The idea of church planting was always scary to me. I was on staff as a youth pastor and then a young adult pastor and had no thought of ever planting a church. I was very comfortable and safe being a life-stage pastor in a local church. I never thought I would have wanted to risk leaving that comfort or spend the enormous amount of energy and emotion that goes into planting a new church. Yet, it has now been 10 years since we planted our church and I can’t imagine that I almost didn’t want to do it.
It is an experience you may think you know, but you don’t really until you do it. You can watch television scenes of a woman in a hospital giving birth, but until you are there in a room you don’t really know the magnitude of it all. That is like church planting.
So, 10 years after my own church plant, here are a few lessons I learned that perhaps will be encouraging to those considering planting.
1. You plant a church because you don’t have a choice.
I believe that for church planters, the motivation is not about the romantic or heroic venture of planting a church; it is because you realize you can’t not plant one. I realized that reaching this next generation was not going to happen within the constructs of the church I was part of. There were systems too ingrained that I would have had to battle to make change. Out of the pressing heartbreak of realizing that so many in our community did not know Jesus, I was forced out of my comfortable situation to plant a church. Because I had a great relationship with the church where I was on staff, I was planted from that church. I can say I did not have any desire initially to plant a church, but I had no choice. The mission to share Jesus with those who didn’t know him forced me to take risks I would never have been able to take on my own.
2. I never appreciated copy machines before I planted a church.
I think one of the first times I really recognized I was truly a church planter is when I realized we didn’t have a copy machine. The mother church was a megachuch and had several copy machines. I never truly appreciated them, but suddenly without one, those copy machines became preciously needed. I looked into leasing one and realized, “Holy smokes, it is expensive to even lease one of these things!” I now cherish the fact our church does have enough funding to lease a copy machine. Church planting made me much more aware of every single penny that is used and really appreciate those who sacrificially give. As we have grown and are no longer a handful of people, the appreciation of every penny spent has not left me. It took church planting to really raise that up for me as a high value.
3. Most models of church at conferences can make you feel inadequate.
This was a tough one for me to realize. I had been part of dozens of conferences and hadn’t even blinked at this. But after we planted, it suddenly dawned on me that the models usually displayed at church conferences are ones most of us don’t exist in. I was on staff at a megachurch, and the young adult ministry I led had 1,000 people in it. Our model was big meeting, big video projection, excellent band, preaching style to a large group, etc. Seeing that modeled at a conference was just normal. But after we planted, I saw these things and realized I felt very inadequate. Our new sanctuary building didn’t have any lighting but an “on” and “off” light switch in a hallway. We had no fancy video projection, and I wasn’t preaching to 1,000 anymore.
Most of the authors, speakers and models of worship we are exposed to are very unlike the week-to-week experiences of average pastors at these events. Now 10 years later, we do have better lighting, and we have four worship gatherings that use videos and multiple bands. But church planting made me think through my own sense of identity. Did I base my worth as a leader on the size of the ministry? Do church leadership conferences fuel the idea that you are better if you are bigger? I am thankful to church planting, which made me process all that. Church planting put me in a place of humility and dependency and was a time of self-reflection. Was I basing my worth on what I did as a church leader or who I am in Jesus?
4. If your church plant doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean you are a failure.
We have made it past the few first critical years of a church plant. We are in a healthy and growing place now, but we had some uncertain moments in the early years. I know there are many church planters whose churches don’t last more than a couple years. I listen to their discouragement and always try to remind them that perhaps their experience was God shaping them for what is ahead. Perhaps the friendships and life change they experienced were the reason God called them to start a church. I hope no one ever feels like a failure. Church planters risk a lot for God and his mission out of love for people knowing Jesus. Even Paul stayed in some places a certain time and then moved on. Perhaps for some, church planting is a season that produces fruit they may not even be aware of. Perhaps a church plant affects one life in a way God intended.