Effective Congregational or Associational Church Planting Strategy
1. Carefully choose and assess potential church planters
Use a formal assessment process to lower the possibility of failure, save emotional heartache, and avoid failed plants. Avoid the mistake of approving someone who has the right heart or desire, but not the temperament or skills! Avoid lowering the bar—look for above average planters. The single most important factor in a successful church plant is the right leader.
2. Give quality coaching to the new church pastor
Provide a ministry mentor for the planter/pastor during the development, launch, and start-up phases of the new church. Good coaching makes a difference, because most planters lack experience, they have weaknesses to overcome, and they need accountability for success. The mentoring relationship provides a safe place for the church planter to share wild ideas and vent frustrations with an experienced and respected ministry leader.
3. Require ongoing training
Schedule regular training sessions to avoid common mistakes. Church planting is very different from pastoring an established church and requires a different set of skills. A solid training strategy will flow from core Biblical principles, then practical skills can be learned from thriving churches and organizations. Give the church planter a significant internship followed by ongoing training at different stages of the church planting process.
4. Define a philosophy of ministry
Require the church planter and his team to develop and adopt a ministry philosophy, strategy, core values, and ministry plan that is consistent with the vision of the sponsoring churches. The parenting church must have a clear vision of what the church planter is trying to accomplish, and formally approve this vision before the public launching of the new church. Agenda harmony is essential for a healthy start!
5. Use a team ministry approach
No more lone rangers! Recruit a “launch team” around the lead planter to ensure a multiple staff from the inception of the new church. Expect most of the team to be part-time, volunteer, and bi-vocational at the beginning. Specifically recruit these vital team positions: lead pastor/planter, worship/ministry pastor, administrator, children’s ministry coordinator, and outreach leader.
6. Give resources and support
Allow the church planter to be part of the parent church staff for six to nine months. Provide start-up funding to cover the expenses beyond the church planter’s salary. Send ministry teams to assist regularly in the early months of the plant. Provide ongoing commitment in the form of prayer, mentoring relationships, finances, and work teams. Consider a stepped-down structure that leads to self-sufficiency within three years. Never promise to give money for more than five years.
7. Implement a church planting life cycle
Use a five-stage planting cycle: conception, prenatal development, birth, growth to maturity, and reproduction. Develop checklists of essential tasks to be completed at each stage, and insist that all tasks are completed before allowing the church planter to move on to the next stage. This ensures accountability and helps both coaches and sponsors to monitor the growth of the project.
8. Commit to giving up the best church members
Only the best church members should be sent out on the launch team—this was the model of Acts 13:1 and 2. Give the church planter the opportunity to recruit high quality prospects from the parent or sponsor church. Then use a prayerful name-clearing process to protect the church planter from unhealthy people.
9. Aim for a high birth weight
Churches that start public services with a large critical mass are more likely to survive. Recent research shows that plants that start with less than 25 people in their core group prior to launching often remain small, struggling works, so have the resources necessary to reach the expectations of visitors. Begin with the assumption that this church will eventually reproduce other churches.
10. Lease church space for as long as possible
A beautiful church building is not the cause of church growth, but rather the result of church growth, so avoid approaches that emphasize constructing a building as soon as possible. Rent neutral space such as a public school for Sunday services, then use homes for the rest of weekday church life.
Where to start?
The first three factors—assessment, training, and coaching—are the most important of these 10 components. They are the “glue,” the key to fortifying the church planter’s relationship to the GARBC and to the philosophy of ministry in our fellowship. The remaining seven factors are the core values and convictions we want to pass on to our church planters after the church or association establishes the right relationship with the church planter.