Here are a few more points about church planting, as a sequel to my last note. Most of the principles on this list are closely interrelated.
1. More people will leave you than will stay with you. I know this sounds mathematically impossible, but it’s actually the case. Most people that come will only be with you for a season, they will not be long term co-planters. There are different groups of these:
A. Visitors. They come for a week or a few weeks and just don’t really connect.
B. Prospects. These people become invested to the point where they self identify with your church, but as you get to the realm of trying to work with them, it doesn’t work and they leave. This takes 2-6 months.
C. Members. These people have been with you for more than a year and you are personally connected to them. They leave for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they leave because your ministry was a success. Their life got fixed in some important way, and now they need a different kind of ministry than what you are providing.
Of course you can make mistakes and run people off or miss opportunities with people who could have stayed, but if you have a heart to love people, most of the time they leave it’s really not you. It’s that they are either not a fit or not open to what your ministry is providing.
2. Apollos principle. I found this in one my readings and it really described something. The concept is that Apollos, though a seasoned minister, was willing to submit to additional discipleship and training in order to be a part of the group he was moving with. Many people will come to your church with skills and gifts, but those can only be used in the context of your church only useful if they agree to be taught by you. The only people that are really a part of your plant are those that are submitted to your leadership. A true potential leader will understand this, and will have the humility to do it regardless of what they bring to the table.
3. Some problems are best ignored. The best solution to some 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. People that cause problems usually disappear after you stop trying to “fix” them. Most people will be just as happy as you are to avoid a blow up and all of the drain it incurs.
4. Excise the cancer. When a problem cannot be ignored, it should be addressed head on. Some problems need direct confrontation, and you should not be afraid to do it. This is when someone is actively destructive and wants to stick around. Again, to build a church you want people who are pursuing God. These are the ONLY PEOPLE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HELP. People that want to blame will hurt the sheep and slow you down a lot. A confrontation is actually the most ministering thing you can do for some people — look how often Jesus did it. If they repent, you can work with them. They rarely do this on the initial confrontation, but they may come back a lot later and do so. Reconcile at that point, don’t play footsie before that.
5. Give people space to make their own mistakes. This is more pastoral wisdom than church planting per se, but as a pastoral person, sometimes you really just have to let people walk out the consequences of their own choices. You can see that it’s going nowhere, but the only way for them to see it is for them to actually experience it. The results of that experience will lead them to a place of more openness to hear the truth that you would have told them had they been open, or they will move on.You couldn’t be the pastor if you didn’t see this. But you can’t live someone else’s life, you can only coach them, which means helping to shape their lives in the God direction.
6. Age of the senior leader caps the church. This is a piece of stock wisdom that every leader needs to know. People often have trouble following someone who is more than a few years younger than they are. Of course at some level age should not matter — comparative spiritual maturity is what really counts, but the fact is that it does, and you should spend your energy accordingly. It is not an accident that the biggest churches in America are led by men between ages 45-65.
7. Momentum is the name of the game. Churches grow because they have momentum. They are doing stuff that people want to be involved in. They feel like a place where something is happening. If you are not creating that, then you will not grow. There are many things that can create or sap momentum, but the key thing is understanding that that is what actually grows the church. People want in on action, not on a vision statement.
8. Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork. Building a team is a hard process. It’s a microcasm of building the church. Working with your team is easier because they are more mature and committed to God than the average person that comes through the door, but it’s harder because problems inside your team will discourage you and hurt you a lot more. Ultimately what teamwork means is a group of people all pushing toward the same goals, and encouraging each other in the process. When you reach this stage of singular purpose and mutual encouragement, suddenly things will just happen. Until you reach it, you will struggle to figure out why they are not happening.