So, we planted a church 4 1/2 years ago. We started in a living room with a small group of folks who loved Jesus and wanted to do a “new thing” in our community. We’ve seen that group blossom as we’ve moved to three different buildings, added staff members and seen our numbers grow to around 300 on a weekly basis. I’m at the point now where I don’t even know if I can legally call myself a “church planter” or if I simply have to be called a “pastor”.
(I do prefer the former. Just being called a “pastor” feels like going from “Super Spy” to “Office Clerk”… but that’s just me.)
The one thing that I’ve learned along the way is that Church Planting Sucks! There are a ton of reasons why it does. Let me just highlight a quintuplet of reasons…
REASON #1: No Money
OK… maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has partnered up with Daddy Warbucks to do your plant, but I didn’t. If you are marching out after Jesus humming “I Surrender All” – including a paycheck – then you know what I mean. I had a family of four with one cooking and walked away from all security to the promise of no money. It was SUPER SCARY and it sucked. Things were tough. Things were hard. Things were stressful. But, we were able to see God provide all of our needs.
We had nothing, except a call from God. In that call, as I accepted no paycheck, God began to move miraculously. He opened up a job that I could work while we started building the church. He brought tithing couples around us and began to bless their socks off until finally I could collect a small paycheck for the work at the church. It was a difficult time, but is was in that season that I learned what it was like to follow Jesus. I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.
REASON #2: Other Churches
Depending on where you plant, there may be other churches who aren’t very happy to see you. Now, you may be thinking that we are all in the army of the Lord and every pastor, deacon and elder from every congregation is going to throw their arms around you and lead a round of “Kumbaya My Lord”, but that probably won’t happen. In fact, you may be seen as the enemy as suspicions abound that you are there as a “sheep stealer” who could take down their religious empire. It may lead to awkward moments in the grocery story line. But, we were able to send a message to the churches and the community about a different way of doing things.
We started to focus on areas of the community that were overlooked. We sent a strong message that we were not after “churched” people. In fact, we discouraged “church people” from coming. If one stumbled in on a Sunday, we would encourage them to plug in to the church that they called home. We began to reach out to the broken and the hurting and assure them the our church was a “safe place”. It was a place where you could come “broken” and be accepted and see God heal you. So many in our community never would have been reached if we only thought about how other churches would receive us. I’m glad we took a gamble to reach out and do something different.
REASON #3: No Staff
My staff was myself, my wife, a small group of people who were already extremely busy and some child labor that came from my brood of children. That was it. We had no staff and no people. I was the worship leader and the greeter and the website designer and the preacher and administrator and the donut getter and the “bang my head against the wall because I’m so stressed” guy. I learned the power of the volunteer and how to appreciate them, but when you are first starting it doesn’t come easy. But, this taught me how to inspire, train and appreciate volunteers.
We never walked into a multi-million dollar budget. We had to inspire people with a vision and have them partner with that vision. We had to pour out thanks and appreciation to the many that worked hard each and every week. This made me truly love and value every person in our church. We didn’t have “hirelings”, but we had “sons and daughters”. We had people who called THE PLACE Church their home because they were immersed in a God vision to reach their community for Jesus. This blessing came because we didn’t have anything to begin with. This absence brought appreciation and love.
REASON #4: Church Hoppers
For me, this is the most frustrating and sad part about church planting. We have seen SO MANY people hop in and they are on fire. They love the church and the preaching and the vision and the donuts and the… (the list could go on and on). They are the ones singing your praises until one Sunday, they just stop coming. You follow up with them, of course, and you find out that they are now going to another church. You are flabbergasted! You thought they were the “ones”. You thought they were sent by God. You thought that they were going to be the next best thing since sliced bread, only to find them sucking up to some pastor at a “bigger church” or a “better church” or a “church with more anointed worship” or a “better children’s ministry” or a “cooler youth group” or a “manlier men’s group” or a “more feminine women’s group” or a “you get the point”. However, these people have taught me how important the ones that stick are.
I LOVE OUR CHURCH! I love those people who stick with us… who are enthralled with the vision… who weather the storms… who don’t abandon me when I’m an idiot. They live out grace and I love them for it. And, when the church hoppers just jump ship, it helps me refocus on those that are in it for the long haul. Don’t get me wrong, I still love those people that leave too. I pray for them to find a home where they can put their roots down and experience a healthy spiritual family. But, for me they help to make sure that I’m pouring into those people who call our church home. They are so special to me and our leadership team.
REASON #5: Past Mistakes
There are a TON of past mistakes. Some of these mistakes you made. Some of these mistakes were made by other church planters or churches in your community. When you plant a church you come face to face with all of it. You are told things like, “That was tried and it didn’t work” or “You know you can’t do that”. Everyone has an opinion and they are all going to want to share it with you. These opinions and mistakes may start building a heavy weight on your chest and begin to weigh down the vision that God has give you. I know that they were blurring my vision when we first planted until I began to see the wisdom in the past and the freedom to make mistakes with grace.
We decided that we were going to be a church that tried new things and that we weren’t going to be afraid to pull the plug when they flopped. And, flop we did. For example, we tried a Saturday afternoon service once at 4:30pm. It went over like Garth Brooks at a Rap Battle… it was BAD! One week, only two women showed up – AND ONE WAS A FIRST TIME VISITOR! I can imagine her waiting for me to pass the Koolaid around (good thing it wasn’t ‘communion Saturday’). Needless to say, she never came again and we squashed the Saturday service shortly after that. But… we tried it. We have to be willing to try things and we have to be willing to fail and to learn lessons for ourselves. We appreciate opinions, but prefer to create our own through experience.
So, as you can see… there are plenty of reasons why church planting sucks. There are lots of reasons not to plant a church. However, being a “church planter” who has gone through them all, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It has changed me, changed my family and helped to form the awesome faith community that I call home. Plus, it is fulfilling the Great Commission that was given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Be encouraged, shine bright and continue to work hard to make Jesus famous in your world. It is SO WORTH IT!!!