Generally there are three stages to church planting in our Americanized context.*
Moving too quickly through these stages can cause a gathered community to launch prematurely. The pressure most church planters face is that most people’s concept of “church” is public worship, so they expedite the first two stages thinking that we will really “get to do church” once we get to the worship service. However, what I have found is that much more emphasis needs to be placed on leadership develop than worship production.
Think of these three stages through the lens of Paul’s missionary journey of Acts 18.
- Mission: To whom has Christ called you to bring the gospel?
- Method: How are you going to engage them?
- Move: Don’t wait for them to show up but seek them where they are by “moving next door.”
SUBMERGE (3 months)
A church planter needs to submerge themselves into the local community. During the “submerge” phase they are doing more listening than speaking. They are identifying the unique gospel needs of their mission targets. They are identifying their unique pastoral giftings. They are beginning to strategize and plan but are always prepared to adapt. They are also doing personal fundraising from networks, denominations and external supporters.
Examples of tasks
- Meeting with area Christian leaders
- Demographic Studies and Missiology
- Fundraising personal salary
- Identifying Apostolic and Evangelistic leaders
- Identifying the gospel needs of the community
- Spending time with normal people
- Strategic Business Plan
- Articles of Incorporation
- Alan Hirsch APEST Assessment
- MNA Assessment Center
- MissionInsite Demographics
EMERGE (6 months)
Having listened well, this is the stage when church planters begin to gather a launch team. Words begin to matter at this stage, so by utilizing terms like “launch team” versus “core team” it places the task instead of the importance in front of the people. A core is what you build around and will often turn the group’s focus internal, while a launch team is a group with an objective to shoot for. These emerging steps are processes that help the group begin to identify itself–vision dinners, launch team meetings, website development, logos, and naming all begin to create a movement forward for the gathered community. The DNA and ethos of the community will begin to form during this stage. Therefore, for example, if moving away from a pastor-centered model of church is important, then incorporate that ethos into practice. One suggestion would be for different team members to host and lead the pre-launch meetings. Fundraising at this stage should be focused on the capital needs necessary to launch.
Examples of Tasks
- Vision dinner(s)
- Launch Team gatherings
- Preview worship services
- Discipleship making processes
- Capital Fundraising
- Name of the Plant
- Logo and Website design
- Clear and compelling mission
- Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches
- Tangible Kingdom Primer
- Shepherd Leadership
- Church on Wheels
This is what everyone imagines church planting to be about. The public gathering of people that will attract more people…but this is NOT the primary objective. Once public worship begins and the weekly task of slide development (or bulletin printing), rental contracts, coffee management, chicken-nugget debates, children’s ministry volunteer recruitment, visitor follow-up, oh yeah and sermon writing all pile onto the church planter’s desk, it is hard to return to the necessary work of leadership equipping and establishing a clear vision. Fundraising at this stage includes the salary of the planter, the capital expenses of launching, and the weekly operational expenses (a general rule of thumb–praise God when you have 3-6 months of cash in the bank!).
At this point everyone is watching to see how this expression of Christ’s body will be compared to what they thought it would be. After the third week of our public worship, a person commented when the worship leader brought an electric guitar, “Oh, I did not realize we were going to be an electric guitar church.” It is as if you have poured the concrete, but while not firmly in place, each week the patterns and expectations will harden.
Examples of Tasks
- Minimial Ecclesial Expression in place
- What does that mean?…If you are going to be a small group community, you will want three active small groups already meeting weekly…if Fellowship meals are important to you, you will want a plan to provide meals pre/post worship in place…service, you will want to have identified service opps…worship, you will want to have the elements of worship established
- Recruitment of children’s ministry coordinator
- Recruitment of worship leader
- Rental of a facility
- Purchase of necessary equipment
- Visitor outreach mechanism
- Database system
- Children’s Ministry Curriculum
- Examples of Budgets
- Planning Center Database
- Orange Curriculum for kids
- The Art of Neighboring
- Discipleship that Fits
*I’m fully aware of the arguments beginning to emerge against the model of planting and towards missional mindsets. Most of my coaching, though, is for established denominations within a reformed perspective and therefore when they think of church planting they are thinking of developing a sustainable, publicly gathering community of Christ followers fulfilling the four aspects of an Acts 2:42 church (Worship, Teaching, Fellowship & Service). I have also found that while most planters will drop missional words, in their heart of hearts they are still envisioning a growing gathered community in the classic model of the 12 become the 20 become the 72 become 150.
However, as any good improv comedian, or jazz musician, or adaptive leader will tell you–first you have to understand the classic models before you can try something new. Therefore, the intentions of this is to distill the prevailing church planting kits, seminars, presentations, PowerPoints, books, and discussions I have had over the year into very practical stages and steps. This will allow YOU to adapt your processes to fit your context. Do you need a website? No. Do you need a children’s coordinator? No. Do you need articles of incorporation? No…well you should consult a lawyer on that one actually.