Answers To Visioneering Questions (Church Planting Vision)

My friend Tony Hill sent me an email this week asking me about our experience with church planting: (Tony is the mastermind behind my blog design.)

Hey Ron, I’m going through Andy Stanley’s book “Visioneering” with a friend. We are working on chapter 5 (faith as the essential ingredient for a vision) and the project for that chapter is to evaluate the success of others and I naturally thought of you. Would you mind if I sent you over around 7 questions from the book?  I guess this would all relate to Grace and it would be interesting to contrast that with your previous business that didn’t go as well.

Of course I was delighted to participate, so he sent me the questions.  My answers are below the questions.  These are great questions and I thought someone may enjoy the exchange.

How did you get started (with respect to the area of vision and success)?

For the church it was in a time of prayer about our city with 2 other friends.  The vision sat for 10 years before we did anything with it.
Also reading Jeremiah 33:9 spoke incredibly to me.

When you started out, did you feel God was leading you?

Absolutely.  I resisted it a long time and it was God’s encouragement and the encouragement from others that confirmed it and pushed me forward.

Did you ever feel God had abandoned you as you pursued your vision? If so, what did you do?

Not really abandoned, but after the river prayer time my other 2 friends left town and the vision seemed hopeless.  One of those came back to town years later and had been in a new church like Grace in his new town.  He was ready for something new.  In the meantime I had surrendered to the ministry.

What was the most faith-stretching experience you had along the way?

Asking 11 couples to walk by faith to support 3 staff members out of their own pockets if no one ever came.  They did!  Thankfully they never had to be stretched financially, because others came, but these were the same people who went out on a limb and signed a note on land when we purchased it.

As you began to experience the rewards of success, did it ever go to your head?

I’m sure at times I could be tempted, but I had enough previous failure in my life to keep me humble.  I recognize that this could all disappear some day if God removed His hand.

Is there anything particular that helps keep your success in perspective?

My family is my largest grounding tool. They are brutally honest with me, reminding me how unspectacular I am sometimes.

What would you do differently if you had to do it over?

I would not hide the fact that God has something big for us. I think, because a church plant can be so unpopular, that I was bashful about what we were doing at first.  I would be bolder in an effort to reach the lost and not hide because of small-minded negative people.

Do You Love Your Church?

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Corinthians 16:19-20 NIV

My message today at Grace Community Church is from the book of Acts.  It is evident from Paul’s writings that he loved the local church. The local church is a huge part of the New Testament. The Book of Acts alone chronicles the history of its foundation.

Years ago I participated in a one-day medical clinic in a slum near Rio, Brazil that remains nameless, because the government has yet to name it. It is literally built on the side of a steep mountain. Simply walking to the clinic was a huge task. My job was to evangelize the crowd waiting to see the doctors. My translator and I had several decisions to accept Christ, but remarkably we also encountered a good number of professing believers. When I told them that the desire was to eventually start a church in the slum, they were ecstatic. One lady began to jump up and down with excitement. They wanted a local church!

The reaction of these people to the hopes of a local church being established caused me to wonder. How excited do most of us get at the prospect of attending church?   In some cities in the United States there are more churches than in some countries in total, yet statistics tell us that 80% of the people are not in church on a given Sunday. Announce that you are going to open an evangelical church in America today and, while it will attract some attention (frankly some positive and some negative), I doubt many will jump up and down with excitement.

What is the difference? Could it be that we take our hundreds of local church options for granted? I do not know the reasons we fail to be as excited about churches as in some places in other countries I have visited, but I do believe God has a plan for the local church. It is still His method for reaching the lost and hurting, building disciples and sending workers out to develop His kingdom.

Do you love the church?    Who do you know that needs an invitation to join what God is doing in your church?  Could God be expecting you to invite them?

Reflections on Losing a Staff Member

Daniel Doss, the amazing worship leader who helped launch Grace Community Church, announced to the church this week that he is leaving to help plant another church.  Daniel has one of the most gifted voices I have ever heard and could easily find a position anywhere, including staying at Grace, but he is excited to be pursuing the dream of planting again (it does get in your blood) with a high school friend in Northern Indiana.  Daniel is our first full-time staff member to leave and we are surely going to miss his and Emily’s energy and passion for what we are doing at Grace.

I have some random thoughts about losing Daniel as a staff member:

  • Daniel has prepared us well for his absence.  He has assembled an incredible team of “worshipping artists” (his term) and they are ready to continue the excellence Daniel began.
  • We were proactive in this situation.  Knowing Daniel’s talent level and his continued passion for Kingdom-building, we knew we could lose Daniel someday if God presented him another opportunity to do this again.  Two years ago we hired another worship leader, equally talented, but with different skills, to co-lead with Daniel.  Michael has been and is ready to lead the deal.  It was sometimes difficult explaining why we had two highly talented leaders in the area of worship, but now we are thankful for the risk we took in making that happen.
  • I told Daniel when he first told me he was sensing a call to this new plant that I am a forward thinking person.  I truly believe a vision must be about more than a personality, so we will continue to the vision Daniel helped us launch.  Michael Higdon is talented and for all practical purposes assumed leadership of Sunday mornings several months ago. He previously led worship for over 20,000 per weekend at Fellowship Church in Dallas, so he is well equipped to continue the excellence Grace is known for in worship.
  • Daniel is leaving on good terms with the church, his worship team, and even Emily’s family who live in Clarksville.   We are sad to lose them, but can rejoice with them in this new venture.  I hope every staff exit we have in the years to come can happen this smoothly.
  • Daniel and Emily Doss will always be a part of Grace Community Church.  I’m fully convinced they will still be connected to us in some way years from now.  They are family to us as a staff and to the church.  Our paths will continue to cross in the years to come.

Daniel and Emily, Cheryl and I love you both.  We admire your hearts, your passion for life, ministry and others, and your faith in taking risks.  Thanks for the difference you have made in our life.

(PS.  I’m hoping Daniel and Emily won’t mind that I grabbed one of their pictures.  I found it on Google images.  They are quite popular there!)

I Hope My Church Never Sings This Song

I was reading this morning in Isaiah and the thought occurred to me, I hope my church never sings this song:

The Song of the Vineyard

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.

Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?

Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.

I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:1-7 NIV

The Song of the Vineyard is sung when there’s fertile ground (ample opportunity), choice plantings (talented people), and a watchtower (strong leadership), but the vineyard (church) yields no good fruit.

This is a word for me as a church planter.  This passage is not talking about a lack of growth, it’s talking about the failure to produce a good harvest.  The goal at our church is the same as any other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church.  We want to produce growing disciples of Jesus Christ.  We want people to look, act, and sound more like Jesus.  We want to be lovers of God and lovers of people.  We want to be holy, because He is holy.  If we keep that as our aim, and allow God’s Spirit to work His way in our midst, we will never have to sing the Song of the Vineyard.

Church Planting Is In My Blood

at_church_thm1Church planting is in my blood. It didn’t occur to me until recently, but shortly after my mother came to Clarksville she was a charter member of a local church.  They are celebrating their 50th anniversary today.  Shortly after this my mother married my father and became a Baptist, but she has always loved her Lutheran heritage.

Congratulations Grace Lutheran Church on 50 years of Kingdom growth.

I love the vision and excitement of church planting and it is one method God has used for many years to reach new people.   God continues to work through those willing to work hard, love people, and take risks to build the Kingdom.

Keeping Core Members In A Church Plant

I often hear church planters say to expect to lose half the original core members within the first year of a new church plant. While I agree that is the trend, I don’t think it has to be that way.  I am now in my second plant.  With this second church we went about the core selection in a very methodical way, fully intending to keep all original core members if possible.

I love the fact that 3 and half years after we launched every one of our core members are still actively supporting Grace Community Church.  (We did have one couple move, but we knew they were going to before we launched and they return often and still support us financially.  Another couple moved to accept a call to ministry, but they are back with us at the time of this post waiting for God’s next assignment for them.)

As the founding pastor, I actually interviewed all potential core members a couple of months before we had our first informational meeting.  (I have a co-pastor, but he had not committed to the plant at this step in our formation.)  Everyone I talked with was told they “may receive an invitation in the coming weeks to an informational meeting”.  Not everyone I talked with was invited.  It wasn’t that they weren’t great people.  In fact, I only talked with great people. It was that we were looking for some certain characteristics of great people.

What makes a successful core group?  Some of these we didn’t understand until a year or more into our launch, but we are so glad God led us to these characteristics.

Here are the common characteristics of our original core members:

1.    The people were placed on our hearts before we ever approached them. Cheryl and I both agreed I should talk with each one.

2.    They were passionate about the church plant from the first conversation. We didn’t have to talk them into being core members. You might say we looked for the Mary heart not the Zechariah heart. (Luke 1) If they asked “When?” it was different then if they asked “Why?”

3.    They had a holy discontent with their current walk with Christ.  They knew they wanted something more, but didn’t know how to address it.

4.    They understood and were willing to own the vision as their own. They were willing to sacrifice and, once we started, would have planted the church even if no one else ever came.

5.    They planned from the beginning to contribute time, money and resources to the cause. (Everyone assumed responsibility.)

6.    Although not a requirement, every man I met with (I met individually with the man first) got teary-eyed during the initial conversation about the church plant.

Obviously planting a church should be a work of the Holy Spirit.  As you are praying for the people God wants to use in this way, trust the impressions He places on your heart.  You are certainly not a failure should you lose core members. I would encourage people to go elsewhere if their heart is not in it, but I do believe it is possible to keep all core members in a new church plant.

If you are a church planter or part of a church plant, how did you find core members?