7 Secrets for New Church Planters

Dear Future Church Plant Leader,

I know you are searching the web for tips and ideas to help you and your new church. Perhaps Google, Facebook or a friend brought you to this blog post? However you arrived – I’m glad you are here!

I was privileged to be the church planting pastor for Lake Cities Community Church six years ago. We had a healthy “mother church” that supported us with families and finances. We started with 14 families and became financially self-sufficient after 18 months. We are still a small church – about 35 families – around 120 souls if all were present. Our prayer is to grow to around 400 people, if God allows, and we give Him all the glory for anything accomplished in and through us.

Church Sign

In this post, I want to share with you seven things that worked well for us. Seven steps that in hind-sight we would do again, and stress even more. Now, we also did plenty of things that didn’t work well… but that will be a different post!

For now – seven “secrets” that I hope you will find useful as you embark on this adventure of faith, called church planting.

1) Discern Divine Direction

I believe the most foundational part of church planting is having confidence that God is leading you to birth this new church. While all jobs require a sense of discerning God’s will – church planting is the “X-games” of Kingdom business. You are entering into a risky sport – and your faith will be tested!

Spend much time in prayer (especially with your spouse, if married), get wise counsel and seek affirmation of God’s leading before entering into a church plant.

In our case, the Elder Board of our planting church was unified in sensing God’s call to start our church (and of my involvement). In the early days of our church plant when I encountered painful times, this gave me great confidence in God’s divine direction and was a strong anchor when I was discouraged.

Business plans, vision statements and demographic studies are wonderful – but even more than those things – we enter into church planting because we believe that God Himself is raising up a new congregation – and He has invited us to be involved.

2) Don’t Give Up! 

After a strong sense of calling – I consider the second most important church planting “secret” to be perseverance! You may go 6-months without one single visitor to your new church. Don’t give up. You will experience conflict with leaders and church members. Don’t give up! You may get discouraged with preparing quality sermons for only a few people. Don’t give up!

The Bible has much to say about endurance and perseverance for a reason. God rarely does anything that does not require significant faith. Nowhere is that more true then in church planting.

And remember, it takes time to plant and water – don’t give up before you see the fruit.

3) Don’t Rush Leadership

I once heard someone say that a significant reason for church plant failures is the establishment of leadership too soon, and I really think this is true.

I can think of three separate church plant situations where the lead planter brought a friend onto the planting team, only to later see that partnership shatter because of different visions. Don’t make assumptions with leadership. Appoint leaders slowly, prayerfully and carefully.

In our situation we served under a “transitional” leadership team from our planting church for the first 18 months. Three men served us on this board. Though they were not members of the new church, they attended services regularly. They were close enough to feel the pulse of the church, yet they also had objectivity that was very valuable in that first year. They gave us time to develop and observe leaders before appointing them. This transitional board dissolved after they, along side of us, appointed two local leaders onto a new board.

It was a model that worked well for us – and I would recommend it to others.

4) Dollars Matter 

Some church planters don’t want to talk about budget projections or giving as it seems less spiritual than preaching and evangelism. Yet the budget is highly important for two reasons.

First, the budget is where your values and vision are fleshed out. You have a vision for outreach? Ultimately, that will be seen in the budget. You have a desire to communicate in a contemporary manner? Websites and sound equipment need to have their own budget lines! A wise church planter does not fully delegate the budget – but is prayerfully engaged.

I would suggest that you know, at least on a quarterly basis, where the numbers are at relative to expenses and to budget. Skillful adjustments can then be made and appropriate communication given to the congregation and supporting friends.

The second reason dollars matter is that misuse of funds is second only to moral failings in taking down churches. The Devil loves sloppy financial processes, which are especially common in new churches. Don’t allow him that foothold! From the beginning of our church we were blessed with gifted financially savvy business people who implemented multiple levels of accountability.

5) Depend on Others 

Church planting is a little bit like baseball. It is an individual game within a team sport. You need to have good “at bats” each week as you plan and execute your worship services, yet the overall success of your church will depend on your networking and relationships with other kingdom minded people. To put it in theological terms – the more you purpose to depend on God, the more He will ask you to depend on others.

A few years back our church was making a move from a movie theater to a school cafeteria. I was (and still am) part of a pastor’s prayer network within my city and another church planter – in the same city – who had previously met in that cafeteria was now looking at the movie theater! I was able to help them with connections at the theater – and they helped us make the best use of space at the school. They even donated a video screen, backdrop and partitions that were custom made for that space! We now both have buildings a short distance from one another, and we rejoice in God’s provision for each congregation.

Seek out and develop partnerships both within your denomination and outside of it. Always remember – God is not just at work in your church – He is building a Kingdom, of which you are a part.

The real joy in church planting is participating in Kingdom Work and seeing God work in and through others.

Church Plant

6) Deliver Good Sermons

In the early months of our church plant, I often thought, “We may have less than ideal facilities. We might not have all the programs of a larger church. But with God’s help I will preach Christ to the best of my ability!”

It is easy in church planting to let the priority of preaching  slip. It is easy to “give up” on preparing a quality sermon in a particularly busy week. The “tyranny of the urgent” will try to steal time and energy from sermon preparation and delivery. Don’t let it. If people are fed spiritually – they will come back and you will be in a good position to grow.

On nearly every “what-factors-are-important-in-joining-a-new-church” lists – even in this age of technology and 140-character tweets – old fashioned preaching is still near or at the top of the list!

The new signage can wait. The research on sound equipment can be done next week. Zealously guard time to prepare your messages.

7) Delight to Love! 

The first Scripture I opened to our “core group” – months before our public launch was John 13:34-35. I told my small flock, that whatever becomes of our new church, my priority and prayer was that it be full of love.

I often remind my church that if you join the Lions Club or the Chamber of Commerce (which are good things to do!) – they do not require that their members love one another. Only the church is radical enough to not suggest but command its members to love! You must love them, they must love you, and together you love the world into the Kingdom of God!

Make loving people your priority – and your church plant, no matter how long it lasts; and no matter its size – will have been a wonderful success in God’s eyes.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these lessons that worked well in our flock. I pray God’s grace and empowerment upon you – as you follow Him into your own church planting experience!

Depending on Him,

Pastor Craig

The Insecure Pastor

Pastoral insecurity is at epidemic proportions.

If you are a pastor, staff member or church leader this is not news to you.

Pastors are constantly under scrutiny, comparison and pressure to perform. Burnout is high and job changes are frequent. “Constructive criticism” is readily available and willingly shared. Feelings of failure – not measuring up to some standard of ministry “success” is common. Social media, blogs (not this one…), conferences and cool Christian celebrities can add to the feeling that we have little to contribute – compared to them…

In 2010 the New York Times reported, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

Confident PastorLeadership Magazine, Jonny Hawkins, 1999.

It is any wonder that while seminaries are growing – the number of students training for pastoral ministry is shrinking? “I want to serve the Lord – but please not in local church ministry!”

Pastoral insecurity tends to manifest itself in two very different ways – either through second-guessing and doubt – or in an overly confident, bullying manner. Probably you have seen both these people in ministry. Both struggle with insecurity.

Timothy tended toward the former – and needed to be encouraged to teach God’s word boldly, to have confidence in his gifting and to not allow people to “look down” on him. (1 Tim 4:11-12, 14). On the other side of the coin, examples abound of controlling clergy – such as those who intentionally provoked Paul while he was in prison (Phil 1:17) or those Peter identified as “lording it over” their flocks (1 Peter 5:3).

As usual, sin hangs out in extremes.

We know the answer. It starts by finding our security in Christ. From there we serve, preach, lead and love with perfect peace and contentment. It is all about knowing who we are, in Christ. Paul said in Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave Himself up for me.

Great theology. Can we put it into practice? In ministry?

Come O Church

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The name of my new blog, “Come O Church” is taken from a hymn that I wrote a few months after I began church planting. I assure you I did not choose the name to promote the hymn or to pat myself on the back! Really, I could not think of a better name. Several blog names that I selected early on were quite bad and vetoed wisely by my wife. She did approve of this one – so off we go.

As I developed my first sermon series about the purposes of the church I was struck with just how few hymns and even fewer choruses even talk about the church. Maybe some of you have noticed this as well?

So I penned the hymn, Come O Church, which is to date the only hymn I have written! Though I do not claim to be a poet – I did receive a pretty good grade in a poetry class at the University of Arizona. Credit also to Dr. Timothy Ralston at Dallas Theological Seminary who taught me about hymn meter (it is 87.87 D) and to my mother who put me in music lessons (often unappreciated) as a child! Also, humble thanks to my church family who regularly sings this hymn.

Each of the four verses focus on a different biblical purpose of the church. Verse one focuses on worship; verse two on discipleship and spiritual growth; verse three on our call to love and fellowship with one another – and verse four on evangelism.

Come O Church beckons the church to be what she was called to be by her creator, the Lord Jesus Himself.

And, come to think of it, that is also my purpose for this new blog! To challenge pastors and church leaders to lead the church according to Christ’s design, not our own.

Come O Church
(Tune: Come Thou Fount)

1) Come O Church your Savior Jesus
worship Him now young and old!
Bow before your King the Victor,
rescued from the Devil’s hold

Raise your voice, a Holy Priesthood,
God in you the Spirit dwells.
Sacrifice now is to praise him –
free from sin and death and hell.

2) Come O Church the Bride of Jesus
meet him ready, spotless, clean.
Transformed by the Spirit’s power,
washed and pure in everything.

Come O Church abide in Jesus,
Bear the fruit of God above!
Pruned and growing ever higher,
sing of God’s amazing love!

3) Come O Church your head is Jesus
live in peace and unity.
To the world a loving witness
shining light for all to see!

Come O Church, cry Abba Father!
Children of the heavenly King!
Brother, sister now adopted,
let your voice His praises ring!

4) Come O Church the Master calls you
share the gift of life and faith.
So that when this journey’s over,
life with Christ our Lord awaits!

Sing out loud – the hope of heaven!
Shine its light from shore to shore!
Fear is gone and tears of sadness
changed to joy forevermore!

(BTW – Photo is of a beautiful roadside chapel in Salome, Arizona which I photographed when visiting there with my father-in-law Steve.)