I have a sincere and deep passion for church planters. Having planted myself I know the highs and lows, the twists and turns, the hurts and heartaches, and the enemy’s attacks that church planters experience. While I don’t consider myself an expert in church planting, maybe a few of the things I learned while planting will be encouraging to some of you.
First… I want to be certain the right people are reading this and getting the kudos they deserve. It seems, due to the fact that church planting is the trend today, anyone who has grown a small congregation to a larger congregation believes they are a church planter. Not so.
You’re not a church planter if…
- you didn’t have to raise funds to start the church.
- you inherited and/or embraced someone else’s or another church’s vision.
- you inherited a pre-existing congregation of any size.
- you weren’t the first person to pastor the congregation.
- you weren’t the first person to secure, or make sure someone secured, the first sound system, lighting, etc… so that worship could happen.
- you didn’t secure the location/building where the church would experience her first worship service.
For those of you who truly are church planters, maybe these five words of wisdom will be helpful:
1. Don’t allow incoming congregants to recreate the system of doing church you’ve established
When I planted I realized that, if we were going to truly make disciples, we would do three things only, 1) weekend worship, 2) biblical small groups, 3) age graded ministries for children and students. Many people wanted to create women’s ministries, men’s ministries, etc… Learning to say no to good things for the greater thing is an essential quality of an effective church planter.
2. Realize your church isn’t for everyone
When I planted I secured a volunteer staff team. I coached each of them to learn and use this phrase, “This may not be the right church for you.” When people came with their longings for new ministries, didn’t like the worship style, or just had a beef about the vision I had for the church, they heard that phrase, “This may not be the church for you.” I’d imagine we lost five percent of those who tried the church. We also saved ourselves and future generations of church leaders a massive number of difficult conversations.
3. Surround yourself with people who believe as deeply in the dream as you do
As I mentioned, I recruited a volunteer staff team. I would imagine each of them gave at least 25 volunteer hours weekly to the church and didn’t receive a penny in compensation for at least three years and then, about enough to pay for their gas to and from meetings and church gatherings. Why would they sacrifice so much? Because they were as passionate about the vision as I was.
4. Celebrate when people leave the church
At one point I made a decision that caused an entire small group of about 20 (we were a church of about 100 at the time) to leave the church. I can’t begin to tell you how devastating this was to my heart. We were finally gaining momentum then a fifth of the congregation exited. I was so down I asked a respected elderly pastor to preach for me one Sunday. After the service he was consoling me and made this statement, “You’ll have blessed additions and sacred subtractions. In my years in ministry I found that people who left my congregation due to a disagreement were, in almost every instance, sacred subtractions.” He was right.
5. Don’t give up unless God tells you to
I planted bi-vocationally. I was a church consultant at the time and was on the road about 110 days a year. A week’s work was at least 70 hours, and that was on a good week. At one point I had to see a counselor and was diagnosed as being in a state of deep depression. I thought for sure I’d need to close down the dream. But, I just couldn’t get a pass from God so I continued on doing the best I could do with the energy and passion that God gave me. I no longer pastor that church, my oldest son does. Under his leadership the church has grown immensely and nearly a thousand people are experiencing the power of the Gospel in ways I only dreamed of. If I had bailed.
Church planter, I don’t know you but I love you. I can say this, not just because you’re my spiritual kin. I can say this because I can empathize with you.
Be consistent, be firm, be the person God wants you to be and watch dreams become realities.
Rick Howerton is a consultant and trainer on small groups. He is founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee. He is the author of several books.