There are many ways to plant a healthy, life-giving church, and they all begin with preparation. Most church planters suggest the type of church and the planting method depend on where you are planting and who you hope to reach.
Planting a healthy church is both an art and a science. The art is in understanding how to communicate with the people you are trying to reach. The science is in understanding where to connect with these people. If a church plant is the start of a healthy new Christian community, preparing for it requires having the right support and making the right connections in its beginning stages.
Initially, I failed at both. I’ve often said candidly, “My understanding of a church plant, pre-2013, was a plant hanging in a church.” With my wife Angela, I’m now planting Grateful Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a Converge church scheduled to launch this fall. And I’m in the process of building community with individuals who believe we’ve been called to make a difference for Jesus in our location. From what I’ve learned so far, I offer five keys to planting a church that blooms.
Determine your identity
The first step is determining your identity, your who. More often than not, two major hurdles for new church plants are 1) establishing clear direction as you shape the culture of the new church plant and 2) trusting the process and doing the work. In this step you will have to remind yourself often not to despise small beginnings.
Others may not see what you see and that’s OK. Don’t panic — this is completely normal. Understanding who you are as an individual will bring clarity to who you will become as leader of an organization. None of the other steps in this process will serve your cause well if you haven’t determined who you are and what to do with that knowledge.
For me, God used the challenges of my youth to birth a desire to help those suffering from similar challenges. God has called you to be uniquely you and to do a unique work for his glory.
Define your why
The second step in your preparation is determining your why. The why always trumps the what. Why you do what you do gives life to your plan, your preparation and your execution. It’s my strong belief that although people will get excited about what you are doing, they will stay excited because of the why that drives it.
I started meeting the needs of individuals in my circle — and of those who were somehow connected to them — because I believed I could impact my circle and even my community by showing the love of God. This fundamental idea, multiplied in the hearts of dozens connected to Grateful Church, is the why behind what we do. It’s the gas that fuels our efforts.
Getting help is the third step. Preparing to plant a church should not be done without a cohort of wise counselors who have extensive knowledge of the process. No number of books, conferences or podcasts can replace the absolute necessity of having people encourage, pray and support you in the process. It’s easy to get so involved that you forget the importance of getting help. Investing in a church planting coach, as well as identifying like-minded leaders who will mentor you, is important. Their role will be to mold you and help shape the vision God has given for your new church.
A successful church plant can be traced back to who you have speaking into your life and the way you apply their support. You need someone whose actions prove they believe in the work God has called you to do and in your ability. I am the benefactor of a well-experienced coach: Lee Stephenson, Converge’s executive director of Church Planting. He has proved a huge support. While everyone may not have access to Lee’s wisdom, finding guidance is critical. Get help early and often.
Embrace your uniqueness
Step four in preparing to plant is embracing your uniqueness. Most church planters wrestle with embracing their God-given plan because they lack confidence, resources or other requirements. Embracing your uniqueness often becomes more challenging the more you are exposed to others’ uniqueness. Of course there will be similarities between the church you are establishing and the church down the street. You probably will share a similar vision statement and plan to reach and attract the lost, hurting and marginalized. Like you, they will send out mailers and hold outreach events in the name of being the “hands and feet of Jesus.” However, as identical twins share the same DNA and likeness yet have different fingerprints, so churches may seem similar but have distinct differences.
The leader God has made overseer of a church-in-the-making has a specific call and purpose unique to his or her skill set and background. A church planter must embrace how different he or she is from others God has called to do the same work in a different way. Organizations take on the shape and character of their leader. People compelled to join your efforts are those God has given a desire for not only what you are doing and who you are, but also for how you do it. Celebrate what is unique about your plans and ideas to establish your ministry. Your uniqueness will yield tremendous fruit and success.
My wife Angela and I desire to establish a multiethnic church to serve the needs of our entire community. Two things that have worked well for us: First, we partner with a middle school that will be the future site of our worship gatherings. We intentionally invest in building the morale of the school administrators and faculty and provide support every time an opportunity arises. This has given us access to school-wide events that connect us with families in our community. Second, we are using the school during our pre-launch as a hub to build confidence, stability and trust within our community. We’re working with school leaders to establish an onsite mission operation to meet the needs of underserved students and to give students the incentive to work hard and excel.
Prepare to plant
Learning to proceed at a healthy pace is the final step in preparing to plant a church. The need for an appropriate pace is a consistent, necessary thread in every phase of preparation. Take a deep breath and repeat after me, “It will not be done overnight.” Trust that God’s plan is perfect and will come together according to his will if you move at his pace.
Vaughn Brown, Lead pastor of Grateful Church
Vaughn Brown is lead pastor of Grateful Church, Jacksonville, Florida.