Confessions of an Almost Church Planter
Planting a church is tough. There are significant organizations that have many years of experience and have hired some of the greatest minds in Christendom to figure out the best ways to plant a church.
Regrettably I am not one of those minds.
Almost a year ago my senior pastor approached me about planting a church in a town near to where I live. I was excited! We took a group of 3 guys and started meeting in a person’s house. Once we grew too big for the house, we moved to a community center. Unfortunately that is where the growth stopped and actually receded significantly.
In 2013 I graduated from seminary with a Master’s degree in church planting. I figured this was God moving in my life. I am pretty sure I was completely wrong about that, other than to use this as a humbling experience that, hopefully, will make me better for the next chance I get.
Over this time, I compiled a list of things that I learned. Some of these were learned the hard way, through experiencing it. Others came through talking to people like David Platt, JD Greear, and other church planters out there who have done this successfully.
- Church planting does not happen on a whim. Many reasons that plants fail is a lack of resources. Many times that means money, but it could also be human resources or support networks. The first thing that I learned both during seminary and while talking to actual church planters is that they started a small group in the sending church that grew to 20-40 people. Those 20-40 people would leave the sending church, agree to 1-2 year commitments in the plant, and get the plant started. If I was doing this over again, I would get leadership approval to approach people in the sending church who might be interested in this.
- There needs to be training for all parties involved. Having a church planter with a seminary degree in church planting is great, but if there is no training for all of the people involved into how to plant a church and grow a church, then there will be little chance of success. When I started our plant, I looked at it as an established church already. I was teaching on several topics that are very important topics, but they did not approach the important topic of how to plant the church we were planning. In the early stages as a small group, there need to be lessons, videos, and training on evangelism, church core values, and several other aspects of new church growth.
- Everyone needs to be on board. If the leadership is divided over a church plant, it will have little chance of success. Every single leader in the church needs to be praying for the success of the plant. And the plant needs to be continually praying for the success of the main campus. Every leader, whether in a campus or in the main location, needs to be unified under the goal of the church. If planting a church does not fit within the DNA of a church model, then it is not time to plant.
- On a side note, I do need to say that a church that is not planting other churches is not following the model laid out in the Book of Acts. The last 2 letters of the word “SIN” are “IN.” Churches that are in SIN are IN to themselves. The first 2 letters of the word “GOSPEL” is “GO.” Churches who focus on the GOSPEL will GO to the ends of the earth.
- Frustration will come. Satan does not want churches planted. If churches get planted, especially Biblically-based ones, then Satan knows he is going to lose some ground in spiritual war. In the early stages of planting a church Satan is going to attack hard. He will attack marriages. He will attack relationships. He will attack our minds and hearts. In the middle of planting the church, the 4 main men in the plant were impacted by significant job problems. My business lost a lot of money which meant I needed to take a second job to make ends meet. Another member of our planting team found a job in another state and had to relocate. Another lost his employment and found something new which kept him away from the men’s meeting and some of the Sunday nights. The fourth left his job and started a new one. All of this happened within the span of 45 days. During that time all the mens’ marriages were struggling as the men had to lead their families through transition. DO NOT underestimate our enemy. Satan will come to kill, steal, and destroy. And our former church plant is a good example of that.
- Prayer needs to be the primary focus of all leadership, whether in main or satellite. One of my biggest opportunities (ie. sins) is the fact that when I get to a point where I feel overworked, frustrated, unsuccessful, or unable to solve a problem I dig my heels in and work at it harder. Unfortunately, this typically leads to me praying less and studying Scripture less. This is something that I need to confess regularly and refocus myself. This is an area that I could use constant accountability.
- Accountability needs to be strong. The new campus leader and potentially the entire new campus leadership need to be meeting with main campus leadership minimally weekly but more likely several times a week until the campus is planted.
I believe the Bible is clear that we are to plant churches and that every church should plan to be a sending church. I want to give you some Scriptural verses to show that is the case.
Matthew 16:18 – And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
1 Corinthians 3:6 – I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
Acts 2:47 – praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
1 Peter 4:9-10 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I’ll bet God uses you and what you have learned again.
2 years in to our church plant and I would say that church planting is hugely refining – you quickly find out that plans and expectations mean very little and goals go out the window.
The best question that a fellow church planter and I posed to each other one Monday after a Sunday of discouragement was “what if you are called to be Jeremiah? Would you keep going?” That is – if you are called to teach but very few listen. Is it enough that you are following God even if your church never grows, never provides a salary and will always be a second job.
Answer that question and the huge ups and downs that come with church planting – we lost about half of our church in a couple of weeks one time – don’t rob you of the joy of what you are doing….and there is huge joy in it.
So your mind may never be David Platt, mine certainly isn’t and I have been a lawyer most of my adult life not a pastor, but if God calls and you follow you will not regret it even if the first start was a bit rocky.
Oh and best advice I have gotten – Preach the Word and take yourself less seriously.
Haha, Thomas. My mind is so far from a David Platt. It is quite humorous because I realized that my own selfish desires of church planting led to discouragement. But once I realized that I wasn’t the focus of it, that everything I do should be about my Lord and Savior, then it became easier. The church plant is defunct. But God has opened several avenues that are just as awesome. So I will always have 1-2 other jobs while doing ministry, that is temporary as the world to come is the amazing prize I look forward to because I will get to see my Savior face to face. If nothing else, that is so drastically important to the mission of making disciples.
Thanks for the feedback. I will definitely be refining along the way.
Yeah, understood about the plant – just did not not if you were still headed in that direction.
Re Platt – I was watching Ravi Zacharias the other day and just wondering, how are we even on the same team😀 – Praise the one who is actually doing the work though.