In the early days of our church planting adventure I spent some time seeking out other church planters, hoping for some wisdom and encouragement. Man, did I get a wake up call.
There seem to be two distinct schools of thought in the church planting community. The first is “This is hard. Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t look like you’ve got what it takes… I’m not so sure you should do this! Have you prayed about it?”
The second school of thought starts off sounding much like the first, but then takes a dramatic turn: “This is hard. What do you need? How can I help you? Man, what an adventure! Let me pray for you.”
Do you hear the difference?
The sad truth is I heard a whole lot more of the first than I did of the second. To be honest, it was discouraging to hear such defeatist talk from those on the front lines of the revitalization and renewal of the church- church planters themselves.
*I KNOW I CAN DO IT... IT'S YOU I'M NOT SO SURE ABOUT*
Let’s just put it out there. You have to be a certain type of personality to jump ship from the institution, the known, the safe and head off into the uncharted waters of church planting. It’s not for everyone… and for the A-type personalities who often make up the ranks of those who have jumped, those who are sailing those uncharted waters, when we see others getting ready to do the same, a common first impulse may be to wonder who they think they are… don’t they know that this church planting thing is for the few, the proud, the best of the best? And since we’re doing this different, emergent-type thing… we really don’t need more competition, do we?
Better to weed out the weak.
I actually had church planters tell me disdainfully that church planting was the “sexy” new thing and I better think twice before I just jumped on the bandwagon. I was “assessed” in a 45 minute conversation and found lacking.
It’s a good thing I didn’t listen to the discouraging talk of the A-type personalities I encountered… that I felt called to do this, that I realized that God loves it when people step out in faith and start new churches… and it’s a good thing I remembered that this is kingdom, not competition.
It makes sense to weed out the weak when you start with the basic assumption that no one should step out and plant a church unless specifically instructed to by God and unless they have “what it takes.” I like to approach it from a different viewpoint.
Why shouldn’t you plant a church?
Most people when asking themselves that question usually come up with three common reasons…fear, finances and failure.
Fear? Is it scary? Yes, of course it is. But for me, a turning point was realizing that I had never really done anything in my life that required actual faith. Yes, I had picked up and moved to Europe for two years. Did that require faith? I had a great salary waiting for me, a church community to integrate me, and the knowledge that if it didn’t work out, I could always just find something else to fall back on. Faith? Sort of, but not really.
I came to the point in considering church planting where I realized that I simply didn’t want to get to 70 and look back never having taken an actual step of faith… never having started something, never having begun a journey whose end I could not clearly see from the beginning. I didn’t want the regret of not having taken a shot at a dream of mine.
Finances? Sure- that was a consideration. When we decided to plant the church we had just bought a house and gotten pregnant. I knew that looking back this was either going to seem like a great step of faith or a complete lack of common sense. I suppose the jury is still out on that…
But we had to decide, my wife and I, that if taking this step cost us our house, set us back financially… that simply wasn’t too big a price to pay for God’s kingdom. If we did what we felt we needed to do, and there were financial costs, so be it. We’d rather see people come into relationship with God than have a house. We’d rather see those who have given up on church find community again than have a new car. We had to ask ourselves “What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if we do this?” And when we really started looking at it, it just didn’t seem like that big a deal.
Failure? In a conversation with a good friend on the day we decided to plant this church, he asked me a great question: How will you define failure? I realized through our talk that failure wasn’t if we did this and had to close the doors in a year because not many people showed up and we couldn’t pay the bills. Failure would be if we failed to love the people God did bring us, if we failed to love each other in community, if we failed to feed, clothe and otherwise care for anyone. That would be failure… not if we simply failed to achieve any type of long term momentum and institutional stability.
I realized that for me personally, failure would be if I didn’t even try.
If you do this might you fail? I guess it depends on how you define failure. They say 80% of church plants fail. I don’t know about that… all I can say is that I think that many church plants that seem to be failures by the standard of “Did they make it?” were probably great adventures for many involved, probably introduced people to Christ and probably made a practical difference in the lives of some people who really needed those small, “failing” churches.
I think that the biggest failures in the church planting world aren’t the ones who function as a community for 1, 2 or 5 years and then disband to go do something else. I think the biggest failures in the church planting world are the churches that never even get started, for whatever reason- whether because of fear, because of lack of encouragement or simply because no one asked “Well, why shouldn’t we?”
*ENCOURAGING CHURCH PLANTING BY ENCOURAGING CHURCH PLANTERS*
All this has left me at a place where I really want to encourage those who are at the end of their rope, banging their head against the institutional wall, feeling like those they really love and want to see introduced to Christ are beyond the reach of modernistic, institutional churches.
You can do this.
It’s not rocket science.
Through my experience in church planting I have learned that there’s a hard way to do this and an easy way. The hard way involves plans and proposals, hundreds of thousands in seed money, denominational strings and a host of headaches. “Start with a bang!” they will tell you. “Mailers to every home in three zip codes!” they will advise you. A full band! Complete children’s ministry! Advertising!!!!
Start small. Raise some support, trust God for the rest and get a job at Starbucks if need be. Let your community be what it will be. Refuse to do for the people who come the ministry that they should do for themselves. Concentrate on laying a foundation of community and common core values and let your church grow organically without superimposing a grand “vision” on it.
When we were still in the dream phase of this thing people would ask me- “What will it look like?” I grew to love answering “I have no earthly idea.” All I could say was that if a bunch of cloggers and bluegrass musicians showed up, well… we’d be the clogging church. If a bunch of skate punks showed up, we’d be the skate church. I wasn’t out to niche target-market our community, and so felt great freedom to just sit back and watch what happened. I still feel that freedom…
Like I said, it’s not rocket science. You can do this thing. Just look at the guys Jesus started with…
No- not everyone should plant a church. Not everyone is called, gifted or able… but just the fact that you’re thinking about it says something. Just the fact that you want to tells me a lot. And if you actually step out and do it? Well… that says volumes about you, about your courage and about your faith in the God who is advancing His kingdom all around this world.
The question isn’t “Why should I plant a church”… it’s why shouldn’t you! Here’s what I know: God loves it when His people take a step of faith. He will go ahead of you, with you and behind you in this adventure. If you love those He brings you, you will be a success whether it lasts for a year, two years or the rest of your life.
So go ahead- take the leap. Plant a church! And let me know how I can help.