Confession: This blog post was originally written to be used as a guest post on another blog, but it was waaaaayyyy too long and “not sarcastic enough“. Which is rather ironic, because I think that just might be the only time in recorded history that anyone has told me that I was not sarcastic enough. I’m gonna be honest, it was a refreshing change from the deep, breathy sighs and the knowing looks of disapproval that I am accustomed to. So, I figured, “Why let all this creative genius just waste away in the ever-increasing pile of google docs that are in various states of completion? I’ll just subject my loyal readers to my long-winded diatribe! (You’re welcome.) Without further adieu, I give you my magnus opus: The Dos and Don’ts of Church Planting (The Really Long Version).
Have you ever or are you now in the process of either planting a church or thinking about planting a church? If you answered yes to the aforementioned question, then answer this next question: Why? And don’t just say, “Because all the cool kids are doing it.” While that may be true (snort), that’s really not such a good reason. There are actually several good reasons not to be involved in a church plant. Here are three:
1) Because you’re burned out, angry and/or fed up with your current church.
Many of us have been there. But if you leave without exhausting every reasonable attempt to reconcile past hurts and disagreements, not only will you carry that bitterness and anger to your new church home, but not doing so ignores some really sound biblical doctrine. (Incidentally, this is applicable to all Christians, not just us super hip church planters.)
2) If your spouse/significant other is not completely sold out on the idea.
Planting a church is a fantastic experience. It can also be incredibly frustrating, scary, all consuming and just down right hard. If your spouse has even a hint of reservation about the idea, run – don’t walk – away. Your marriage is more important than the church plant.
3) If your future location is somewhere you have never lived and/or you know nothing about.
I’ll get some flack for this one. There are many successful church plants started by folks who knew squat about the area they planted in. John Burke’s church in Austin comes to mind, and I know there are many others. Gateway is amazingly successful. But before he started Gateway, he was the executive director of ministries at Willow Creek. I’m guessing he had a few connections. Plus he’s Baptist, and you Baptists are loaded! You can do statistical analysis and socioeconomic projected population studies out the wazoo, but for me, the best resources for knowing your target area are the members of your core group who intimately know the needs of their community. If you decide to be involved in a “parachute drop” church plant, don’t think it’s going to be like a vacation. Houston for five days is fantastic and fun-filled. Houston (or anywhere else) 24-7 looks a little different. You have to live there, get to know people and the culture. Understand that you need a good support system and a really committed support team for the long haul. Know that there will be times when you may feel abandoned and lonely; even second guessing your decision.
So, why should you be part of a church plant? My simple answer is that you have exhausted every other option. You have prayed and prayed and then prayed some more about it. God says, “Go plant a church,” and you say, “No, really. I’m good.” Then God says to you, “I AM totally not kidding. Stop worrying about your own comfort and financial stability and get out there and love on some people who would never even think of stepping through the doorway of your local church. They might be messy, abandoned, or marginalized, but they’re mine and I love them!” (God may not use words like “totally” when He talks to you, but still.) Then, if you don’t come by humility naturally, be prepared to be taken to school. Because if you’re really down with G-O-D, He will humble you in ways you’ve never imagined.
So, what are some dos and don’ts I can share with you based upon my vast year and a half experience with church planting? I’ve got roughly 897, but I’ll try to keep it brief:
Do employ the K.I.S.S. methodology. Understand what your point and your process will be. (Also sometimes referred to as a mission or vision statement.) Simple doesn’t mean easy, it only means simple. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend “Simple Church” by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger.
Don’t attempt to offer a bunch of programs to attract new members. Concentrate on how your church can best serve your community, beginning with the members of your core group.
Do have a pastor that has an absolutely sound, biblically based theology and make sure you are in firm agreement with them on the non-negotiables.
Don’t get bogged down with things that are more about tradition and personal preference such as using a worship eagle as opposed to an interpretive pop and lock dance set to Toby Mac’s “Feelin’ So Fly”.
Do make sure that your core group consists of people willing to lead and to be lead. You should be of like mind and vision for the church. If you’re a pastor, it’s not a bad idea to have at least one or two core members who would be willing to take a bullet for you. Because depending on where you plant, that might be a distinct possibility.
Do have a plan and a timeline for at least the first two years of your church. You can always opt to adjust things or make a change if needed, but it’s good to have a baseline. (Plus, if you are receiving support from other churches, it really bugs them when you say stuff like, “Que sera sera, Whatever will be will be. The future’s not ours to see”, and then make a sweeping, full body twirl whist holding a scarf in your hand.)
Don’t get all stressed out about meeting some arbitrary deadline for your launch date. God’s timing is not always in line with ours, and the expense of a building is a huge financial commitment. Meet in homes for as long as it is practical. Invest your money in people via missions and outreach.
Do splurge for a professional looking sign if you meet in someones’ home and you regularly have over 25 people every Sunday. Something like “We are not a Cult” would be a good option.
Don’t check your email and/or your blog if you’re sitting near me at the conference like you did last year. I will hurt you. (And seriously, I don’t want to see all the cool new apps on your i-phone.)
Do your homework before you agree to work with a church planting organization. There are some fantastic ones out there, but make sure that their vision for the church is in line with yours. Don’t agree to anything because you need funding. We are self funded, so that’s not an issue for us, but I know that is a luxury, not the norm. Incidentally, money will quite often follow the vision.
Do lots of research. Read books by successful visionaries and pastors that have blazed the trail before you. If they have a blog (and who doesn’t?), put them on your list of blogs you read on a regular basis. They’re a great resource. (Just remember that the bible is your best resource! Too preachy? Sorry, my bad.)
Don’t make wickedly funny, sarcastic remarks on pastor’s blogs. They rarely respond, and just between you and me, I’m pretty sure they find you incredibly annoying…(Not that I have any personal experience with this, I’m just saying.)
Do keep your sense of humor. Sometimes you may have to laugh to keep from crying.
Don’t plant a church if you don’t have a sense of humor. And incidentally don’t visit Convergence Christian Church either. If you’re extremely intense (or what I like to call “Darren Patrick-ish”) and don’t see the humor in a bunch of woefully imperfect prodigals attempting to live a life abiding in Christ, then I’m pretty sure you’d hate us.
A very special thanks for their insights and contributions to my excessively bad run-on sentences to my friend and pastor Jeff Hogan; as well as Beth, my fellow rockin’ awkward church planter in Terre Haute, Indiana: Land of the Slanket.