For 19 years, I have committed myself to an assessment process that determines if a candidate is suitable to be a new church planting leader or team member. To as few as 10-12, or as many as 70-100 candidates in a year, I have asked the question, “So you want to plant a church?”
The question usually comes on the second day of assessment, after I have read their documents and after getting to know them, albeit not fully. Therefore, I have sometimes asked the question cynically, “So, YOU want to plant a church?” Other times I have asked the question enthusiastically, anticipating the candidate’s abilities.
I have formed some pretty clear opinions about what I want to hear in response to my follow-up question (“Why?”) and the next steps I would like to see a candidate take once a positive recommendation has been given by the assessors with the Church Planting Assessment Center (CPAC).
Lest you think what follows is my opinion alone, I should say I consulted with 13 executive directors of church planting organizations all over the United States. I asked them two questions: “What would you want to hear a candidate say in response to the question, ‘So you want to plant a church?’” and, “What would you say to a candidate who wants to plant a church?”
A consensus of their various responses follows, along with mine. The points come in order of importance.
The Best Answers
What do we want to hear a candidate answer in response to “Why do you want to plant a church?”
I love lost/unchurched people. It seems that should go without saying for new church planting wannabes, and unfortunately, too often it does. I usually ask them to give me the names of at least three unchurched people they are currently in relationship with and what they are doing to move them toward spiritual transformation.
How would you answer that question? Church planting is one of the best ways to reach unchurched people, and reaching the lost should be the primary motivation. It is hard to do this if you don’t like forming relationships with the lost and spending time with them.
God has called me to new church planting. Most ordained ministers would say they received a call from God to vocational ministry. However, a call to church planting is a call to a specific entrepreneurial endeavor. Potential church planters need to pray thoroughly and fervently for clarity from God. We are accustomed to saying, “If you think God might want you to do anything other than church planting, do it.”
These are the first two answers we want to hear from an aspiring church planter. And are there answers we do NOT want to hear? At the top of that list would be, “I know how to do church better.” “My spouse isn’t thrilled with this church planting thing, but God has called me.” “I know this group of people who want a church in their area.” “I had to leave my last church and I don’t want to move.” You get the picture.
The Best Advice
What would we say to a candidate who wants to plant a church?
Pray, and make sure you recruit a dedicated team of prayer partners. God is the one who ultimately will bring the increase, so you need to make sure God is directing you to plant and water effectively. There is real power in church planting prayers.
Follow the developmental recommendations you received from the CPAC assessors. Every candidate who attends CPAC receives a clear set of developmental recommendations that will enhance the possibility for his success in church planting. These recommendations should be carefully pursued, and we often encourage management teams to hold planters accountable in this area.
Connect with a church planting association or network to form a management team for accountability and protection. Since church planting leaders were consulted for this article, you might expect this statement. However, there are a number of church planting leaders who have faced very difficult circumstances in their project, and a management team has been able to provide counsel, and perhaps intercede for them with the congregation. There have also been times when the management team has had to intervene on behalf of the church when there has been a moral failure or a series of unfortunate decisions by the staff.
Recruit both a church planting coach and a spiritual mentor. Church planters need to carefully recruit people for both of these positions.
The church planting coach helps process the pragmatic decisions that face a leader every day. The coach has been down the road before and is experienced in making the plant a success.
The spiritual mentor is focused on the health of the planter and his family, especially making sure they are continually being nurtured and fed by the Holy Spirit.
Many organizations like to supply these two positions for the spouse as well.
Meet your personal fund-raising responsibilities before you move to the target area. Generally, fund-raising doesn’t stop until the new church is self-sufficient, but if most (or all) of it is not completed before the move, then the church will likely take longer and experience more problems in reaching that level. Once a church planter moves to the new city, fund-raising generally stops. This is rarely intentional, it’s just that time gets filled implementing decisions that must be made in the new location. The best time to raise funds is before you move, while you still have face-to-face access to friends, family, and prior churches.
Chaotic, and Filled with Joy
A church planter needs to be a leader of leaders. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do everything yourself, or your church will remain small. Remember, in this economy, if a new church doesn’t quickly average over 200 in attendance, then viability could really be a problem.
I had the pleasure of serving on a church planting team in the early 1990s. It was hard, frustrating, challenging, tiring, and chaotic—and it brought as much joy as I have ever experienced in ministry. So, do you want to plant a church?
R. Paige Mathews is director for the Church Planting Assessment Center, consultant with Kairos Legacy Partners, and president of FIA Consulting. He lives in Firestone, Colorado.