I am passionate about church planting and deeply admire church planters. Getting the chance to lead a church plant has been the greatest privilege of my life. I have a particular passion for church planting in New England, and area that historically (at least in the last 100 years) has been a difficult place to successfully church plant.
I think the reason so many church plants fail in New England is not because of how difficult New England is, but rather because how poor our strategy has been
In a great post about church planting, David Fitch lays out a 1-2 year plan for church planting that may seem counter-intuitive. But I think he is 100% correct — and even more so in a New England setting.
Fitch argues that ” there should be three goals for the first year of a church plant- a seeding of a missional community:
(1) Establish a small community of fellowship in the neighborhood who can pray together for the Kingdom. This community will develop as friends, dialoguing, listening, praying – learning to listen for God’s voice, observing where He is working so as to respond and participate in what He is doing to reconcile, heal, create anew and birth righteousness.
(2) Get to know the neighborhood. Exegete it so as to know how to pray, minister, adopt rhythms, hang out, and be Christ’s presence.
(3) Facilitate hospitality. Become a place to facilitate hospitality in the neighborhood as well as helping people move to the neighborhood. I urge a constant calling of people into the Kingdom. When these people don’t live in the neighborhood, I encourage the community to help these people of the kingdom find jobs, find a place to live at reasonable cost, know how to live in this community.
While I am not sure we were fully aware of it at the time, we did these three things well in our first year. I think it is part of how we were able to grow from 10 people in a living room to almost 300 on a weekend in less than 4 years.
One of the things that people often forget is that myself and the other founding pastor had both been ministering to (that is, building relationships, doing cultural exegesis, etc) for years before we planted. Combined, we had over 10 years of full time ministry in that community. When you add the rest of the core team to that mix, we had well over 20 years of active ministry experience in the area.
This meant that we weren’t working from utopian dreams, strategic plans, idealized assumptions or arm-chair theology. We were working in reality — real people, real issues, real challenges. This allowed our preaching, programming and style to be relevant to our target community — not because we were trying to be relevant, but because we were relevant. And this made a huge difference!
We started with prayer and a simple gathering long before we ever launched. During this time we were able to prayerfully discover our DNA, style, approach, etc. It allowed is to build deeper relationships within the core team as well as with the community. By the time we launched, we had a clear sense of how God wanted to uniquely use us as a church in our community.
My counsel and advice to church planters is to not skip these important steps. We had the advantage of planting in the community we already lived in and loved; if you are moving into a community to church plant, I think you are wise to build in 24 months of this kind of “beneath the surface” work. This can be a challenge as it probably means working full time in a a tent-making job for two years before transitioning to church paid staff, but I think this is a necessary stage for healthy and successful church planting.
I would love to hear your thoughts (or general questions) about church planting — as well as any wisdom or advice you would have for church planters and church plants…