Recently I read an article by a person I highly respect about gathering a team for a launch. The ideas were solid, but every suggestion offered was dependent on a culture that was seeded with enough Christians to make it easy for churches to borrow or enlist people who are already Christians.
How the Church Planting Scene Has Changed
I remember 25 or more years ago, that’s exactly what we did. The “mother” church, as we referred to them back then, would send out a group of 20-30 people, including whole adult Sunday School classes. Those people would organize children’s departments, provide ushers and greeters, set up and take down chairs and equipment and more. They were committed to finding their own replacements, and returning back to the church that sent them out.
It worked really well, but that was when the gospel was more seeded in the North American religious cultural scene. It was when “unchurched” meant a person who attended church as a child or teen, and who knew the gospel story, even if somewhat vaguely.
That still works sometimes in some places, but overall this is not your mama’s church planting scene! Currently, evangelicals are irregularly distributed throughout the continent. For example, according to a 2010 study in the United States, Franklin County, Georgia, was 59% evangelical, Franklin County, Mississippi was 56% evangelical and Franklin County, Alabama was 53% evangelical. At the same time Franklin County, New York was 2.47% evangelical, Franklin County, Vermont was 1.83% evangelical, and Franklin County, Idaho was 1.17% evangelical. Developing a launch team in the latter three Franklin Counties will not as readily happen from recruiting existing groups of Christians.
Gathering a Launch Team Today
Then how does a planter gather a nucleus for a new church? What does it take? Here are just a few thoughts:
Know Your Gifting
Ask yourself whether you are gifted in such a way that you are able to start something from nothing, or is your history that of starting something out of something that already exists. For example, starting a youth group or a Bible Study from people who already attend that church or campus ministry is different than starting a Bible study in your neighborhood.
Most church planter assessments do not account for this difference, but if you have no experience starting anything from scratch, perhaps you need to find some way- any way- to gather friends to form a nucleus, or maybe you would function better as a replant pastor of a declining church?
Have a Realistic Timeline
If you need to start something from nothing (aside from a very small group of friends), plan on a longer timeline that allows for meeting people, developing relationships, joining existing groups, and building trust. Don’t wait to identify as a follower of Christ or your new friends will feel deceived. Share Christ relationally.
This takes large blocks of time, real intentionality, and a decision to spend your time with the people you want to reach instead of desk time. Wake up every day knowing how you will invest in people. Use a time tracking tool to help you. Set goals related to meeting people, learning names and sharing Christ. Budget for the time this takes. Do not use the large launch methodology until you have a group of at least 50 committed people.
Consider Being Bi-Vocational
Alternatively, plan on working bi-vocationally, either initially or for the life of the church plant. Choose a job that allows you to meet people to whom you will minister, allows them to see you as a person they can respect as a pastor/ leader, utilizes your talents and abilities so you can serve well, and offers enough flexibility for the life of a planter.
If this means starting a business, track not only the actual physical time you invest, but also the thoughtful, creative time you use for your business. How much time can you actually invest in the business and the church plant?
In addition, consider whether the large launch style is really best for your situation, or whether a more traditional approach of adding a few people at a time to your core group works best in your situation. Large launch models cover only a fraction of the history of the church.
Think “Saturation Evangelism”
Utilize an evangelistic approach that allows you and whoever serves on your team to consistently share Christ over and over again, praying consistently, and sharing overtly. Think saturation evangelism.
Utilize approaches such as T4T. While fewer people respond to the Gospel this way today, there are still some that do. It seems to be especially effective in contexts where there are strong, tightly knit oikos units of people who tell people who tell people. It also seems amazingly effective where people have experienced a tragedy or disaster together. There really are some effective evangelistic movement approaches in North America today.
If you are in a context where there are several other planters in different locations, but similar stages of church planting, band together. Offer preview services on alternate weeks, days, or times of day. Band together with your families and whatever core groups you have, and alternate serving each other. Use the same sound systems, children’s toys, and so forth for several months until each planter is able to develop a nucleus. Learn from each other.
Not Your Mama’s Church Planting Scene
Reality Check. Yes. Church planting is really difficult.
It requires knowing who you are and who you are not gifted to be. It takes huge amounts of intentional time, and it means knowing your spiritual context.
You cannot always anticipate assistance from other churches to send their members or invest in your vision. You cannot anticipate a great response from that slick mailer you sent to 20,000 people. Not any more. Not everywhere.
I repeat: This is not your mama’s church planting scene.
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