Tonight I’m sharing with the launch team of a nearby church plant. They asked me to talk about pitfalls, things to avoid, and lessons learned in the last two churches that I’ve helped to start. It’s been interesting to reflect upon this. Even though I haven’t been in the game that long, 8 years of church planting has given me plenty of mistakes to learn from! Surely the list could be longer, but here are some lessons I’ve learned from the church planting battle…
1) Work at raising up leaders from the start, especially Elders. Church planting is exhausting, back-breaking work. You’re initial servants and leaders will grow tired eventually. If you don’t have some sort of process to identify, develop, and deploy new leaders it will come back to bite you. Four or five years into the church plant, you’ll realize that you have a leadership vacuum and you’ll be in big trouble. Elders are the most important leaders to raise up. These are the godly, qualified men that God has designed to spiritually shepherd his people (cf. 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).
2) Plan to multiply or you won’t. This is true on the level of small groups or church planting. Most churches that don’t plant in the first 5 years of their existence never will. You must have a strategy for reproducing even before you think you’re ready to expand.
3) Deal with sin, conflict, and relational issues as soon as possible in a biblical and Christlike manner. Sweeping hard issues under the rug doesn’t work. They tend to fester and grow there, and eventually emerge as ravenous beasts in the church. As hard as it can be to tackle things head-on as a leader, this is far better than ignoring issues are putting them off. The health of Christ’s church is at stake. Unresolved issues can kill a young church.
4) “Success” in ministry is less from the right models, strategies, and tactics and more due to prayer, the power of God’s word, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Planning and forms are not bad, but there is just no substitute for the spiritual resources God has given his people.
5) When it comes to programs and ministries, less is more. Especially in the first years of a new church (if ever!), you cannot be all things to all people. Too many programs will spread you thin, drain the energy of your people, and distract a church from the mission of reaching lost people with the gospel. A young church should do a few things and do them well. Leave the programmatic smorgasbord to the big box churches. Your best commodity is relationships.
6) You must be both internally and externally focused. This balance must be tenaciously fought for. Outreach to lost people must flow out of authentic community where the gospel is being lived out and proclaimed. On the one hand, you must avoid becoming an ingrown Christian club. On the other hand, you must avoid becoming so focused exclusively on outreach that the people already in the church shrivel up and die on the vine.