as pastor at The Summit Church, which has seen massive growth despite uncertainty in the SBC. 

“What we’re after here is not demographic increase, what we’re after here are real followers of Jesus,” said Greear. 

To date, The Summit Church has strategically planted 75 North American churches in strategic metropolitan cities and college towns, with more than 500 planted worldwide. Their mission is to supply these communities a church that can proclaim and live out the gospel. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of (people) are not reached in the church by just doing great music, great guest services and a relevant sermon,” said Greear. “A lot of them have to be reached outside the church, which means we have to equip our members to carry the gospel outside the walls of the church. That’s always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”

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he Summit Church sent church planter Jonathan Lenker to start Harbor City Church in Charleston, SC. 

“My desire was to be used by God in my generation to share the hope of the gospel in an area of need, and I found that in Charleston,” said Lenker. “We came here with 35 people as a launch team, we grew to about 60. And went public on Sept 18th in 2022. …last week we had 201 people here at our service.”

Since the 1700s, Charleston has been known as ‘The Holy City’ for its religious tolerance, boasting some 400 churches. Lenker, however, feels that title has lost its meaning over time. 

“If you talk to someone who really knows the city, you’ll understand that most of those churches are empty on a Sunday,” Lenker said. “We will know if we fulfilled our mission to see the Holy City, holy in truth and not just in name.”

While the gospel remains the same, people and culture do not. This is why Greear and his network plant churches to reach new generations and help them grow. 

“Jesus’ great commission only has one verb in it, we don’t see that in English because there’s a bunch of verbs,” Greear explained. “But the only verb is ‘make disciples.’ Everything else said in there is a participle, which means it strengthens or amplifies the verb. The commission that God gave the church in every generation is to make disciples.”



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