Its the turn of a church planter in Chicago today to guest blog for me:
In Newfroniters we talk a lot about church planting. It’s a core value. We spend a lot of money on it. We give away our best people to it. Family members move hundreds and thousands of miles away from each other to make it happen. It is a one of the hardest things we do but one of the most important.
I am convinced that every reference in scripture to the mission of God finds its practical fulfillment in the process of starting a new church. If Jesus is of ultimate value, if all things end with him being worshiped in eternity, then developing worshipers of Jesus is the key to success. Simply winning people to Jesus is a good start but not enough. A redemptive community must be established in order to fulfill the cosmic plans of Christ.
I thought I was ready to start a church. It had been on my heart for many years. But I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. I had undertaken theological training and fulfilled various leadership roles but I was ignorant to much of the essential knowledge and skills required to launch a church. I’ve heard some refer to church planting as an enigma, but I’ve come to realize that is faulty thinking. Without clear and intentional preparation the chances of success are greatly diminished.
After passing a comprehensive church planter assessment and then completed an intensive year of church planting training, I moved my family to Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the US with a metro population of 9.5 million people. I’ve read 20 books on church planting, interviewed about 8 planters and even assisted in a new church start. And now we are right at the start of establishing Destination Church, one of the newest churches in Chicago. I cannot imagine doing this without the careful preparation provided for me by Newfrontiers-USA which brings me to my main point.
Developing a launch strategy is essential to starting a church. Right now Destination Church has a core group of about 20 people. I’d really like to publicly launch the church in February of 2010 but in order to do that we need to add at least 20 more people. A total of 75 would actually be a great core group size. Launching with just a handful of people makes it almost impossible to grow beyond 250 and 3 times more likely to fail. If we don’t add enough members by February we’ll delay our launch. Failure is not an option.
It works like this. My wife and I used to drive by a restaurant in St. Louis that never had any cars parked outside. Do you ever go into a restaurant where the parking lot is empty? No! If something good is happening people are present.
In a new church it takes at least 3 people to run the children’s work, maybe 4 to run worship, maybe 3 to greet and usher, which means if you have 20 people when you launch, you only have 10 people available for a crowd. If people do come they wont stay — it’s just too weird! We live in an anonymous culture, so people will want to be anonymous to begin with, and of course we must help them take steps into the community and not remain unknown.
In addition the idea of preview services has greatly impressed me. A preview service is like a dress rehearsal. It lowers the level of expectation for attendees and the core group because it’s a practice. It gives you more time to adjust mistakes. People are more forgiving if the sound isn’t right or the song words don’t work. Previews work well every 2 weeks or every week. It is not a good idea to do monthly previews as the gap in between is too long and momentum is lost. People are more likely to attend a couple of previews, not just because they are a lower commitment, but because of their schedule. Give people more chances to attend and they will. It’s a real limitation to put all your eggs into one grand opening launch day.In addition there are 2 optimal times during the year to launch. The best is probably at the end of February and second best is mid September. The biggest reason is to avoid the summer lull and to give yourself enough time to build momentum before you hit it. The summer can kill an unprepared church plant. It is also important to catch people when they are more likely to try something new, like at the beginning of the year, or when they are getting back into a routine and are more likely to stick it out.
On July 11, 2009 Matt Sweetman presented the Encouraging Community Project. The event focused on the need for community, the breakdown of trust in society, the solutions to rebuild it and the vision of the new church.
We all need to be in a community. This presentation will broaden your understanding of the world we live in and the value of human connectivity. If you are interested in checking out the new church, please watch this video.
We’ll try various attractional forms of church planting; mailers, phone surveys, online ads, etc … But the key growth element will be each member inviting 3-4 people to the previews/launch. If 50 people invite 3-4 people each and 1-2 of them actually show up, plus the mass marketing, we could gather 100 to 150 brand new people by our launch day. Even if 50% of them don’t return we’ve grown by 50-75 people in just a few weeks and have a legitimate crowd to attract more. Launching a small group system shortly afterwards will then allow us to more effectively make disciples.
Don’t be afraid of strategy.
Strategy is just a fancy way of having a plan. Read Psalm 139:16 and tell me if you think God has a detailed plan of your life or not?
Another critical aspect of strategy is financial planning. Working out detailed expense categories and amounts ahead of time allows you to know how much money you will need. Otherwise it really is an enigma! I’ve had many people ask me recently how I am funded. I am bi-vocational right now and my personal income is split 3 ways. We have a very generous core group, Heather and I also have a number of individuals who give to us directly. Lastly, I do a lot of online marketing to make up the difference in our income. Here is an example of an Atlanta Lawyer I have done work for. My plan is to phase this kind of work out over the next year. So, please pray for financial provision.
Jesus has a great plan to build his church and he will build it!