From Brent Storms
I’ve been hanging around church planters for almost twenty years. I planted a church fifteen years ago, and since then I’ve interviewed, assessed, trained, coached or managed hundreds of church planters. They are among the brightest, most gifted, most entrepreneurial leaders in the kingdom.
They also make mistakes. Lots of them. Sometimes these errors lead to surprisingly positive outcomes; others result in painful long-term consequences.
We’d like to help church planters avoid common mistakes, so here are five things I’ve learned during the last two decades:
1. Raise more money than you think you’ll need.
Church planters get started because they want to help people come to know Christ, build healthy community, serve their neighbors and make a difference. They don’t do it because they want to raise money, so they often fail to finish the fundraising part of the job. Too many stop at 80% of what they think they’ll need and hope for the best. The problem is, it will probably take 20% more than you originally thought it would. Don’t stop before you finish.
2. Only do what can be done well.
I read a lot of proposals from potential church planters. When asked about the church they envision they describe a church with excellent Sunday services, a well-developed small group ministry, outstanding children’s activities, big outreach events, massive community service projects and the coolest student ministry. Then 12 months in they plan to add more. However, you can’t do everything well to start. Figure out where your greatest gifts and the community’s greatest needs overlap and do that to the best of your ability. Only add new ministries when you have other staff or volunteers to lead them with excellence.
3. Do your part. Let God do His.
You are a servant of Christ, entrusted with the message of Christ, called to be faithful to Christ. You are a church planter, not a church grower. You plant. You water. God makes it grow. The results aren’t up to you. Some soil is rocky. Some fields are ripe for harvest. Comparing outcomes with peers can lead to an inflated ego or a deflated soul. Just keep your head down and do your job. Let God do His.
4. Turn things over sooner.
Most of us have heard the saying, “If someone else can do it 80% as well as you can, let them.” But most church planters I’ve seen are control freaks who can’t let go, so they design the graphic for the new series and edit the videos. They crunch numbers and lead four small groups. Other people can do that stuff, but others can’t prepare and deliver the message God is giving you for Sunday. God has equipped others to serve. Empower and encourage them.
5. It’s a sprint AND a marathon.
I once heard Tim Keller say that if you’re going to plant a church you’re going to have to work for two years at a pace that, if you kept it up for the rest of your life, would be a sin. From the time you hit the ground to start a new church, the first couple of years will be a sprint. Make sure you know this and your family knows it. There’s no way around it. After that, it becomes a marathon. Slow down. Rest. Enjoy the scenery. If you don’t, you won’t be able to finish what you started in the way you wanted.
Brent Storms planted Harbor of Hope Christian Church in the Boston area in 1999. He joined the staff of Orchard Group in 2004 and now serves as President and CEO. He lives in New York City with his wife, Rhesa, and their two children.