Let’s start with the obvious: Churchplanting is not for the fainthearted.
If you’re in ministry, whether just starting or a long-suffering veteran, you’ve heard the stories: the bright, blazing success stories where the graph shoots high and to the right…and the blighted burnouts that didn’t quite make it to the fabled two-year mark. If you’re caught somewhere in that spectrum, you know the emotional toll that continuum creates.
When my wife and I stumbled into a new churchplant north of Cincinnati, it was twenty people meeting in a living room along with Steve Sjogren (the churchplanter) on a 12-string guitar.
In those days, I was playing in a Christian rock band (hey, it was the early 80’s…) and we had done a concert in in our hometown of Cincinnati. Afterward, someone who attended connected with me later for a meetup. Turned out he was a musician as well so we mostly talked shop. As we were finishing, he casually invited me to a new churchplant he was a part of. I asked him what the church was about and he said, “I think we’re just going to worship Jesus and take care of the poor.” I remember thinking, “Wow. Could it be that simple?”
And, of course, it isn’t.
Yes, worship and caring for marginalized people were core values for us. But building teams, recruiting and mobilizing volunteers, finding spaces to meet (we moved so many times in the early years that you needed to be prophetic to find us), hustling equipment in and out, financial limitations, bi-vocational constraints, resource-challenges, etcetera etcetera…you get the drift.
In the end, we beat the odds and survived. We eventually thrived…and planted a couple dozen or so more churches.
My observation is that churchplanters need four critical qualities:
1. Calling. I’m not sure how to define this overused word, but a strong sense of a vision for change. I don’t know how else to say it. But it’s the idea that if you are here, something will change for the better. I know, it sounds a bit like megalamania, but if it’s wrapped in servanthood, it mysteriously works. Think about it: if you’re not going to be an agent of change, why start something new?
2. Drive. Call it pluck, moxie, or even perseverance at times. Regardless, there’s a fire in the belly that burns through the lean times, the frustrating times, and the “I-can’t-take-it-anymore” times. I won’t necessarily say it’s a holy fire, because sometimes you just think “I’m going to outlive them all…”, and you keep the heat on. And as it’s been said, there are seasons when leadership is simply putting one foot in front of the other.
3. The Right Team. It’s been said that the team you start with is not the team you end with. I might debate that point, but the reality is you must have a team. It may be a combination of personality styles, giftings, and startup needs, but the commonality is a shared sense of adventure and risk. The team shares the need for change and is willing to upset their personal status quos to launch something new.
4. The God-Only-Knows Factor. Yep, this is the mysterious “Holy Spirit dust” that gets sprinkled in seemingly random ways. Most planters I know tend to be activistic and not the contemplative types. But even the most driven ones would admit in their quiet moments that things happened for the good that were outside of their networking and abilities. You can’t bottle it or put it in a churchplanters’ handbook, but you can be honest, humble, and simply receive it with grace.
A few years ago I stumbled onto a podcast that caught my attention because it introduced the average listener to the hidden world of churchplanting. It was not a “Christian” podcast and so it went into more detail than the typical non-churchgoer would know. You can still catch it here, and I recommend it even if you’re not a planter. It chronicles a fascinating journey through the socioeconomics and racial struggles of an urban churchplant in Philadelphia.
I would posit that in our post-Christian culture filled with “nones” and “dones”, the need for fresh, authentic local expressions of the Kingdom of God is needed more than ever, despite a church building on every other corner.
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group
The Elemental Churches Inventory is a revolutionary web-based assessment system that combines individual and team learning through online tools and videos with sage coaching. It not only gives a focused snapshot of where you are, but provides a comprehensive report with recommended action steps that can be turned into your strategic plan toward effectiveness and health!