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Confessions of an Idealistic Church Planter

Confessions of an Idealistic Church Planter

Born to missionary parents, Daniel grew up determined to spend his life like them.  He couldn’t imagine a more rewarding career than carrying on his family’s legacy preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  Yet Daniel didn’t feel called into international ministry to unreached people groups.  On the advice of a pastor back in the States, he decided to go the more conventional route of leading a church, hopefully somewhere near his hometown.  So Daniel attended seminary after college and became a youth pastor for a large congregation, waiting for his opportunity and the Lord’s timing to plant a new church.  The leadership team understood Daniel’s ambitions and recognized his charisma, knowing they wouldn’t be able to hold onto him for long.  They’d had their eyes on a community across town as a potential location to go multisite and expand their footprint.  Several churches had been unable to take root in that area, sandwiched between comfortable suburbanites busy with children’s activities on Sunday mornings and relatively lower income neighborhoods served by small, ethnically divided congregations.

The Vision: Life and City Transformation

Daniel could hardly contain his excitement when those leaders approached him, offering their guidance and financial support.  He had a vision – idealistically imagining his church plant transforming the community, just as he’d witnessed as a child overseas.  He began to plan, leveraging principles of the “mother church” for consistency but emphasizing areas like evangelism, discipleship, and compassion where he felt they were falling short.  Reaching across demographics and socioeconomics, engaging both the disinterested and the disintegrated, would require more than attractional programs or eloquent sermons.  Nor would first class facilities and amenities, which they couldn’t afford anyway, draw people in.  Instead, Daniel believed achieving the vision of community transformation would require:

  • meeting diverse groups of people “where they are” rather than inviting non-believers to a worship service
  • understanding key issues and concerns they’re facing, which are often quite different for “soccer moms” and single moms
  • becoming visible and active in bettering lives, including partnering with organizations who are already “moving the needle”
  • committing to that community long-term, realizing it’s where God called him
  • raising up leaders equipped for dynamic prayer, care, and share ministry
  • multiplying disciples and mobilizing teams to demonstrate God’s love to the hurting and hopeless
  • being viewed as essential, such that people in both sacred and secular circles would not only notice but be deeply saddened if his church closed its doors

Daniel knew a heavy external focus was a departure from how most churches treated members like “customers” to attract and retain, not Kingdom “employees” to train and deploy.  As a missionary kid, he wasn’t accustomed to Americanized forms of church and was determined to eschew consumer-driven Christianity.  Yet, seminary seemed to indoctrinate most graduates in “church as we know it”, not alternative models and structures.  Likewise, Daniel knew of church planters who had high ideals and were attuned to the material and spiritual needs of a community, but eventually abandoned their visions and values to tend to internal affairs.

Any pastor new to an area must network and be hospitable to create awareness.  However, maintaining that level of external orientation and challenging members to do the same (through compassion, evangelism, and discipleship) is riskier when there’s more to lose – staff, members, and buildings.  Daniel saw that same dynamic with business entrepreneurs who began laser focused on the market, resulting in exponential growth, but soon got distracted by internal expectations and obligations.  In business, executives taking their eyes off the ball leads to declining productivity and profitability.  In churches, ignoring the intended “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus) has far more serious, eternal consequences.

The Principles: GC3

With those cautions in mind and a firm resolve never to let them infiltrate his church, Daniel met with his team of lay leaders for strategic planning and brainstorming.  Several guiding principles, priorities, and next steps emerged from their first session:

  • value prayer over self-reliance, worship over socializing, and humility over status
  • operate out of an abundance (vs. scarcity) mindset yet steward resources responsibly
  • practice 1 on 1 discipleship leveraging proven tools, with Daniel leading the way, commissioning those he disciples to follow his example
  • research, survey and meet with local leaders and residents to uncover burning issues, which at first glance appeared to relate to similar underlying problems in affluent and poorer neighborhoods (mental health, substance abuse, parenting)
  • conduct evangelism training for current leaders and willing attenders
  • encourage and support promising ministries spearheaded by church members
  • realize workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes are where “church” takes place all week long, so prepare the entire congregation to be “pastors” of their coworkers, neighbors, and families

While Daniel’s intent was to serve that community, doing so couldn’t involve compromise in any of those areas.  Daniel and his leadership team understood how much they were asking of their members, and that they’d likely lose many to other churches in town with far lower expectations.  However, Daniel couldn’t reconcile anything less with what he saw in Scripture or settle for less than he’d experienced during his missionary upbringing.

Holding weekend services in a school would conserve costs but mean more work setting up every Saturday and tearing down on Sundays.  Personalized, intensive discipleship would be time consuming but foster a level of authenticity and accountability rarely found in small groups settings.  Equipping and calling busy Americans to live prayer, care, and share lifestyles would be prohibitively demanding and disruptive for those not completely surrendered to Jesus.  Yet GC3 (Great Commandment, Great Commission, Great Calling) are prerequisites and non-negotiables, not optional suggestions, for all Christ-followers.

The Plan: Success in God’s Eyes

Daniel understood his vision and principles didn’t align with the typical metrics used to gauge the viability of church plants or the performance of established congregations.  Convincing his superiors at the main campus to adopt a different set of measures (than they applied to themselves) to track his progress would be a hard sell.  Nevertheless, Daniel felt metrics tied to attendance, revenues, and facilities had been borrowed from the business world and wouldn’t create the proper incentives for his staff.  Instead, he envisioned “success” not around inputs or activities, but outcomes:

  • Not baptisms alone, but evidence-based commitments to following Christ
  • Not small group participation, but the number engaged in discipling relationships
  • Not church attendance alone, but personal practice of spiritual disciplines
  • Not new members (from other churches), but new believers entering the Kingdom
  • Not headcount of guests invited to church, but people led to the Lord by members
  • Not number of verses cited to substantiate opinions, but adherence to the Word
  • Not veiled marketing through “outreach” events, but sincere unconditional love
  • Not seasonal compassion to “check the box”, but year-round poverty alleviation
  • Not independent solo city projects, but collaboration in unity with other churches
  • Not number of hours and people serving externally, but the size of the dent made in causes important to the city
  • Not square footage of buildings, but maximizing utilization of each foot all week
  • Not size of the children’s ministry, but how many lives changed, not entertained
  • Not staff and payroll budget, but degree of empowerment by flattening hierarchies
  • Not dollars given to abdicate GC3 functions to pastors, but reclaiming “ownership”
  • Not diversity for diversity’s sake, but integration and unity among the entire body

Daniel was nervous about presenting his vision, principles, and plan to the pastors who’d entrusted him with responsibility for planting the first new campus in its multisite strategy.  As experienced leaders well-versed in modern church growth models, they considered Daniel’s plan idealistic and naïve, but couldn’t deny it was biblical and liked his approach in theory.  Despite the risk, they appreciated Daniel’s heart, passion, and capabilities – and were curious to see how his church’s members and the community would respond to such lofty ambitions and expectations.

It’s Your Turn…

We’ll continue telling the story of Daniel’s church during the coming weeks, tracing its progress through the cycles and stages experienced by nearly all churches in America.  Based on your observations and involvement with churches in the past, what do you think happens next as Daniel and his team begin to implement their vision, principles, and plan?

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One Response

  1. It seems to be just the thing the Lord would ask of him to do in faith. And if he acks in faith isnt the Lord that brings the Harvest (fruit) So it seems that by acting in faith to ab big plan that he will be successful at least in the eyes of the Lord but what may look foolish to man may be the very thing the LORD has asked for We need to define success by the LORDs definition

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