I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t.
Why is that?
Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life.
But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things.
Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.
You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices.
You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.
You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving.
You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will.
You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people.
You waited for them to come to you. You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.
You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)
You held too tightly to your way. Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared with others.
Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.
Recently I wrote “20 Things God Might Say”. It was a popular post. All were designed to be easily tweeted with a simple copy and paste.
I thought there might be a companion post. I believe, based on Scripture, that we can trust God not to say some things — especially in these days of grace.
Here are 25 things you’ll never hear God say:
“Oh yea. I forgot about her.” #ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay
“Well I don’t know what to do now.”
“I’m so worried.”
“I just don’t understand him.”
“Don’t call me again until you turn your life around.”
“This one’s too big for me.”
“That’ll make me love you less.”
“What did you say your name was?”
“Forgive me. I made a mistake.”
“I just need a vacation.”
“I’m so tired of being interrupted.”
“This one’s beyond me.”
“I can’t take it anymore!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name and number…”
“That little sin won’t matter.”
“I give up!”
“Since the world is changing so fast, I’m thinking about changing my ways.”
“I wish I had thought of that!”
“I need your help to make it happen.”
“I’m so confused.”
“I’m all tapped out for this month.”
“Don’t blame yourself. That one was my fault.”
“I didn’t know anything about that.”
“I’m a little behind the times.”
Any you’d add?
I was running recently on a route I’ve run many times, but I missed this sign until this particular run. It was too “good” not to stop and take a picture with my phone.
I saw the sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. As another sign I saw in a store window said recently (which I don’t completely understand) “Closed for Business”. (How can you be closed “for” business?)
None of us would intentionally place a sign like that on our church doors. “Closed for business”. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. Yet I’m certain that some of our practices serve the same purpose.
Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches. All types and sizes.
From personal experience — here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.
Only do “church” on Sunday. Don’t attempt to build community with people who attend — especially not with someone new to “the community”. Let people know by your actions — or lack of actions — that you’re comfortable with the people with you now and there is little room for new friendships. Don’t reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. We recently visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Two months later we have yet to hear from anyone.
Don’t act like you’re happy to see people. Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.
Confuse people. Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker — as an introvert especially — I might have left. Just being honest. I have to be honest even more and say that was somewhat true of the church where I am pastor now. Hopefully we are making strides towards correcting that with signage and people.
Make it uncomfortable for visitors. If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe — or raise their hands — and keep them up until an usher comes by.
Have your own language. Use acronyms. Yes acronyms please. Just pretend like everyone already knows what you’re talking about. Don’t differentiate between VBS and vacation Bible school. Everyone knows that, right? And, use names during the announcements that no one knows but the regulars without any explanation of who they are.
Have closed groups. And don’t start any new ones. When any small group has been together more than a few years — with no new people entering the group — it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel left out when personal conversation begins.
Beat people up without giving them hope. Be clearer about how bad they are than how great the Gospel is.
Those are a few of my suggestions. If you’re looking for a way to put up a closed sign.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Wow! How many times do I hear people asking a question like that? It seems to be a daily occurrence.
Or maybe not just like that, but they want to know what to do — and they don’t know what to do. So they ask a question about what to do. (Are you following? )
Unfortunately, knowing the right thing to do is not an exact science. If only I knew every time I’m asked. In fact, if it were, many of us in my profession would either be out of a job — or making a lot of money.
Of course, the first answer is to talk to God, but how many times have you done that and still cannot discern what He is saying. What do you do then — when you don’t know what to do?
Again, I don’t always know. Wish I did. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I simply have some principles I can share.
Here are a few suggestions when you don’t know what to do:
Phone a friend. Someone who knows you well. Isn’t it wonderful how God puts people in our life who can speak into our life? The challenge is often having the courage to ask and then yielding to those voices. Have you been listening to people God has been sending your way?
What would daddy or mama do? What do the morals you were raised with say you should do? If you were raised with good principles go with them. Many times we actually know the right thing to do but our question is whether we want to do what we know is right.
Do nothing. Don’t be afraid to not make a decision if you don’t have to. Sometimes it’s okay just to be still. In fact, sometimes that’s the best decision.
Follow your gut. If, that is, your gut is good. And it’s very important that your gut be good. But, if you are in a good place in life, and you know you are making wise decisions in other situations, then you can often trust the voice within you.
Take a risk. Now may be the time to put all safety concerns aside and go for it. Most risks come with an element of the unknown. You will often have to pull the trigger on moving forward without all the answers to your questions. Don’t be surprised about that. Or afraid to do it. If it is something you feel strongly about, it isn’t sinful, and it doesn’t go against some of these other principles, then GO FOR IT!
Stop worrying. It won’t help. It won’t solve the problem. And it’s probably distracting you from making a good decision.
Walk by faith. Hopefully you have a faith in God. If not, we need to talk. But if you are a believer, then you have access to a power greater than your ability to make a good decision. The Spirit of God lives within you. Take full advantage of that privilege.
Those are just a few suggestions when you don’t know what to do.
Do you have any you would add?
Thankfulness is a virtue that we often ignore. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little world that we forget to thank the people who have helped us the most. Then there are people who just simply need thanking to help them feel better about their own situation. Everyone likes to be appreciated.
I thought I would use my platform to encourage a little thankfulness.
Here are 25 people you could easily thank today:
The person who gave you a start in your career.
Someone who encourages you that you only know online.
A random stranger God lays on your heart.
A teacher who had the greatest impact on you.
A friend who was there when you needed one most.
A pastor who helped shape your understanding of God.
The person you know who prays for you regularly.
The person who waits on you everyday — somewhere — and you don’t even know their name.
A politician you admire for doing the right thing — as best as you can tell.
The unexpected person who was there for you at just the right time in your life.
A person who may not receive encouragement from anyone else.
A leader you admire.
Someone who has invested in you and doesn’t even know it.
The person who has been the most patient with you.
Someone who believed in you when no one else did.
An emergency services professional — police, fire, military, etc.
Your childhood best friend.
The person who introduced you to the person you married.
A college professor who challenged you to think bigger.
Someone who inspires you with something they do well.
Someone who was a good friend to your parents.
A person you think is under appreciated.
Someone who has a smile that encourages you.
A family member who holds the family together.
The parent who paved your way.
A few suggestions.
I’m sure you have many more. Send a card. (Handwritten notes are awesome — and rare.) Write the email. Make the phone call. Plan a personal visit. Say thank you.
By the way, if you can’t thank the person anymore — thank their family. Can you imagine how encouraging that would be?
Leadership is tough. It’s especially tough when it involves people.
It is interesting, however, in my experience, how often the toughest decision is the smartest decision. It’s the one we know we need to make but it’s the hardest one to make. Every leader I know wants to be liked. They want to limit frustration among the people trying to follow. They want to be effective and for people to appreciate and value their leadership. Those are normal human desires.
And, making tough calls seems at times like they may jeopardize some of those things.
Yet, the ability and willingness to make the tough calls — and doing it well — is what often separates the successful leaders from the not so successful.
There are many examples of tough, but smart leadership decisions. You have your own. I’ll just share a few of mine that come to mind.
7 examples of some tough but smart leadership decisions:
If the answer is going to be no. Don’t delay saying it. It’s easier to say “let me think about it” — or to delay saying no for a time, maybe even saying what they want to hear, but if you already know you’re eventually going to say no, the smarter decision — as tough as it is — is to say no now. It saves a lot of grief for you and other people. This includes saying no to good things so you can say yes to best things. One of the toughest calls for me as a leader is telling someone I can’t meet with them. I hate it. I want to accommodate everyone. But, I’ve learned that I’m not always the right person. I sometimes complicate things by getting in the way, and I am not very effective if I don’t prioritize my time. As tough as it is, leader, if you don’t protect your time to do the things you must do, everyone on your team will suffer. If the answer is no — just say no.
Instead of making excuses. Own the problem. I don’t know about you, but I can always find someone or something to blame. That’s easy. Tougher is to admit it. We blew it. We made a mistake. We messed up. And, if the fault is clearly mine — I MESSED UP! People appreciate honesty. It’s smarter, by far, to be transparent than to always pass the buck.
When you aren’t sure what to do next? Admit it. I’ve learned there are usually people on the team who have some ideas that can help me if I’m humble enough to ask. As tough as it is to admit you are in over your head, you’ll gain support by seeking input. Strange as it may seem, you actually add credibility to yourself as a leader.
If you’re about to crash. Raise the white flag. This one seems especially needed for pastors. No pastor I know — and frankly no leader — is comfortable admitting they are facing burnout. The fear is we would lose support. But, the smarter decision is to confide in someone who can help. Getting help before you crash allows you to finish the race. It would be better to limp across the finish line than to be taken out of commission for a permanent injury. Get help now if you need it!
Challenge the sacred cows. Every leader knows that change is hard. And, changing the things people say can’t be touched are the toughest changes. Truth be told, I’ve learned some of these aren’t as sacred as they appear. It was just that no one ever challenged them. But, I’ve also learned that if a leader shies away from change he or she knows has to take place — for the long-term good of the church or organization — everything will eventually become a “sacred cow”. All change — even small changes — will face opposition.
Release your right to get even. That’s so tough — isn’t it? Because holding a grudge is much easier than offering forgiveness. Leadership involves power and every leader is tempted at some time to use that power in revenge. Don’t do it. It never proves smart in the end. A leader is severely injured in ability to attract loyal, trusting followers — who have the potential of becoming leaders — if he or she is ever seen as one who gets even. That leader may have followers, but they’ll turn on a dime against the leader when given a chance.
Take a risk on an unproven person. Good leaders like to surround themselves with competent people. Experience makes life easier for all of us. But, some of the best leadership discoveries I have made came with untested people. We took a risk. Giving a young pastor a chance before they graduate from seminary has proven to be some of my riskiest and yet wisest moves.
Those are 7 examples of tough, but smart decisions I have to make in leadership.
Which of these tough decisions do you need to make today?
Do you have any you’d share with me?