By Jeff Bennett
Two years ago I accepted the call to plant a church in a northwest suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, with mixed emotions. Excitement came with the thought of going on this new adventure with God. But I was apprehensive because I had never done anything like this before.
My wife, Lisa, and I had spent our first eight years of full-time ministry at a fast-growing, established church in northeast Ohio. My experience of church planting was this: I knew some guys who had planted churches. I even once went to a Mets game with the president of a church planting organization—that’s it! Can you see why I was a bit apprehensive?
After accepting the call to plant a church from Stadia: New Church Strategies, my fears were calmed. Stadia promises if you decide to plant a church you will not be alone. From the outset, I was given a coach, someone who had previously traveled the path I was beginning, to walk with me through my particular church plant.
Machiavelli once said, “A prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it.”
Dave Smith, professor of church planting at Ozark Christian College, was assigned to coach me. Dave had succeeded in planting Crossway Christian Church in Nashua, New Hampshire, 10 years ago. Now a year into my church plant, I can’t imagine having done it without him.
United Parcel Service asks, “What can brown do for you?” Let me share a few things my coach did (and does) for me.
In my previous ministry I had enjoyed the benefits of a megachurch. I was surrounded by fellow staff members, gifted administrative assistants, an army of volunteers, and an enormous amount of resources. Overnight I traded it all for a blank sheet of paper. Actually, I had to go out and buy the paper with my own money!
My first thought was, Where do I even start? The question can leave one paralyzed. However, the paradox was while I personally had no experience in church planting, because of my coach, I actually had the benefit of a great deal of experience.
Coach Dave openly shared his experiences with me—both good and bad. He gave direction and instruction throughout the months leading up to our first public service (Launch Sunday). He was a great source of information on a myriad of topics: fund-raising, budgeting, staffing issues, how to build a launch team, marketing, outreach, what to look for in a facility, and more.
When I had questions that he didn’t feel qualified to answer, he always knew of another church planter who could help. Dave gave me shoulders to stand on so I didn’t feel like I was starting from scratch. While I had my own share of failures, Dave’s experience and direction helped me avoid numerous others.
Three weeks before Launch Sunday a good friend of mine launched a new church about 45 minutes away. It was a fantastic day with more than 400 people present. I was very encouraged. We were planting in a similar area, had used similar outreach tactics, and began with a similar size launch team. One couldn’t help but think we were set up for a great day as well.
Dave caught wind of my friend’s launch and called me the next day. His call wasn’t to celebrate their first day, though he was excited. He called because he was concerned for me. He talked and I listened. Dave wanted to make sure I didn’t get my hopes up. He hoped and prayed we would have a day like that, but explained that those are not the norm.
Secondly, Dave wanted to assure me that we were not failures if we didn’t have more than 400 people on our first day. In this area and many others, my coach helped me manage expectations.
Lends an Ear
My coach helps share my burdens, disappointments, and frustrations. I’ve learned there are some things only a fellow church planter can empathize with. Dave is that somebody for me.
One of those times was Sunday afternoon after our first service. We launched with half the crowd my friend did. While it was a great day, I was disappointed with the numbers. Dave was present that morning and knew how I felt. I was grateful we spent some time together that afternoon.
Physician George Adams said encouragement is “oxygen to the soul.” Without my coach, I’m afraid I might have suffocated that Sunday, and other times since then.
Dave has been a Barnabas for me (Acts 4:36). He never lets a conversation end without encouraging me. He gets genuinely excited at positive news, events that made a difference, lives that were changed.
One of the ways God has blessed my wife and me is through our personal efforts of reaching out to our neighbors. We have several families from our subdivision who attend and are involved in the church. We baptized three of our neighbors on one Sunday afternoon. Dave continually reminds me of the way God is blessing our efforts in this area. He reminds me of the value of one life, one eternity that is forever changed.
Church planting can leave good people winded through a down Sunday or an event that didn’t go as planned. I’m thankful for a coach who comes along and breathes life into me.
In the past two years, Dave has transitioned from being “only” my coach to becoming a cherished friend. There’s a special bond that comes from having traveled the same path. My path has had twists and turns, ups and downs. I’m not sure I would be enjoying the trip if not for my companion.
Henri Nouwen, in his book Reaching Out, shares meaningful words spoken to him by a friend. These words aptly describe the feelings I have for my coach. “From now on, wherever you go, or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.”
Jeff Bennett is lead minister with Christ's Church at Cobb, Acworth, Georgia.