I’ve been involved in church planting now for 15 years. Along the way some hard lessons have been learned and are still being learned. Here are just ten of them in no particular order of importance. There are enough for a second list rattling around in this old brain. These thoughts are not particularly profound. Thousands of church planters could easily write the same things down. I hope they can help in some way.
1. Calling and vision are as important as gifting
If you are not called by God to plant a church, do not under any circumstances try it. Do anything else that God will allow you to do. There will be months and even years where your calling is all that will keep you going. And if you do not have a strong vision, someone else’s vision will drive your work and you will end up being an unhappy passenger instead of the captain of your ship. It will not matter how gifted you are if you bail out after ending up in a place you did not intend to go. Be sure of your calling and your vision.
2. Prayer is the artillery that softens the beachhead
Human effort may bring success without concerted and extended corporate prayer, but it is so much harder and ends up glorifying man instead of God. Prayer opens doors we would have to humanly beat down. It changes hearts that we cannot touch. It brings deliverance and conviction that we can never produce. And it discourages the enemy more than all our plans, prowess, and programs. Enlist a passionate prayer team.
3. Planning and programs are cool, but preaching is crucial
You can have the greatest plan since Pentecost and all the programs money can buy, but if your preaching is impotent and/or safe, your flock will be impotent and safe. Church plantings need prophets who will call people to repentance and to the difficult task of following Jesus. If you want to start a real church, do not forsake Christ’s prophetic message. You may even draw a crowd without it, but you’ll have a service club, not a church. Preach like your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.
4. The Enemy will not go away, just because you showed up
Spiritual warfare will not cease just because you ride into town in shining armor on a white horse. In fact, it will not cease until the one true Rider comes on His white horse. Satan will more likely double down if you last over a year. Prepare to lose many things and even people who are dear to you. You are a threat to the darkness if you are actually piercing it and the Devil will not go down without a fight. And by the way, he doesn’t fight fair. Keep your sword sharp and your shield handy, because you will need them.
5. You will likely attract a fair share of religious malcontents
New churches attract about as many church hopping malcontents as they do lost people. Sometimes it seems like more. Those “experienced saints” that we prayed for to come along side of us should come with a warning label. They likely left the church they were in and headed your way for a reason other than your dynamic leadership. Be open, but also be wary. You may not be getting what you think or what you really need. Be cautious about handing out leadership roles, even if you are desperate and they have what seems like all the right credentials. If you prefer the lost over the malcontents, do not invest much advertising on Christian radio. Instead, spend your money on the head banger rock station in town. And do a thorough job of vetting leaders or you will surely wish you had.
6. It gets harder when you’re winning
If you think failing is difficult, wait until you start winning. When that attendance comes up and those offerings start to meet budget, watch out for major attacks on you, your family, and your church. As said before Satan does not give up just because it gets hard for him. He’s had it a lot harder than you can ever make it for him and still managed to comeback and even thrive. The devil is apathetic about mediocrity and those who are losing, but apoplectic about those who are doing it right and winning. So if you thought it was tough when you were down, it will get tougher when you get up and get it going again. Don’t let success lull you to sleep. Keep a guard posted.
7. Perseverance is more important to success than personality
It is amazing what we can accomplish if we just don’t give up. You may not preach, write, organize, or look like the superstars of the church world today, but you can accomplish what God called you to do if you persevere. Get up every day and pray that God will use you in some way. Put one foot in front of the other and never back down. You are a church planter. You have been called to go and preach good news to the harassed and helpless. Let the big guys write their books and pack their stadiums. Just keep going and do not give up.
8. Plan on staying a long time
The prudent church planter will allot 10-15 years to the establishment of a new church. It should be easier and quicker, and in some rare cases it may be, but usually it is not. So if you don’t want to sign on for the long haul, don’t sign up at all. If you are going to err, err on the side of longevity. Premature departure can cause irreparable birth defects. Like it or not, for a while, you are the heart of the new church. Until they begin to walk, talk, and think for themselves, you cannot walk out on them. So figure on being at this for a good while. And if you suffer from wanderlust, do everyone a favor and do something else besides planting a church.
9. You haven’t planted a church unless it survives your departure
Just about anyone can draw a crowd for a while. Some can even turn the crowd into a congregation. You can lead the group for years, but unless the church survives your eventual leaving, you did not plant a church… you just managed a club. This is a frightening thought for many and that’s as it should be. People can be blessed and saved through your ministry. That is all good and right. But a successful church planter helps birth a church that outlives his or her tenure. All churches have a lifespan, but your churches should last longer than your stay with them.
10. Lead your group to plant another church as soon as possible
The bad thing about new babies is that they quickly become self-centered and selfish. They begin to think that life revolves around them instead of around Jesus and His calling. Having a new baby can change that. Include plans for reproduction in your start up vision. Sell it to the people every chance you get. Usually, we end up doing what we plan to do. Daughtering a church will help you get your eyes off of yourself and onto Kingdom growth. And it will also give you something to pray about besides yourself. If you don’t do it in the first ten years of your existence, chances are it will never happen.
So there you go. 10 Lessons Learned in the Trenches. The hope is that you find something helpful in them. Blessings