A church plant is a Kingdom startup, and like all startups, it runs on momentum. To succeed, you must keep moving, and moving in the right direction. There are things you can do as a leader to generate and sustain momentum, and there are also things that, if left unchecked, will sap your momentum.
Here are 4 key do’s and don’ts for maintaining momentum in your church plant. If you would like to read more about planting and building a Spirit-filled church, check out my book The Encounter Based Church.
1. Build excitement and momentum. Churches grow because they have momentum. They are doing stuff that people want to be involved in. People are getting saved, healed, and delivered. They are encountering God through worship. Exciting things are happening that make people want to get in on the action.
A key to getting a church plant off the ground is to host parties, pre-launch events, and other activities that generate excitement and publicity. At our most recent church plant in Kansas City, our lead pastor David Perkins cast a vision that people could really grasp. We marketed to the community we were targeting, and also held events where interested visitors could come. As a result, we opened our doors at 500 attendees and only went up from there. Don’t be afraid to use “secular” methods of marketing to communicate your vision and excitement. As Paul says, “How will they believe if they have not heard?” Your role is to get the message out, so that people can come and encounter God.
2. Don’t confuse followers with ministry recipients or friends. To successfully plant a church, you need to build on your followers: people who are excited to build the vision with you.
Many leaders with a pastoral gift mistake ministry or friendship for followers. Ministry is when you are coming alongside someone, adapting yourself in ways that create relationship so they will be open to truth. Those you are pastoring are generally not following you, they are receiving ministry from you. Friends are those who like you and enjoy your company. The other person appreciates who you are, and you appreciate things about them. Friendship is fundamentally a relationship of equals. If you try to force a friendship into a leader-follower dynamic, you may end up losing your friends.
To build a church, you need to build on your followers: those who will follow your lead because they respect you. Jesus did not chase His followers – He invited them to “Come follow me.” As a leader, you need to stay focused on your goal and continually invite others to join you.
3. Stay positive. Avoid conflict when possible. The best way to head off most problems and problem people you will encounter in planting a church is to simply ignore them. Giving any energy to them just feeds a fire. Instead, focus on building a culture of positivity. Proactively create an environment of openness. Oftentimes, people resort to backbiting and gossip because they don’t feel like they have a channel to communicate grievances. If they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you directly, they will be less likely to vent their frustrations with others. Even when you do get attacked, resist the temptation to escalate the conflict by gathering your own band of supporters, or preaching a Sunday sermon on gossip, for example. Most conflicts will fizzle out on their own if you stay positive and refuse to take the bait. Most people who cause problems will eventually disappear if you don’t try to “fix” them. They will be just as happy as you are to avoid a blow up and all of the drain it occurs.
4. When necessary, face a conflict head-on. Be positive but firm. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable. In such cases, it is important to excise the cancer. To build a church you want people who are pursuing God. These are the only people you can actually help. People who are actively destructive and want to stick around will hurt your sheep and slow you down a lot. Helping these people to exit gracefully is one of the arts of a great pastor. The memorable story of one of America’s most famous pastors goes that when he reached the end of the line with a particular person, he put his arm around him and said, “John, I’m resigning as your pastor today.” Both of them understood that the pastor was not going anywhere, but was artfully asking that difficult man to leave.
If you’ve found these principles on church planting helpful, you may want to read my book The Encounter Based Church. In it I go into much greater detail on how to grow and build a Spirit-based church.