Church Planting for the Long Term


What will keep you there?

What will be the deciding factor between staying versus bailing out and moving back home where you came?

Whether church planters ask themselves these questions out loud or think about them they are on the forefront of all of our minds. Sometimes we’re too ashamed or embarrassed to say them out loud. In a moment of weakness we may confide in a friend and share these dark brooding thoughts. They are almost too scandalous to think let alone ask out loud.

Let me then ask again … what will keep you there?

This is actually quite more complicated than one may presume. Wrapped up into this question are expectations … both from within as well as from those who fund us whether partner churches, individuals, denominations, or church planting organizations. Then we wrestle with this whole notion of God’s call. Would God call me here to fail? What does it mean if I do fail? What even is failure? Then you rehearse quotes you’ve heard along the lines of “things done God’s way won’t lack God’s funds” (or something like that). Then that heaps even more guilt upon us.

You see, you’re year 4 or 5 into your church planting adventure and you know … it’s not self-sustaining. Not even close. You’ve cobbled together an assortment of funding streams … pleading with donor churches and the denomination for “one more year” (you did say that last year too). You’ve picked up a part-time job … substitute teacher, bus driver, barista, or whatever you can find that your previously ministry experience and schooling affords you. But you know. You know that on this given trajectory that even by year 10 it’s not like you can any longer expect your church to be big enough to support you and your family full time (complete with health insurance, retirement, and more). Your dream of the church “popping” has fizzled.

What will keep you there?

Again, then we circle back around to your wrestling with God’s call. You’re convinced he did lead you here to plant. To step down from the cush staff role at your previous church. Besides, you were bored and ready for a new adventure. A new frontier. Your church was on board with you church planting too, especially since it was on the other side of the country with no inkling or fear of competition since all of your fiends and the younger families at your church had pleaded with you to plant there instead of here. Five years later you’re still here. You just don’t know how much longer you can hold on.

You’re embarrassed. You feel deep shame thinking of the tens … hundreds of thousands of dollars of support that was funneled your way. Of all of those churches sending mission teams to help you. You moved to an exotic place compared to where you left. For the people you left behind there you might as well be on the other side of the world. You think of all the excitement early on. But by year three or four you knew. This wasn’t turning out how you had hoped. You watched as funds began dwindling. You picked up a part-time job and made it work. Now by year five both you and your wife are working part-time or even full-time jobs to make it work. Most of the early core team members have lost heart and left. You’re more alone than ever before. This isn’t what you had signed up for.

What will keep you there?

Is it simply about the mathematics of economics? Meaning, the driving force of you staying and planting long term is about how much outside funding funnels into your bank amount each month? Is that what God’s calling boils down to?

What if?

What if there was another way?

What if you could develop a plan and strategy to stay long term? What if that meant you also started a business or non-profit to ensure you put down long term roots?

What if we simply wrote a new narrative in church planting in North America?

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Written by Sean Benesh

Director of Intrepid