If you want to be successful at church planting, start by counting the cost.
Four thousand new churches are planted every year, finally stemming the tide of church closures each year (3,500/year). Church planting has seen a resurgence in the last decade, and a vast number of new churches that are planted are becoming viable and self-sustaining within five years.
However, church planting isn’t a sure deal.
Passion, heart, and desire are admirable qualities, but not necessarily the only ones that are necessary to be a successful church planter. The numbers don’t lie. More than three out of ten church plants will fail within five years, and even more will never break through that critical 100 attenders barrier—meaning that funds will always be an issue, the church will be chronically understaffed, and the gospel impact you once envisioned is endangered.
If you’re a church planter already and you’re reading these statistics becoming discouraged, don’t be. This website and my work is dedicated exclusively to helping leaders and churches like you to achieve the breakthrough you long to have. It is never too late, and you’re never too far gone. Breakthrough is just around the corner. If this is you, stop reading this article and contact me straight away so we can start praying through and strategically planning your breakthrough.
For those of you reading this article right now who are aspiring or potential church planters, I want you to come face-to-face with the statistics so you can count the cost now. It’s far easier to become a breakthrough church intentionally from the beginning than to have to re-visit the process five or ten or fifteen years into planting. Another post for another day is what (future) breakthrough churches do prior to launching, but here let’s focus on you. What qualities do church planters need to have in order to lead breakthrough churches?
Here are the top ten qualities of successful church planters:
1) Called to a specific people & place
Very rarely will a church plant succeed if the church planter doesn’t have a specific calling to the place and people where he is planting. If you’re a city boy who hates the country and you’re planting a church in rural America, you’ll probably be miserable and you’ll have a hard time connecting with the values of the culture. Where you plant your church will be your family’s home, not just where you live—be sure that you’re excited to plant roots there.
2) Flexible on plans
Successful church planters have a plan, but it’s written in pencil, not Sharpie. Conditions will change, funds will fluctuate, and ideas will have to be put on hold. If your plan was to have certain equipment but the funding isn’t there, you’ll have to re-make your plans around what you can afford. You may have planned on having an office space, but the location you were set on got rented out to a small business. You can’t control everything, so you’ll need to be flexible.
3) Rigid on mission
Church plants are magnets for toxic church people. Unable to accomplish their personal mission within one church, some will try to hijack your church plant in order to succeed in implementing their own agenda. Before you add on any local leaders, be certain you know what your church’s mission is and be rigid about it. Win leaders who are as passionate about your mission as you are, and be weary of anyone who would try to sway you to rethink your mission. In its infancy, there is no room for competing missional identities within your church—and the lead planter and his outside advisers should be the ones to define that identity.
The best leaders are great followers. Successful church planters are accountable to others for what’s happening on the ground—and not just in a cursory way. Partner with a denomination or church planting organization that will provide you not only with an executive board but a coach with experience and expertise. Church planters who try to go it alone will eventually feel lonely, miss details, or make avoidable mistakes. If you want to lead well, be willing to be led.
For every one church plant that has incredible funding to buy awesome equipment, hire a bunch of staff, and launch in a great facility, there are dozens (if not hundreds) that are scraping by on pennies. Something that church planters learn quickly is that stuff does matter. We don’t worship stuff, but stuff enables us to worship and lead better. Therefore, successful church planters know how to prioritize their funds and spend them strategically. They also know how to get the most out of every dollar. Lots of companies offer introductory deals or specials for church planters; find these deals and maximize them.
People are going to disbelieve you. Other area churches may resent the planting of a new church. Church planters get called names, and their families are subjected to scrutiny. This is common in all ministry but is amplified in church planting. Some people will even root for you to fail. Lies will be told about you, and you’ll need to endure it. When the pressure is intense, plans fail, people leave, you’ll need to be resilient by standing on who you are in Christ. Before you were a church planter, you were planted by grace through faith into the family of God. This will need to be enough when the attacks are most intense.
Successful church planters are at least a little bit crazy. They believe that something can come from nothing, and that people will want to follow them into the fray. Successful church planters don’t believe that God can do a great thing through them in their community, but that he will and must. To be successful, you’ll need to be filled with hope and faith that this new church is going to reach your city for the gospel of Jesus. If you don’t have the faith that it’s going to work, no one else will.
Successful church planters aren’t jerks. The shortest route to imploding a new church plant is to alienate people, belittle them, be filled with pride, or mistreat them. Church planting is intense and it’s difficult. The pressure can instill a short temper within the most patient people, but if you want to be successful you’ll need to be friendly. Be willing to work with people who don’t go to you church and won’t go to your church. Be friendly to the people who come to your church for a time, but later leave. Be friendly to the unchurched in your community that you may one day win them to the gospel. Be amiable.
One of the most damaging stereotypes in the church planting world is the concept of the solo planter. No man is an island, and if you’re going to be successful in church planting, it won’t be because you did it alone. Successful church planters utilize the power of team. Don’t just work with a team, empower them. And don’t just empower them, give them credit. Over time, the more credit you take for yourself and the less you share with the team, the more likely you are to become a narcissistic leader that no one wants to work for and the church will suffer long-term.
Biblical leaders are strategic leaders. One of the biggest myths about church leadership is that pastors should be primarily spiritual and maybe secondarily strategic. This simply isn’t true. A comprehensive reading of Scripture shows us the veracity of this statement: we must think strategically about spiritual things and spiritually about strategic things. It isn’t one or the other, it’s both/and. Don’t think that your church plant will be successful armed with prayer and good thoughts. Also don’t think you’ll succeed with a strategic plan but no reliance on the Spirit. You must have both. If you need help developing a strategic plan because that isn’t your leadership strength, get the help fast. The absence of a viable strategic plan is the biggest mistake church planters make in the first weeks/months prior to launch.
Many successful church planters have said that if you can envision yourself doing anything else, you should do that instead. Church planting is difficult, expensive, time-consuming, risky, stretching.
However, if you can’t shake the passion and desire to become a church planter, take a hard look at the ten qualities listed above. Do they describe you? Is there a gap? Identify those gaps and begin working on them so you’ll be prepared as a leader to be successful in the difficult world of church planting.
Looking for church planting coaching?