I have heard it said for over 20 years: “Church plants are evangelistic by nature.” People assure me, “New churches are launched by entrepreneurial leaders with a vision and passion for the lost.” The problem is, I don’t believe such a level of intentionality and strategy for evangelism exists in most new church plants.
I do believe new works and church plants focus heavily at their inception on reaching new people. In many cases, this is by default. They have to grow nonchurched people as their primary target demographic. In the starting months and years of a church plant, the focus is on reaching people who are far from God and disconnected from church.
In some denominational settings, a set time limit exists for continued support. A church must reach critical mass, have a set number of people and also have a defined financial base to continue being viable. These benchmarks drive leaders and the core team to press past personal fears and reach their community.
The real challenge comes when a new church gets to the point where they have “enough” people and money. Desperation cools off. Exhausted core teams are ready for a break. This passionate new work can turn inward without even noticing it.
The antidote to this pattern is planting a church that has evangelistic vision and practice infused in the very heart and every aspect of the ministry. This does not happen by accident, and it can’t be sustained by desperation. For a church to continue on a trajectory of health and growth, outreach must be organic and engrafted in the very soul of the ministry.
Live and Lead Outreach.
Church planters don’t have to be evangelists, but they must live a life of authentic evangelistic engagement. Great preaching and strong leadership will not be enough to propel a new church forward. The founding pastor must humbly and consistently reach out to lost people. Personal evangelism through genuine friendships and engagement in the community is essential.
The pastor will be the first evangelist and the one who models and equips others for the work of the gospel. If the founding pastor cannot or will not do this, there is very little chance the congregation will step into the harvest field. Before you decide to plant a church, be sure you are living an evangelistic lifestyle. Before you hire a church plant pastor, make sure that outreach is their passion and practice.
Grow Teams That Embrace Evangelism.
Don’t allow anyone on your board or core team who is not willing to learn how to share their faith. Too often we look for good givers, strong leaders or community influencers. These are not bad qualities, but make sure all of your launch team members are ready to be equipped to reach out to lost and broken people. Be certain that they love people who are far from Jesus and are ready to walk with people toward the Savior. Build in evangelism training and accountability in every one of your meetings, from the day you launch until Jesus returns. If anyone on the team pushes back and does not want to be trained and held accountable in outreach, you have a problem.
Do a Self-Examination Every 30 Days.
From the beginning of a new church, commit to a monthly infusion of four essential things in every team meeting.
1. inspiration. Take time for storytelling. Share how individuals are engaging in evangelism. Also tell stories about how the church is connecting in the broader community and bringing the love, grace and message of Jesus.
2. Accountability. Ask every member of your leadership team about their outreach passion, practice and plans. Who are they reaching? How are they walking with nonbelievers? When are they articulating their story of faith and God’s story of grace?
3. Learning. Take time to teach a new outreach approach, help people articulate their testimony, equip your leaders with the tools they need to share faith naturally.
4. Planning. Take time to strategically discuss what is coming up in the life of the church that will help you reach your community with the gospel. Discuss how you will work together to accomplish the mission of Jesus through your church community.
I know this sounds intense and rigorous. I also know it is the only way to keep the outreach fires burning bright in your church through launch, sustainability and for years to come. I believe in this so fully that I have developed a three- to five-year curriculum for church boards and leadership teams to do these four things every 30 days. This curriculum (including video pieces) is available for free at OrganicOutreach.org in both English and Spanish. It is set up so you can edit it, add your own meeting dates and place your church or denomination logo on the agendas.
Never fall into a rut. Keep trying new things. We live in a rapidly changing world, and doing the same things the same way will never bear maximum kingdom fruit.
I know, I know: “Church plants are always innovative.” I have heard that for years, and it is often true at the start of a new work. Unfortunately new and innovative practices fall into a rut very quickly. Continually study the many cultures surrounding your church. Become an insightful anthropologist. Try new ways of reaching out and connecting with people in your community. If something is working, build on it but feel free to vector it in new directions. If something is not working …
Bury What Has Died.
Sacred cows graze on the lawn of every church, new and old. When an outreach ministry, program or approach has died, give it the dignity of a decent burial. If someone is trying to keep a dying evangelism program alive, have the courage to enter into a critical conversation and talk about why the time, money and energy can be invested more wisely in a new approach.
Even church plants can get unduly attached to the things that worked when they first launched. But time has passed. Some programs and events have grown old and even died. Acknowledge it and try something new.
Planting a new church is costly on every level. It takes a huge commitment of people, time, financial resources and spiritual energy. Make sure these investments have the maximum impact by building evangelism into the leadership, culture and life of the new church. Then, when you get over the hump and have enough people and resources to survive, you will continue to reach out because organic outreach is the vision and practice of your pastor, team and congregation.
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