Orginally published on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 6:01 AM
by Devin Hudson
Every church planter-in-training I know intends to plant a church to reach nonchurched people. Every church planter I have met says that they are going to focus on reaching unbelievers. Yet, I would propose that very few stay 100% committed to that original vision. I am not sure I know completely why that happens, but my speculation goes something like this...
Effective church planting is extremely difficult. Church planting generates feelings of desperation. Church planting is frightening. It causes you to question and doubt. In your initial days as a church plant, you desperately want people to show up. You pray for some spiritually healthy and normal people to come and believe in what you are doing. You long for people who can provide encouragement, affirmation, and financial, spiritual, and emotional support. You crave leaders. And this is when the struggle ensues. And here is where you reach a crossroads of decision regarding your original vision. Let me explain.
Here are some realities you must face when you parachute into a place to plant a church:
- Most spiritually healthy, growing Christ-followers are already heavily involved in an existing local church. And few of them will want to leave that church to join a new plant. In fact, in an unchurched culture many of the healthy, growing Christians that have lived in the community for any length of time may have already helped plant a church. They are probably not anxious for the same challenge again. It takes a special call from God for an existing, involved Christ-follower to get on board with your vision. More than likely, it will not happen. Face it. When it does happen, you will find a jewel, but most of the time, it simply does not happen. So if you begin to attract Christians, it probably means you are attracting a second group.
- Many unhealthy, troublesome Christians are looking for new environments in which to be involved. Church plants attract church hoppers for some reason. Church plants attract people who need to be known and recognized. And you will be tempted to know and recognize them for the very reason described above—you are desperate for anyone who also claims to know Jesus Christ and is willing to give and serve. BEWARE ... danger ahead! If they have not been satisfied in the previous 10 churches in which they have been involved, they probably will not be satisfied in yours. You do not need the weight. But there is also a third group with which you should be cautious.
- Some growing believers will move into your area of town from out of town or another part of the city and they will attend your church but you will different from their previous church. You may not have the same DNA or purpose they loved about their previous church. You will not have the same programs or ministries or focus. Your style will be a little different. Your music will be different. And soon you will begin to hear about these differences. And it will not always be with a negative spirit. Many times it will simply be a passing word about some “ideas” they have from their previous situation. You will be tempted to adjust your vision to accommodate these growing and good-intentioned believers. BEWARE. Stay with your vision.
In our first year, we went from 7 families to a congregation averaging over 400 in weekly attendance (and about 650 who are regular attendees). With that size comes a multitude of suggestions of things we could be doing: AWANAs, extensive men’s and women’s ministries, MOPs, and so forth. Yet we have no immediate plans to begin any of these specific programs. Do you know why? Not because they are bad programs. We simply believe we can do a lot of things good but only a few things with excellence. Therefore because we are so committed to excellence and simplicity, we haven choose to abstain from many good programs that do not help us fulfill our purpose. If it does not fit our mission to help people become authentic and passionate followers of Jesus Christ, we do not do it. Not every growing Christian understands this mindset.
It is an underlying joke among our staff that if people come to Grace Point Church and inform us that they are from certain churches in other parts of our city, we want to greet them with a “it�s great to have you - I am sure this will be your first and last Sunday with us.” Do you know why? Because we are simply different than those churches. Not more or less right or wrong. Just different. If a person fits well at certain churches in our city, they probably will not connect well at Grace Point. It happens almost every time. Just know that ahead of time and it will help you avoid some unnecessary temptation to change the vision.
Here’s the bottom line: if you plant a church with the primary desire to reach nonbelievers, STAY WITH THAT VISION. You will be tempted to change it, alter it, compromise it, adjust it, or even drop it. Don’t do it. Stay with it. We prayed from day one that God would keep us externally-focused and allow us to impact this unchurched culture by seeing nonbelievers come to faith in Christ. We have many people who have not crossed that line of faith who are a regular part of our larger community. We want it to be that way. We consistently see about 40-50% unchurched nonbelievers in attendance on Sundays and a large percentage of our people are not-yet or brand-new Christ-followers. How does that happen? We stay with the vision. Have we forfeited some good Christian families who do not feel called to that type vision? No doubt. But by staying with the vision, we are able to accomplish our broader vision of not only seeing unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ but of instilling in our people a mindset of serving and loving other people. We are able to teach people that our calling is to BE Jesus in this community.
Don’t forfeit your vision and don’t spend your time having to de-church well-intended Christians who simply will never “get it.”
Make sure your vision is set in stone. God will be faithful to provide who and what you need.
Devin Hudson is the Lead Pastor of Grace Point Church in Las Vegas. His blog www.graceisthepoint.blogspot.com is a popular blog among church planters and young pastors and offers keen insight into the ups and downs of church planting. His authentic and engaging style help prepare church planters for the raw realities of launching a church. Devin is married and has 3 beautiful children. He also has an earned PhD in New Testament.
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There are 6 Comments:
“We simply believe we can do a lot of things good but only a few things with excellence.” AMEN!
Also, the more “programs” you do, the more vision-drift happens. The church I’m at now spent 10 years being OBSESSED with the mission of reaching people with the Gospel who aren’t already in a church. We’ve stayed that way, and yes, along the way, some people who were already believers came along. Why? Because they, too, are only interested in being involved in a church that reaches people far from God with the Gospel, and then God changes their lives. It’s our spiritual DNA and it hasn’t changed.
In an older book on church staffing, Gary McIntosh makes the suggestion that this is often related to staffing. He writes about growth, but his clear premise is that appropriate growth is through reaching the unchurched. In the early years a new church adds staff with the following priority: getting people, keeping people, celebrating with people. The focus of people with these jobs tends to foster growth. Later, staff are added (in multitudes), with jobs related to: educating people, overseeing people, caring for people. Too much focus on these priorities actually leads to decline.
His suggestion . . .
Alternate hiring, some whose actual job involves reaching the unchurched for those added in the non-growth category. Also, keep reaching people on every ministry staff job description, evaluate them based on this job description. Good programs that are attended by only church kids or adults are considered unsuccessful and so is the person leading them. To do that, IMO, a church needs to count and measure and assess in quantifiable ways.
Good thoughts Wendi and Peter. If the lead pastor does not keep his foot fully on the gas of reaching the un-churched then no one else int he church will. It is hard work, can be joined by others but must be pushed by the lead pastor.
I think strategic recruitment of lay leaders who are mature can also provide some of the educate, care for and oversee people. These are the kinds of Christians a new church should recruit. Those who will actively engage in a mission of making fully committed followers of Christ.
“Many unhealthy, troublesome Christians are looking for new environments in which to be involved.”
This becomes even trickier to balance when the “troublesome Christians” are the ones that help you financially get the church plant started. They may consider themselves “founders” with special rights and privileges. I’ve seen it play out firsthand.
This is exactly where we are right now. We are planting and in deep need of some leaders. True church planting is hard work. So, when the work gets too hard we start to drift back to what we know (former programs, etc). Church planting that reaches a culture is about taking the gospel to the culture and from the culture growing a church. Now, that is messy and very time consuming. So, to help with the time and the mess, I am tempted to grab ahold of anyone who gives the “apperance” of being a stable Believer. Thanks for the warning. I need to hear it almost everyday.
Donnie, I am in the same boat you are in as well. I understand so much the temptation to over program and to try to squeeze anybody into any leadership role. I am bookmarking this blog so that I can read it from time to time and remind myself of it!
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