Church planting isn’t rocket science. It’s really pretty simple. When I say simple, don’t confuse simplicity with ease—that couldn’t be further from the truth. Church planting is challenging and very hard. But, it doesn’t have to be complex. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most difficult to accomplish. This is especially true in the early days of planting a church.
Those first days are tough because you find yourself caught in this strange conundrum every morning when you wake up. Every day you feel this unique sensation of having everything to do and nothing to do at the same time. There’s so much that needs to get done, but since there’s nothing that’s immediately due (like a Sunday service) sometimes it can feel like there’s nothing to do. When there’s nothing due, lots of time gets wasted doing nothing. So for the sake of your sanity (and to model simplicity), I’ve alliterated four things that you should be doing once you touch down in your new city.
This seems like it “goes without saying” and that’s exactly why I’m saying it. And saying it first. Pray. Understand that “everything” and “nothing” are equal opportunity distractions when it comes to prayer. We can waffle in between being too busy to pray and being too tired to pray. Planting a church can become extremely pragmatic and before you know it, you’ve crowded out every waking hour with everything and nothing and have found little time to actually pray. Don’t fall into this trap. Devote time to prayer.
Put this in your calendar. You’re the boss, you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for this. Require this of everyone that’s on your team. Pray. And pray about everything. Your building needs. Pray for your ego. It’s going to constantly have you daydreaming about “success”, comparing yourself to other church planters, making you feel inadequate at times and invincible at others (both of which can be extremely dangerous). Pray you’re your city. And salvations. And conversions. And open doors. And provision. And your marriage and family and….you get the picture. PRAY. Devote yourself to it. Don’t be distracted by everything and nothing. Build good habits now, and they’ll carry over when you really get busy. Prayer is important and it actually takes time. It’s some of the best use of the time that you have.
Plant The Gospel
Your hope isn’t to plant a church service, but to plant a church. And what that means is that the gospel has to take root in your community. If God blesses, then a church will birth out of that (based on His will, not yours). Your job is to do everything you can to spread gospel seeds and cultivate them. Do that by getting to know your neighbors and their needs.
Look for ways to be intentionally relational and explicitly Christian. Don’t come into a place with a ready-made plan and strategy of how you’re going to solve the problems that are present. You don’t know what the specific problems are just yet. You may have a cursory understanding, but you need to cultivate a deeper awareness. Take time to listen. Observe. Like Paul in Athens who observed a city full of idols and understood how to plant gospel seeds to his neighbors based on their needs (Acts 17:16, 22-24).
Go to neighborhood meetings, frequent the same restaurants and get to know the staff, talk to your neighbors. Really talk to them. And once you take those first steps towards being intentionally relational, I beg you to be explicitly Christian. Don’t hide who you are. You’re not a secret agent trying to infiltrate enemy territory, you’re a Christian who desires to pastor a church because you feel like the solution to the present needs (whichever ones you uncover) are found in the gospel message that has changed our lives. And when that message is both visible and tangible in a church, it has amazing potential to change people’s destinies.
Get to know your neighbors and their needs and then share the gospel with them. Talk about Jesus in a way that’s compelling that shows them you understand that they don’t need trite answers for their current trouble. Sharing the gospel isn’t complex, but it does take courage and a confidence that believes that there is actual power in the message. Prayer is a great way to get both the courage and confidence if we notice it lacking.
Pastor Your Team
The team that you play with is more important than the field that you play on. That’s perhaps one of the best pieces of advice that I got in church planting. Spend as much time cultivating a sense of family among your team as you do try to reach out.
In John 17 Jesus prays for the church’s unity, but his prayer doesn’t stop there. Unity isn’t a virtue in and of itself. It’s a vehicle. And the most important thing about a vehicle is who or what’s driving it. Jesus prays that we would be unified in order that the world might actually believe that He was sent by God. Simply put, the world’s belief hinges on the church’s unity. You’re the one primarily responsible for that among your team. Don’t neglect them while you’re meeting neighbors and uncovering needs. This is as much of a priority as anything else.
Use this time, especially in the early days, to care for your team. Pray together, read the word together (not for the purpose of casting a vision for the future plant, but for the purpose of caring for their present souls). Serve with them. Find ways to proactively check in with them. Each of them. Every. Single. Team Member. Make sure their marriages are thriving, their kids are being discipled, and they themselves are on mission. That requires time. And it’s the best use of yours.
Lastly, be patient. Be willing to adjust whatever timeline you put in your church planting prospectus. Remember, this isn’t rocket science. Frankly, it’s not science at all. Science experiments often have controlled environments and expected outcomes. Gospel work often takes place in uncertain environments and is filled with unpredictable outcomes. Your job is to be faithful and patient and to watch what God does.
Simple. Not easy, but simple.