It really seemed to bug some people. “Does it bother you that there are churches on three of the four corners at this intersection?” they would ask with a tone that implied they felt three churches were simply too many.
I knew what they were getting at, so I would overdramatize my response: “Yes, it does bother me. I am trying to figure out how we can get another church on that fourth corner.” This comment would often lead to an interesting conversation about how many churches are too many.
The real answer to the question is a resounding, “No.” As the world becomes more secular and people wander further from God, the need for vibrant, biblical, loving churches becomes more and more urgent. I would love to see more churches in every community around the globe.
Throughout three decades of church leadership, I have had the privilege of being part of a church restart, a church plant, the launch of a new church campus and the start of a Spanish congregation. I have served on staff at a church of more than 10,000 worshippers in Southern California, and at a small, country congregation in western Michigan. Through these experiences I have learned many key practices that help launch and sustain healthy churches. Consider these four as you grow your church.
1. Passionate Prayer
Every true and lasting work of God is firmly rooted in a culture of prayer. Prayer guides you to the heart and vision of God. Prayer gives direction for the where, when, how and who of a church launch. Prayer opens the way for the Holy Spirit to speak, guide, encourage and shape the ministry. When prayer is absent, the power of God is disconnected from the heartbeat of any ministry.
Is prayer an afterthought or a driving force in your life and ministry? Is it the way you open meetings or is it the air you breathe? Is prayer a garnish or the main dish? In her book Praying With Eyes Wide Open, Sherry Harney, my wife, helps followers of Jesus discover how prayer can truly become so natural and present in our lives that it is central to all we do. If leaders and their congregations pray with passion at all times, their churches will grow healthier by virtue of this dynamic and an ever-present intimacy with the Lord.
2. Organic Outreach
Churches turn inward if they don’t intentionally and aggressively press outward to the world that God loves. Natural evangelistic activity is essential for healthy churches of any age. We can’t plant churches and start new movements without a commitment to reach people who are far from God. We can’t maintain thriving and vibrant ministries without relentless efforts to go into our community with the love, grace and good news of Jesus.
Is your ministry absolutely committed to reaching people who don’t know Jesus? Is the core vision of evangelism fused into the soul of your ministry, so that every person knows that sharing the love of the Savior is a nonnegotiable part of his or her daily life? Do you take time to equip and train your congregation to articulate their faith in a way that is natural, compelling and engaging? Many new churches have a strong evangelistic passion as they launch, but when they finally get to a place of stability and viability, they quickly shift to an inward focus. We must guard against this temptation.
3. Strong Partnerships
Because they are pioneering a new work in a new place, many leaders of new churches struggle because they feel alone. In many cases, they feel this way because they are alone. Forging partnerships is essential for health at the start of a church and for all the years that will follow. Try establishing one or more of these four partnerships to help your church grow.
- Partner with churches in your area. Make every effort to enter the community as a co-laborer with other churches, not as a competitor.
- Work closely with your denomination or sending agency. These people want to help you succeed, and they have real wisdom and experience. Learn from them and let them encourage you.
- Network with like-minded pastors and leaders. Find people who have walked the path you are starting on. They can be in other communities, states or countries. Talking and praying online with these people will enrich your soul and strengthen your ministry.
- Connect with your community. You will interact with many wonderful and kind people who are not yet followers of Jesus. Find ways to work with them and build friendships. Ask them to help you succeed. It could be a catering business you hire for special events, a builder who helps with your office space, administrators who work at the school you rent, bank personnel who handle your church accounts or any number of other people. Share what you are called to do, and ask if they will partner with you on the journey. They just might come to faith and become part of your congregation.
4. Focused Family
If you are married or have children, make sure you are all on mission together. While everyone has a unique personality and calling, launching a new ministry demands more than any of us can do on our own. If your spouse and children aren’t excited to partner and offer their unique contributions, it is going to be a long, hard road. Make sure you have talked and prayed as a family. Take time to do all it takes to get your core ministry team—your family—on the same page.
In our early years of ministry, my wife and I discovered that all three of our sons had gifts for ministry. Two of them were extroverts and one was an introvert. By God’s grace, all three discovered that they had something to offer God as we served the church together. Our son who is quieter found that his love for video became a great tool for ministry. He could be behind a camera or at an editing suite, but his ministry was powerful.
Launching new churches and ministries isn’t for the faint of heart. It demands all we have—and all that we don’t have. We must rely on the Holy Spirit’s presence and help, but we also need to have a culture of prayer, an evangelistic mindset, strategic partnerships and a united family to grow a healthy church.
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more information: KevinGHarney.com