3 Lessons from the Other Side of Planting a Church

I had the unique opportunity along with my wife to plant a church right out of seminary. We were 26 years old and it was the adventure of a lifetime to move to Maine and engage in a “parachute drop” church plant–we didn’t have any personal contacts or core group to help us when we arrived.

We moved to our target city in May and began the process of assembling a launch team and were able to launch with 77 people after nine months, just 23 people short of our goal of 100. While we dropped by half the second week, we were able to climb steadily over the first two and half years to an average worship attendance of 130. We felt like we were on a roll! Because of the support and sponsorship from our denomination, I was committed to establishing our plant as an official denominational church and this meant forming a local board of administration and receiving a certain number of members along with achieving self-supporting financial status. At 130 in average weekly attendance, we established the church.

If I could do it all over again, I would have waited much longer to “establish” the church.

We celebrated our formation as an official church, but, looking back, that was the time that our momentum was stalled. Suddenly, I wasn’t leading a mission as much as I was managing a congregation. I wasn’t ready for this shift and neither was our church. The church was built on evangelism and developing biblical community and suddenly we were concerning ourselves less with outreach and mission and more with administrative matters. I understand the importance of administration but we were a baby church trying to act all grown up.

My wife and I stayed for three more years and the church never got beyond 130. Our church still looked successful by all metrics for our region but we had worn ourselves out and were thrilled to accept a doctoral scholarship in the hunger to learn more and try to figure out what had stalled momentum. We turned the plant over to the denomination. Since then there have been quality pastors in leadership, but the church has seen many people come to Christ but has not yet achieved its full potential.

I advise church planters to make mission and the development of biblical community the number one priority of the church and to never let go. Sometimes in denominational plants, there is a subtle and sometimes overt pressure to become like the other churches but I now realize that I loved church planting because I didn’t want to lead a church like the other churches. I currently lead an established church but I have learned that the only way I can lead effectively is to lead it like a church plant and trust God to surround me with excellent administrative leaders who have been gifted to administrate the organization that emerges when I fulfill my calling and engage in mission and evangelism in the community.

  1. Make and keep mission and biblical community the main priorities of the plant.

You are setting the DNA of the church. Don’t underestimate how long it takes for DNA to be set.

  1. Live into the identity of a church plant.

I now realize that I loved church planting because I didn’t want to lead a church like the other churches. In denominational plants, there may be a subtle (and sometimes overt) pressure to become like the other churches. If other churches were just like this plant, this plant wouldn’t be necessary.

  1. Don’t forget who you are and be honest about what is best for your development in the stage you find the church plant.

You come with strengths. You come with weaknesses. Don’t ignore them. Embrace the strengths and manage the weaknesses. No church plant needs to fail because of the weaknesses of the planter and no church plant with succeed on the planter’s current strengths alone.

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