Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Dos and Don'ts of Church Planting

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 recruit new members from other churches. First off, that's just rude and doesn't conform to the Golden Rule. Secondly, our mission is to make new disciples, not to play musical chairs, and third, like Jeff (my pastor) puts it, that fruit might be easy to reach, but it has already been picked, and frankly some of it is rotten. (The rotten part is my statement not his, but he wishes it was.)

Do attend the Exponential Conference in Orlando this April. Not only is it a great place to network and meet some great folks who are in the same boat as you, but you will also hear Francis Chan, Erwin McManus, Craig Groeschel, Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, and (gasp) Tim Keller! For a complete list of speakers, go to their website. I am not exaggerating when I say that the author of every book (outside the bible) I've read in the past 2 years will be there. Well, I don't think Stephen King will be there either, but if he was, HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT WORKSHOP BE? Incidentally, if Brent Foulke or anyone else from the conference happens to be reading this, I'm not above accepting free passes to the conference in exchange for say, unprecedented exposure to your conference via a link on Hey Look A Chicken. Which, incidentally has been read by literally tens of people on every continent on planet earth save Antarctica. And seriously, who's gonna plant a church in Antarctica?

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.

So, there's my take on church planting. What has been your experience?

NOTE: I will probably post my much edited version sometime soon, because I'm pretty sure that didn't make the cut either. Frankly, church planting just ain't that funny. Now the conferences? That's a whole different subject -- FUN-NEEEEE! Dang, that's a people watching extravaganza right there!


Sherri Murphy said...

Not a church planter, but still enjoyed the post. Especially the part about NOT playing musical chairs, because sadly, that happens often within the church.

My real reason for the visit?



I have a new blog site EVERYTHING IN MODERATION, full of EASY, (but not so healthy) recipes that EVEN YOU could prepare! Well, it's not FULL of them yet, but it will be full, eventually. Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

Please stop by and leave your signature snarky comment for the christening ceremony.

Annie K said...

You gotta love Sherri. Shameless.

I'll heartily agree with #1. That happened when some folks left our church and they were counseled to work on some things before starting a new church. I'm not going into details, but let's just say that a few families were devestated, not to mention the problems it caused in the new church. Thankfully there has been a lot of grace and reconciliation, but a lot of people were hurt because pride amongst other things were the driving factor.

Helen said...

I don't have any experience in Church planting. Then again, I am a Catholic who lives in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area. I have switched parishes based on moving, handicap accessibility (when mom was disabled, but could get in and out of the car), etc. I can't imagine starting from the ground up so to speak.

I do admire that you don't recruit from other Churches. I think it shows a respect for other brethren that is often missing. And yes, Catholics can be guilty of this, too. I don't think we should do this. I think as Christians we can share and explain are beliefs with each other, but trying to convince another Christian to leave their Church home....well, like I said, I really love that your Church is reaching out to the unsaved and trying to unite them with Christ.
God bless you and Convergence Christian Church!

God doesn't talk to you in King James English? I thought he spoke to all non Catholic Christians in King James English ;-) He speaks to me in Latin. Too bad I don't understand Latin. ;-) (Just kidding on all accounts. No offense. In Christian love. I don't meant to be....., etal (ie: SCL from earlier this week to get this))

Said pastor has commented on your blog three times. Never once on mine. You have nothing to complain about there, sister! As a matter of fact, I think he has commented on your site more often than Sherri's, and it is her fault we put Rev. N. Waxy on our blog rolls! (No offense, Rev. Waxy).

Sherri Murphy said...

katdish- hop on over to the Fellowship of the SMARTY PANTS TRAVELING site. THEY'RE PLAYIN" OUR SONG!!!

Stephanie Wetzel said...

Dude. You're right. That wasn't funny at all.

Now I'm all depressed.

I'm goin over to Sherri's place for some fun. (Shamelessly Other-Promoting. Sherri, you owe me.)

Also, Sherri... I find the name of your new blog just a LITTLE ironic. Moderation, huh? So what exactly is a moderate number of blogs for one person (no matter how many personalities she has) to run? How ya sposed to self-promote all those blogs?!

katdish said...


Actually, I wasn't talking about my favorite wax-free mega pastor. He is actually way cooler than I could have ever imagined! I have actually commented on SEVERAL prominent pastor's blogs, and with few exceptions, they completely ignore me. Only the really cool ones will talk to me. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

I still haven't worked up the nerve to comment on Tim Keller's site, rock star that he is...

Annie & Sherri,

I have had many friends leave the church I used to go to because of hurt pride and feelings. Almost without exception, they still hold on to that hurt. I can't help but think that, like unforgiveness that I talked about in an earlier post, it just seeps into your other relationships.

Steph -

I was gonna say "you suck". But I've decided to pray for your former pole dancing self instead. Peace be with you...

katdish said...

ps - I crack myself up.

Stephanie Wetzel said...

PS I'm glad you crack yourself up. Otherwise, NOBODY WOULD BE LAUGHING!

(I crack mySELF up.)

PPS I've never pole danced. Chairs, on the other hand...

Sherri Murphy said...

FOR THE RECORD STEPH, My two other blogs get a post ONE DAY a week!

I have no children at home.

That's pretty moderate, in my humble opinion.

Now, my self promotion may take a bit more of my valuable time. Because unlike Katdish, who actually posts about famous bloggers then sends them a invitation begging them to visit, I try to be a bit more discreet which takes more of my time. It's the planning and scheming that's wearin' me down.

Plus lately, I've added thieving and lying/misleading to my list of crimes.

Sherri Murphy said...

ANd regarding a certain wax-free pastor, I hate to say I told you so....but did I not tell you so? I love him.

Not to lift him up more than he deserves, but he is up there in my book.

His messages were the beginning of some life-changing transitions for both Big Al and Me. I've met him and he IS wax-free.

Beth in NC said...

The photo is too funny! I can identify with the church plant stuff. DEFINITELY DON'T DO IT UNLESS GOD IS SAYING DO IT. Amen!

I can also say, never leave a church in anger. At least ask for the blessing of your leadership to release you in peace. Been there, done that.


Anonymous said...

May I add?

Do, when you hire a pastor, make sure his vision for the church matches with your core group. Otherwise you may work very hard to plant a church then find yourself unable to stay there.

This wasn't too long at all, and made some great points.

jasonS said...

Good stuff. Yeah, our launch (re-launch actually) date was supposed to be last Sunday but we were no where close to ready. So we are now shooting for Easter Sunday and things are progressing nicely.

I was so stressed out in December, knowing what all was not done yet, but then I'm like, "I set this date, not God" we reworked it and it was all good.

Trusting God is hard work but an infinitely more enjoyable way to live.