Church Planting is for Wimps

A few months back I read a book called http://www.crossway.org/books/church-planting-is-for-wimps-tpb/ "Church Planting is for Wimps" . It was about a young man who took over a dying church and all the struggles that they faced in order to turn it around. The reason for the name of the book is because he found out that starting a church from nothing would have been a lot easier. I can relate to him on that one! In 2007, I got the news while on vacation, that the deacons in our church had formed a coup against the then-current pastor. When I got back, they asked me to be the interim pastor and first candidate. I had no idea what I was getting into to put it mildly. If I could go back and advise myself I would tell myself: "keep your job and start a church in someone's garage if you want the easy route!" Four years later, our church is just starting to look like a successful church plant after being open for 6 months....only, we didn't have our opening service in January of 2011, my first time to take the pulpit was November 2007! Most church plants that were born in 2007 are way past us in every area.

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the experience and all that God has had to teach me. But reforming, revitalizing and reviving a dying church is much harder work than planting a new one. The only thing a church planter has to worry about is money and a building (I am being facetious here!).
So, if you are a young man taking a struggling or dying church, I want to tell you what you are in for! It only gets worse, before it gets better....

Be prepared for:

1. Prepare for curious visitors to come but never come back or return your phone calls
2. Prepare to lose about 1/3 to 1/2 of the people you already have within six months
3. Prepare to be disliked by a few of those who won't leave. (they're waiting to see how long you'll last)
4. Prepare for a spirit of apathy and defeat no matter how much you try to motivate and be positive.
5. Prepare for a few new people to join your church who see a struggling church as an opportunity to exert their own influence (You will be happy for ANYONE to join, and that's how they getcha!)
6. Prepare to be turned down by everyone you're trying to recruit from the outside to come and help you. (nobody wants to join a loosing team)
7. Prepare for people who will attend, but not join, not commit, and not help. They are like stray cats that found a broken down old house as shelter.
8. Prepare to be blamed for the church not taking off after becoming the pastor
9. Prepare to eventually lose your first wave of the few new people that you managed to get to stay
10. Prepare for months at a time of no visitors, low attendance. (I call this the doldrums)

If you're not ready to quit yet after about two years of this...there's more!

11. Prepare for people to come to your church who are actually there as salesmen from a pyramid network marketing company trying to find new clients
12. Prepare for phone calls from the local land developer to buy your property and turn your church campus into apartments
13. Prepare for gossip, slander and backbiting about you and your wife by some of those who you thought were your friends
14. All the while, prepare for little or no response to your preaching during the whole time.
15. Prepare to pick up a few people who are wonderful and who will stick with you all the way through the darkness! They are more valuable than gold in a bear market!
16. Prepare to learn heaps and heaps about leadership, and have your ecclesiology corrected over and over again as God teaches you how to give rebirth to a church that God wants to see flourish!

If you can make it through four or five years of this, you may be able to turn the church around if it doesn't absolutely kill you first.
At this point, I'm heading into my fourth year and the last six months have been the best I've seen the whole time. All I can say about it is that it is not of my doing. The first three and a half years have proven that whatever I do doesn't work, even when I'm doing it right! God will give the increase when He thinks you're ready for it and have been put on the anvil long enough.

So, if you want to do it the easy way, don't take a church that calls you with 25 people and an old building built in 1968 that hasn't been remodeled in 20 years. Just because you have a building that's paid for doesn't mean your worries are over. A monthly rent payment is much easier to deal with than most of those points I wrote above. It has been a great maturing experience for me and I am glad for it after looking back. But not everyone survives.

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Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

What I'm seeing- plenty of little churches out there that need a pastor, but they can't afford to offer a salary. The men candidating tend to be retired with SS income who can come in and hold the requisite 3 services a week, but aren't going to offer much else.

My dh and I recently joined a small church that is trying to get on its feet. I see many of the descriptors in your list evident in this work, but fortunately not the worst ones.

Pastor Harold's picture

Brother, I wish every young pastor would read what you wrote and commit to seeing their decision to pastor a small church all the way through. I too am in the same shoes your in, came to Lee Creek Baptist Church in Nov 07 and can identify with at least 13 of your 16 points. God placed me here for a reason and I have often wondered and doubted what his purpose was. But through His grace he has kept me in this office of pastor. I have friends who are planting churches and they are growing physically and financially at a pace I could never imagine.
Sometimes from under the Juniper tree God tells us of others who are on the same journey we are on. I'll be praying for you William. Thanks

JasonR's picture

WilliamD,

I really found your post insightful, but I am wondering why you were willing to takeover a church that ousted your own pastor by a "coup"? This seems to be a somewhat different situation than what Susan is talking about, where small churches are finding it difficult to find pastors because of monetary problems.

WilliamD's picture

Jason,
Good question. Without getting into a lot of details...I'll put it this way - the coup was quiet and explained to the church under false pretense. The details did not come to light until they tried to quietly get rid of me after several months of candidating as free pulpit fill. When I found out exactly what had really happened and what the church was told when the last pastor resigned ( I was out of town for a couple of weeks when it all went down), I ended up exposing what happened and barely stayed after most of the deacons ended up leaving. I didn't handle it very well, and would have done things alot different looking back. Anyway, that's what happened and why I stayed.

JasonR's picture

WilliamD wrote:
Jason,
Good question. Without getting into a lot of details...I'll put it this way - the coup was quiet and explained to the church under false pretense. The details did not come to light until they tried to quietly get rid of me after several months of candidating as free pulpit fill. When I found out exactly what had really happened and what the church was told when the last pastor resigned ( I was out of town for a couple of weeks when it all went down), I ended up exposing what happened and barely stayed after most of the deacons ended up leaving. I didn't handle it very well, and would have done things alot different looking back. Anyway, that's what happened and why I stayed.

Thank you for sharing that with me, William. I am glad you stayed and those deacons left! I am also glad that your church is on the right track and showing signs of solid health. I pray that your ministry there will continue to be more successful!

Rob Fall's picture

and the West where in many (most) communities don't have the luxury described above. For many locations, it's either plant a new work or do without.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ray S's picture

Some really outstanding insights here! Yeah, I was wondering why you would stick around after such a coup on the previous pastor!

Seems to me that you really need to look around and find the true SHEEP in the congregation (who need and desire shepherding) and run off all of the GOATS!

And it sounds like far too many of the goats were sitting on the deacon board and other positions of "influence" (which is often the case, unfortunately).

In my area, it seems that you have a new "start-up" Church in just about every strip mall, industrial park, and school auditorium. They are literally a dime a dozen! And they are often filled with disgruntled congregational members who left other Churches in the area who may last a few weeks - or maybe a few months before they become disgruntled with you and become part of an even newer start-up Church!

I believe challenges exist in both. There may be something worth saving in an existing congregation amongst all the baggage that comes with it. You may see some really good "Instant" success hanging a new Church sign in a storefront but the long-term growth and "fruit that remains" is a challenge. Either way, the focus needs to be on "Making Disciples" and fulfilling the Great Commission - not coddling some goat who had their "feelings hurt" in their last Church!

And Rob mentions California which has its own particular challenges. So many ministries are trying to go "Hollywood" trying to attract a crowd where folks are truly looking for something that is real and genuine amongst all of the superficiality that pervades their culture!

In my area, things seem to be the exact opposite as all of the superficiality seems to be within the walls of the "Church!" Sad

Rob Fall's picture

HUH???? I didn't say anything about "Hollywood" style ministries. HSBC runs +/- 160 on a Sunday morning. That's hardly a Hollywood number. I was being literal in my statement. We don't see the number of situations as mentioned in the OP. So, it's plant a new work or there'll be no work of any kind large or small, healthy or dying.

Ray S wrote:
SNIP
And Rob mentions California which has its own particular challenges. So many ministries are trying to go "Hollywood" trying to attract a crowd where folks are truly looking for something that is real and genuine amongst all of the superficiality that pervades their culture!

SNIP

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ray S's picture

Rob Fall wrote:
HUH???? I didn't say anything about "Hollywood" style ministries. HSBC runs +/- 160 on a Sunday morning. That's hardly a Hollywood number. I was being literal in my statement. We don't see the number of situations as mentioned in the OP. So, it's plant a new work or there'll be no work of any kind large or small, healthy or dying.
Ray S wrote:
SNIP
And Rob mentions California which has its own particular challenges. So many ministries are trying to go "Hollywood" trying to attract a crowd where folks are truly looking for something that is real and genuine amongst all of the superficiality that pervades their culture!

SNIP

Probably wasting my time here responding but I was adding my own personal experiences. There are a good number of Churches out there with quite a bit of "Fluff" and imagery but very little in the way of substance. John MacArthur is a notable exception but he is often maligned by many of the so-called "Fundamental" Baptist groups out there (or perhaps just one that makes quite a bit of noise). Was speaking "Hollywood" in terms of attitude, not numbers. There are good Churches out there as well but they are often struggling and hardly registering on the radar.

But I do agree with you regarding the fact that much of California and other parts of the west coast is almost like "Pioneer Missions" where you are starting off from scratch in contrast to the "Bible Belt" where you have a Church on every corner and everyone claims to be a "Christian" whether or not their profession impacts any part of their daily life!

Jay's picture

Rob Fall wrote:
and the West where in many (most) communities don't have the luxury described above. For many locations, it's either plant a new work or do without.

Or the Northeast. In New York, the Hudson Valley northward is desperately in need of good churches; I know of six churches in six whole counties. Westchester county is second highest in the nation in terms of living expenses, but other counties - Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, Rockland are not nearly as bad and just as needy. That's before you get to New York City (8.1 million people), Stamford (123,000 people), or any of the major cities in northern New Jersey.

Sometimes I get so upset at the dozens and dozens of good churches in Greenville - brothers, come north! We need you up here!

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells