Sustainability in a church plant is good, right? But it comes with new challenges.
We’re now six years into planting Hope Church NYC, a family of churches in New York City. I currently lead Hope Midtown, a church that’s now four years old in Midtown Manhattan.
As far as I know, Hope Midtown has reached sustainability and is consistently growing by most metrics. I must admit, I feel enormous relief given how hard we’ve worked to become sustainable.
And while sustainability is a great gift, it can also be the very thing that undermines what God really wants to do in and through our church.
Here are three temptations that I’m continually battling since we’ve become sustainable.
1. I’m tempted to depend on strategy, plans and routine, rather than passionate prayer and the Holy Spirit. There’s something about having resources and a full-ish room that brings my heart great ease. Our follow-up processes are in place, people know about our church and we’re continually getting better in doing the things that got us to where we are.
We’re so good, in fact, that I often fail to ask God what he thinks of it all. I simply assume that God thinks highly of me and what we’re doing, and he’s pleased that we’re sustainable. The problem is, there’s no mention of sustainability in Scripture. Moreover, when I look back on the dreams and heartbeat that caused me to take this leap of church planting in the first place, it wasn’t so that I would plant a sustainable church.
Right now, I’m so tempted to go into autopilot because praying and seeking God is frankly too risky. Besides, God actually might call me to more. More generosity. More dependence. More encounter. More love.
2. I’m tempted to focus on the people inside the church, rather than people outside the church. My impulse nowadays is to try to get great people (or newcomers who seem great) to stay at our church. We have great people in our church, as well as great people visiting our church. The goal for me is to make sure these people stay at Hope Midtown and their needs and the needs of their families are met.
The thing is, there’s enough critical mass now that getting people to stay (and give and volunteer) takes up a vast majority of my time and imagination. And you guessed it, most of these folks are already Christians. This is not to say that it’s bad to focus on the people inside the church. It’s just to say that the folks inside have taken over most of my attention when it comes to leading our church.
3. I’m tempted to focus on programs, rather than people. Focusing on programs actually makes a lot of sense to me. Programs are the most efficient way to keep the ship moving. Therefore, if I continue to improve our programs, then people will come and stay and give.
Have you noticed the pattern here? Come and stay and give. Lost in all of this is the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. And somehow, church planting has become an exercise in executing programs. All the while, I thought I signed up for more.
The question I often wrestle with is, “Why am I continually settling for sustainability?”
This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com.
Read more about Hope Church and other recent church plants here.