Church “Plants” Booming

featured-future-howThere’s a booming segment of the house of worship market that is led by young, tech-saavy pastors looking to leverage audio, video and lighting in creative ways. This group is made up of new churches starting from scratch or new churches launched by either a “sending” church or denomination, with some funding to help kick things off. There’s a myth that the majority of these church “plants” (as they’re known) fail quickly, but new stats debunk that myth and show the success of church plants as a whole.

Recent data from the Center for Missional Research had twelve denominations and networks participate in the study of over 1,000 church plants. The study revealed that 99 percent of church plants survive the first year, 92 percent the second year, 81 percent the third year, and 68 percent the fourth year. That’s above the average of new businesses that make it to year five.

As with other articles here on rAVe about the house of worship market, this one helps bring clarity to both manufacturers and dealers/integrators. Over the years I’ve heard about how “small churches don’t have money,” and while there’s truth in that statement, the trends around church plants demonstrate that both the ability to spend on technology and the desire (based on the younger demographic of these church leaders) is greater than churches that have been small (or getting smaller through decline). It is important to keep a fresh perspective and to watch these trends to see what market opportunities needs to be addressed. Keep reading, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Starting from Scratch

Many reading this will look at this market segment with some skepticism since any new launch is clearly going to be starting small (read: financially limited), so why bother address this market? That’s a valid question, but an interesting corollary statistic shows that the churches that make it (the majority of churches planted) double in weekend attendance within their first four years.

True, limited funds are not a key driver for initiating a marketing effort, but given the overall success and growth, combined with the young leadership of these church plants, the opportunity for a long-term relationship with these churches means that even small up-front sales can (and should) lead to many repeat sales as they church grows.

Another interesting aspect of church plants is where they meet. For the most part, these are churches meeting in rented/leased facilities such as movie theatres, local schools, civic centers and retail shopping centers. More often than not, these are venues where they must bring in everything — from A/V/L equipment to nursery beds to signage to coffee makers — and leverage their volunteers teams for setup and break-down every weekend. It’s easy to see their need for portable equipment, but a smart manufacturer or integrator will also look down the road at helping the church see the value proposition for repurposing gear and/or a robust trade-in program created specifically for church plants.

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Kick-started Church Plants

There are no stats that fully agree on this percentage, but it seems safe to say that approximately 60 percent of all church plants are funded (all or in part) by a sending church or organization. These initial funds take directly into consideration the technology needs and often help cover rent and staff costs for the first few years. Clearly, this alleviates the fears raised in previously in this article, but it also demonstrates the intentionality of launching strong churches.

From a marketing perspective, it is helpful to target existing churches that are funding these new church plants. These established churches have experience with technology and have built their preferences and biases based on how technology has performed in their venues. This experience is a key driver for the push to recommend portable technology for their small venues and church planting efforts. Yep, you can directly speak to churches about planting because it’s on their radar in a big way. Several denominations are setting goals of a 2 percent to 3 percent growth of the number of churches planted per year (percentage based against their total number of churches). That’s thousands of church plants per year!

Unsurprisingly, these church plants are targeting young adults and young families. It’s generally true that a church’s demographics age with their leadership, so these young churches are vibrant and creating environments that are in line with the level of technology commiserate with younger adults.

From portable, rack-mounted solutions to adding shipping cases as part of the technology offering (think targeted marketing to allay fears and demonstrate understanding of portable applications), the technology bundles and ancillary equipment is worth unique marketing efforts for both the manufacturer and dealer.

Where To Start?

The opportunities are obvious and the need is clear. What creates a disconnect is the hesitation to engage with young organizations with limited funds and staff to operate the technology. That’s understandable, to a point, but considering church plants are, by and large, growing while the majority of older churches are declining, the viability of this market segment is not to be ignored.

A few specialist companies, such as Portable Church Industries, have recognized this trend early on and built a niche in this market space for the A/V/L needs. Most, however, are unaware of this emerging market and the potential it holds for long term, repeat sales in this vertical market.

I am still surprised at how few manufacturers (in particular) and dealers (in general) fail to create a vertical market menu/navigation on their websites for churches. Clearly, within this option would be the chance to identify various church needs. Church plants are a category unto themselves, so demonstrate some thought leadership and create the targeted marketing (and the great SEO that comes from it) on your websites.

What are your questions about the church plant movement? What has been your experience with either church plants themselves or the sending churches that help fund them?