What They Don't Tell You About Church Planting
No, this is not some angsty post or diatribe against church planters, church planting systems, and the like. Instead, it's a time to let our guards down and just talk. Yes, I said our.
You don't know me and I don't know you. Therefore, what credibility do I even have? In terms of church planting, I was subpar at best. If we're talking startups which is at the heart of Intrepid I'm 2 deep in launching new businesses. None of them have afforded me private jets or that 3rd home in southern France. With that said, I know a bit of the ins-and-outs of church planting and the life of a planter. I've been a church planter a few times over, worked as a denominational church planting strategist, written books on church planting, and have taught church planting in seminary. If any of this has afforded me anything it was and is the opportunity to observe.
My week revolves around church planting. From meeting church planters for coffee to teaching and training to writing and more. I'm all for church planters. 100% behind and on board. I've had a lot of heart-to heart talks with planters as I've listened to painful stories of heartbreak, financial loss, betrayal, misunderstandings, dealing with expectations, frustrations with denominational reporting systems, skewed metrics for success, and much more.
I think our denominations and networks are great at getting you to plant. To uproot and move your family across the country to launch into the world of the unknown. You hear all about the stats of your new city, lostness, number of churches (in your denomination) per capita, and more. You gather support churches and individual donors and jump into the deep end of the pool. We're geared towards this perpetual birth cycle.
However, the rubber does not really hit the road until about year 5. Sure, we hear of the "success rate" of new churches in years 3-5. But it is usually after year 5 (or earlier) that things start hitting the fan. Funding has run dry, support churches and donors wonder why your church isn't "self-supporting." They probably don't know the nuances of the cost of living in your city or the fact that you've intentionally planted in a lower income community. Nonetheless, the "metrics for success" are still held before you and like a pass/fail grade in college for that bowling class you took ... you're slated into one of two options. Pass or fail?
I'm not really interested in your model of church. What I am most concerned with is what life for you and your lovely family looks like after years 3, 4, or 5. What do you do when your funding has run dry and you have 35-50-75 people? We train planters to to start ... to launch. The lucky ones (this is a work of the Spirit, right?) might see explosive growth, but you're the average (just like everyone else ... thus the term "average"). So now what? What do you do? Pack your bags and head elsewhere? Pick up a side hustle or full-time gig? Continue leading the church while your wife works? Try to convince your supporters and donors that you need "one more year" before it pops?
What don't they tell you about church planting? It's not how to start, but how to keep going. Especially when progress is slow. Besides, if you're truly planting from the harvest then it could very well take up to 10 years before you approach self-sustaining. And maybe that's the question at hand ... should that be the goal (a self-sustaining/supporting church where the pastor/planter is paid a full-time salary with benefits)? What if it wasn't? How would that factor in your approach to planting and even where?
My hope for this post is simply to talk with you (obviously I'm doing the talking at this point). No agenda. No angst. Just a safe place to have these kinds of conversations you can't have with your supporters or even denominational leaders. But they're important conversations to have. Again, it's not how you start as much as it is about how you're going to keep going. How will you keep going?