Thursday, April 14, 2016
4 Church Planting Elephants
*This post is more for those thinking about planting a church or who have already done it.
We are three years in as a church plant and it has been the most thrilling and devastating thing our family has ever done. I think there are some elephants in the room that we either avoid, neglect or are ignorant about that might be worth talking about when it comes to church planting. Ergo, a blog post.
Elephant #1 Three Years to Self Sustaining is the Exception not the Norm
Many of the church plant models that are out there suggest that if you fundraise and front load the new plant with resources, then the clock starts ticking and when 3 years has expired, boom you should be self-sustaining, in need of no external support or bivocational efforts to keep the thing moving. The elephant is that unless you're reaching a large number of churched folks and getting them to join your church, this model is seldom true. I'm not antagonizing churches who gather lots of Christians from other churches or who are transplants to the new area, but many planters say that they want to be a church for people who don't like church. Some folks are genuinely chasing that. Others are over promising and under delivering and they end up with a majority of Christians, which DRASTICALLY effects the kind of church DNA that you will pioneer.
If you want to reach people who are far from God, then generosity will often take a bit longer to cultivate. Plan on 5 years of external fundraising not 3.
Elephant #2 Brand Hype is not the same thing as Discipleship
I am still waiting to meet the person who got the postcard in the mail about the new church in town and said, "Wow. I hated Jesus, but then this post card came and I went to church and gave my life to Jesus." Bumperstickers, door hangers, yard signs, paying to have your website be at the top of search results, all that stuff is really good at drawing a Christian culture to leave their current context and go to your context. Some churches spend tens of thousands of dollars each round of marketing they do. I'm probably in the minority here, but don't try to find the market, do the things of Jesus and the market will find you. The elephant is that often, the churches with the largest front doors also have the largest back doors. I'm not knocking large churches. I may however be knocking brand-hype large churches.
Relational Equity is the right way to grow a church. I want people to say they are part of C3 because others have loved them, have invited them, have invested in them, have baptized them, have laughed with them, have wept with them, have served them and have blessed them. I don't want people to say they are part of C3 because they put on quite a production or because they are the flashy/sexy thing in town or because the pastor is epically charismatic. Do the Jesus things to get the Jesus culture. Don't try to hype it, polish it or brand it. Jesus is enough...without a strategic rebranding/redesign of his image.
Elephant #3 The Church Planter is the Greatest Weakness and the Greatest Opportunity in the Church Plant
More often than not, church plant assessment centers are looking for entrepreneurial, self-starting, motivated, extroverted, life of the party folks to start churches. This in some ways is a no brainer, as you need pioneers to pioneer something. But the other reality is that the entrepreneurial, self-starting, motivated, extroverted, life of the party folks are sometimes the ones more vulnerable to significant character deficiencies. The same impulse that can get something started can also derail a leader into pursuits that are not good. The same self-confidence that can gather people can become a toxic narcissism that leads to control or to people pleasing which can swiftly derail the movement of God. These personality types can come across abrasive, arrogant, unaccountable, and controlling.
I believe that much of what happens in Church Planting is about God shaping and reaching the planter, not shaping and reaching the city or culture. The Church Planters who thrive for a lifetime are the ones who are teachable in and through this fire. The one's who bank on charisma and competency over character will implode or at the very least, plateau. People may enter in because of dynamic personality. They will stay for the long haul because of what God is doing IN and THROUGH the leader. If the leader isn't growing in this, it will be found out.
I lost my mom to a stroke on our first Sunday as a church. We have had an uphill battle with our daughter who had a massive heart attack at 10 weeks old. Every milestone for C3 has been met with a milestone of heartache for our family. But who God has shaped me to be in the midst of that has been incredibly important to the culture and DNA of our church.
I was on a summer mission trip in which we spent time getting to know people's stories and see if God is opening doors to share Good News. While we were on a beach connecting with people, we ran into the pastor of the church we had begun attending and he was doing the same thing we were. Find the one who is living a life worth imitating not the one who simply tickles your ears from a stage.
Elephant #4 Discipleship Will Not Get Celebrated
As much as Christians emphasize discipleship as a primary motivator/statistic to plant churches, the things that will be honored and celebrated and written about are always going to be the churches with record attendances and large numbers of baptisms. These are not bad things at all. But they are not neccessarily discipleship either. There aren't too many books getting written about the church that deliberately goes slow and spends months or even years investing in the few to reach the many. There is a continual temptation to sacrifice the slow, intentional culture to get the results and the reports that will gain the attention and publicity. I used to want the validation and affirmation from the masses. And it's amazing how quickly I will seek to gain the world and lose my soul.
If you can't define what a disciple is, how can you set up a church that makes them? If you can't paint a picture of where you're going, how do you know how to get there?
Begin with the end in mind. If disciples is what you want, then tell that story with intentional, reproducible patterns and systems. If a large gathering is what you want, then that is a very different process (and in my opinion is quite a bit easier to pull off).
These are just a few of the elephants I've come across. Is there one that you'd add?