5 Keys to Successful Church Planting

Are you thinking about planting a church?  As someone who has been a leader in three church plants, I want to make it a lot easier for you,   I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work, and I want it to work for you.   Planting a church is one of the most exciting adventures you can embark on, but it’s also challenging and risky.  Having the right tools can significantly accelerate you.   That’s why I’m going to be doing a series of articles just to help people like you.  I want you to succeed.

1. Cast a Vision.  People follow people with vision.  When you cast a vision, it inspires people to make the kinds of changes and sacrifices that are necessary to start something   Don’t be apologetic about what you are doing.  Believe what God has called you to do. and that he has called you to do it.   When you project confidence and vision, people will follow.   

Our pastor in Boston did an amazing job of this.  He made an powerful video complete with interviews of Harvard students about how Boston needed to be and could be changed, and then he gave us the faith that we could do it.  It attracted people who barely even knew him to come along on the journey.  People will sacrifice for a cause. 

2.  Build a Team.   You need to build a really strong base of support before you get going.  Churches are not planted one individual, they are planted by teams.  This means friends, finances, and followers.  Each of these supporting groups is essential to your launch.  

Friends cheer you on, pray for you, and give you guidance.  Financial backers make your endeavor possible.  You’re going to need tens of thousands of dollars at bare minimum to launch a church.  When you cast vision, people will give into it.   Our pastor in Kansas City did this very well.  His coaches helped him build the team well in advance so that we did not arrive with simply a hope and a prayer, we arrived well equipped and well supplied.  It was a well-planned operation and it showed. 

Followers are those who hear your vision and want to come be a part of it.   Your fist few followers are what will help you attract others and gain momentum.  Don’t forget the Crazy Dancing Guy!  Even just one strong wingman can make a world of difference.  When people start to come around you it builds momentum and church plants are all about momentum.  Do not start until you have these three groups in your corner.

3. Go Where People Know You.  Looking back at my three church plants, I have to say this is probably the biggest difference in the ultimate success.  In Boston, we started with some existing people and connections to a strong global network.  The plant grew steadily.  In Cincinnati, we started ice cold, and God had to introduce us to people.  In Kansas City, our pastor knew many many people.  Those people invited other people, and it was relatively easy to launch. 

Going to a city where you have absolutely no connections is the hardest way to plant a church.  The most successful church plants are almost always when someone goes to a place where they have friends who believe in them, and will invite their friends to come and join the exciting thing God is doing. (Luke 10:6)  If you are trying to start absolutely cold, you’ll have to pray for completely fresh contacts and convince them to follow you.  It’s a hard sell.   

To this point, embrace the fact that your church is going to start with believers, many of whom are from other churches.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Although evangelism is the goal, it starts with believers.  Just as the New Testament church was built primarily on Jewish synagogue goers who were primed for the message, every church plant begins with believers at its core.

4. The Holy Spirit.  People are hungry for a touch from the Holy Spirit.  If you build in a way to welcome Him, people will be drawn to come and join you.   Every great church movement ultimately has Him at the core — even the ones we don’t think of that way.   For example, Church of the Highlands, which is famous for being a kind of Spirit-filled / mainstream crossover, actually has a strong Holy Spirit history.  They started with a revival flare, not the more mainstream vibe they are known for.  

So it is a mistake to think you can build a great church with just marketing principles and charisma.   You need God in the core.   On the flip side, this does not mean you should create an “anything goes” environment, but the presence of Jesus is the most exciting part of church.   Place that encounter a the core and people will want to come.  I discuss what this looks like in my book The Encounter Based Church

5.  Embrace Marketing.   A big part of a planting a church could be described as a marketing campaign — defining your audience, your message, your appeal, etc.. Many Christians think of marketing as a dirty word, but the Paul reminds us that the lost cannot call upon someone they have not heard of (Rom 10:14) and that he was willing to adapt his presentation to his audience (1 Cor 9:19).  Do not be afraid of using marketing techniques to attract a following.  If you don’t, it’s going to be very difficult.  

I discovered this principle about halfway through our church plant in Cincinnati.  I was so Holy Spirit that I just did not give any thought to marketing.  I just though that if we put up a website, and built an atmosphere of the Holy Spirit, we would grow.   We had a great time, but it did not lead to a lot of growth — there simply were not enough people who knew about us.   Eventually when God put me in touch with a professional planter, my eyes were opened, and I saw that if I wanted to really build a church — not just a Charismatic fellowship, I would have to make radical changes, starting with embracing the marketing mindset.   You truly can have both. 

These are 5 super high-level principles that if you do right, can mean the difference between success and failure, but every situation is a little bit different.  If you are thinking about planting a church and are looking for input, I’d love to connect.  You can reach me through the Contact Us page.   Also, I encourage you to check out The Encounter Based Church where I explain each of the main systems of the church and how they interrelate to lead to growth.  If you reach out to me on the Contact page, I would be glad to send you a free copy.

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