Why We All Need to Care About Church Planting Research
By Rob Hoskins and Tena Stone
Research is one of the most powerful, but overlooked, tools in the church planter’s toolbox. Whether you’re starting a local or global ministry initiative—research will get you there most efficiently and effectively. When researchers and ministry practitioners partner in creative and cooperative ways, applying good research will multiply the potential for impact and church multiplication.
Research is a great clarifier.
Research helps give us a clear understanding of local realities, allows us to identify the bridges and barriers to the Gospel, and enter into the narratives shaping local culture. As we began to study the body of research and results on some of our Scripture engagement programs, we noticed a significant trend of needing to bridge the gap to reach even younger children. This insight opened the door to a strategic partnership with YouVersion which resulted in creating the Bible App for Kids.
Research is a great convener.
Research brings people together by identifying realities and needs that are truly too challenging to tackle on your own. We conducted a ‘Discovery’ research project in Broward County, Florida where our OneHope ministry headquarters is based. The results of that report became a catalyst for a gospel city movement called “Church United” which has had significant traction in churches collaborating around specific social, spiritual, and cultural missional activities.
If research is so useful, why isn’t it always our obvious starting point? Sometimes research sounds heavy or lofty, but when we foster serious collaboration around empirical research, it accelerates our church planting initiatives like never before.
We have spent many years at OneHope caring about research—even building a team to do it well. We’ve had the privilege of coming alongside church planters around the globe to support them with our expertise. One African partner shared that when it comes to planting churches or doing ministry outreaches, they often feel like blind men stumbling around in the dark, but research “gives us eyes to see.”
Here are some key lessons on using research to bring actionable insights:
Tips for the Practitioner
- Research is an incredibly powerful convener that brings common language, goals, and understanding. It gives us a shared baseline and finish line.
- Research that produces findings you don’t like is incredibly valuable and offers the opportunity to stop and reassess.
- Research is most helpful in developing next steps rather than charting an entire course.
- Research is a long-term investment. It is not one and done, that is why they call it“re”search.
Tips for the Researcher
- A single research study can never account for a full and robust picture of reality. Be open about your limitations, approach the study from multiple perspectives and leverage your practitioners. You need the voice of the practitioner at every step of the process.
- Write for your audience. Your research can be stellar, but if no one is reading it, you have a problem.
- Make the research visual. We live in an increasingly visual world where text alone doesn’t cut it. Visuals transcend language barriers and often create effective summaries.
Our research team at OneHope has put these tips to the test within a few different church planting movements and found incredible success.
Light in a dark place
The Lumiere Project is a five-year initiative that is in the process of planting more than 3,300 churches across French-speaking Africa. OneHope has come alongside with an accompanying primary research study to track the churches being planted and their growth and health over time. To date, more than 1,000 churches have been planted representing 11 nations, 96 participating denominations, and 89 languages! We could never have imagined the role the research would play in uniting people across so many borders. The project has given a sense of collective identity and mutual encouragement to the planters as it shows them they are part of something bigger than their own church, community, or even nation.
The research has been a way not only of giving them eyes to see, but of bringing others into this journey, opening the door to new partnerships, and even sponsorship opportunities. With smartphones and platforms including Skype and Survey Monkey, data collection and submission has been affordable and doable. We have been humbled by the dedication of the teams to get us this information while at times dealing with flash flooding, unstable political climates, temporary internet shutdowns, and more. If research on this scale can be done in the remotest parts of Africa, there is no reason it cannot be done anywhere.
Understanding the true needs of the Rural Church
Here in North America, research has been helping us convene around needs and opportunities for churches being planted in rural areas. The Rural Matters Initiative is headed up by a joint task force that brings together relevant, reliable, and divergent streams of knowledge to form a coherent picture of local communities. The research is offering a window into rural America and providing resources and tools for church planters to conduct more research on their own.
I actually get excited about research, I believe research is revelatory. I’ve seen it open doors for incredible ministry opportunities we would not have known existed had we not taken the time to ask good questions and listen well. I’m excited to be a part of creating a future where research is highly valued as a crucial component that accelerates Kingdom initiatives.