As I write this, I am on my way to a church planter assessment center where I will meet potential planters and be part of a process that helps them determine some best next steps regarding their church planting models and approaches. As I prepare to meet them, I am praying for wisdom, insight, and God’s best for each of them.
I am also recalling recent conversations I have had with other planters.
Just last week, I counseled someone who is in the early stages of starting a church. I asked him a few questions to help him discern an appropriate approach for his specific situation. What follows are some insights I have derived from conversations such as these, conversations I have had with hundreds of prospective planters over the decades. (I have been blessed to have so many of these experiences that I’ve even written a book from them.)
First, I ask planters to acknowledge a state in which God is at work, the Spirit is present, and Jesus is doing something amazing. Next, I ask them to put aside models and methods for a while and consider an inside-out approach in which they end up with a model instead of start with one. Then I discuss four specific domains, dealing with them like tributaries that can flow into a realized outcome.
The Four Domains
You and Your Team
The first area I call “you” or “you and your team.” Here I ask planters to list their strengths, gifts, relevant experiences, personality types, and their talents. Additionally, I ask them to list some areas in which they are aware of being less than stellar or unequipped.
In the next area, I ask church planters to consider their theology–not their theology in general, but aspects of their theology that stand out in some unique way. For example, some church planting models emphasize the theological implications of connecting with the poor. Others may place a greater emphasis on a commitment to global missions. Still others may focus on issues dealing with non-hierarchical views of biblical leadership. Exploring theological details in this way helps point to something about the kind of church the planter will start.
In the third area, I ask planters to consider the culture of the community in which the church will begin. For example, is the community monocultural or multi-cultural? Is it urban, upwardly mobile, high density, or suburban poor? Does the city have a military presence, a beach scene, or colleges? What role does technology or sports play there?
In the final area, I address practical considerations. Here I ask questions such as, “Do you have the support of a larger planting group or denomination? If so, are these entities projecting expectations about what it means to succeed?” I also ask the always important question, “What is the projected income for your church for the first few years?”
Assessing the Data of the Domains
After asking the questions, I and the planter look over the responses together. Sometimes something stands out in several categories that helps define strategies, methods, and, occasionally, even models. I remember a church planting team that was ethnically diverse, including several interracial marriages. Its leadership team was compelled by a vision that some day people of every tribe and nation would be represented in God’s Kingdom.
The community’s culture was also quite diverse. That was twenty years ago, a time when many people thought that multi-ethnic congregations were a violation of the Homogenous Unit Principle of church growth. Clearly, though, the team’s responses to the questions we asked showed that this church planting team needed to buck the norm and follow their hearts.
What about you? What if you turned your models and methods inside out? Where might it land you?