Vineyard Church Planters Tell What They Wish They’d Known Before They Began Their First Church Plant
It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20. When you look back on any project or endeavor, you get a better idea of what was important and what wasn’t.
This same thing is true with church plants. After working at planting a new church for a year or two or more, you have a much better idea about what was worth worrying about and what wasn’t that big of a deal.
And since no one is more qualified to give other church planters advice about beginning a new church, we decided to simply have a few of our planters share about the number one thing they wish they’d known before they began. And as is true with most of us, they weren’t content to only share one thing…Enjoy!
Valley Vineyard Church
Chippewa Falls, WI
“The Importance of Listening”
The number one thing I wish I knew before I planted our church was the importance of listening. The need to listen to the experienced church planters around me. Looking back, I realized how much more they shared with about planting a church than I had taken in. Also, the need to listen to my heartbeat and who I was, instead of trying to be the next great church planter. Haha!
I would also wish I would have understood how much failure would take place in the life of church planter and to be open about it. I think if I would have understood this, I would not have be thrown for a loop as much. Also, it would have helped with the ego and realizing the need to share these failures with others.
Finally, I wish I would have realized how much perseverance it takes to plant a church. The need to understand that it takes time and it is not based on my timeline. To know I would need the perseverance to survive the tough times and the crazy stretches.
I think if I would have understood the importance of listening, failure, and perseverance, it would have made a big difference at the start of our plant.
J Chad & Aubrey Amborn
Westside Vineyard Church
“Eat at Home!”
A wise man told us “learn how to eat at home”. When we first started planting we still felt a strong need to attend another vineyard church service in order to get fed. Although it was great to have the luxury of doing this being in Duluth, we found we became too dependent on it. We learned to spend more time with Jesus and get our fill from that rather than needing it from the weekend service. That time along with having key people in our lives that would love and support us and always point us to Jesus was much more fruitful. We celebrate our church community an enjoy coming together to worship, hear the word and serve, but in the end its our personal prayer and intimate time with Jesus that we see him speak directly into our lives and where some of our biggest transformations take place. The two of us have had more vision for our church since making this a stronger practice in our lives.
The Eastside Vineyard Church
Shelby Township, MI
“50% in 18 Months”
Here is a statistic you need to be aware of — during the first 18 months of your church plant, 50% of your core team/key volunteers will leave your church for various reasons. I heard this statistic from a seasoned church planter before I planted, but thought our church would be different. It wasn’t. As we were building our core team of volunteers I thought every one of them would be around for the 25th anniversary of our church. So when that first family that was “all in” at one point decided to leave our church, we were devastated. Since then we have found that people come and people go. Don’t take it personally (which is easier said than done, for sure!).
Honor Your Temple – There is a cartoon that circulated on the internet of an obviously unhealthy man sitting in a doctor’s office. The caption is of the doctor speaking: “Which fits better in your schedule…exercising for 1 hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?” As you plant your church it’s easy to neglect your body or even abuse it through eating “comfort food” as you are stressing out. But like the cartoon implies, if you lose your health, you won’t be able to lead your church. You don’t need to become a “gym rat” but commit to do whatever it takes to regularly exercise.
Sabbath – Planting a church can be an all-consuming task. There’s always one more meeting you can have or one more phone call to make or one more hour of sermon prep to do. If you don’t watch out you will burn out, and it can happen pretty quickly. Pick a day — yes an entire 24-hour period of time — and make it your Sabbath. Where you unplug from the never-ending demands of the church. A great resource for this is The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan.
Volunteer Coordinator – As you launch your church you’ll need to empower someone to coordinate all of your volunteers. Make sure this person really gets the vision of your church and understands your heart. At our church we wanted to be all about “grace” but very early on we let someone whose default was the “law” be our volunteer coordinator. She was turning off volunteers right and left (e.g., using guilt to manipulate them to serve and coming down very hard on volunteers if they showed up late) and we were totally unaware of it. It almost killed the church.
Read, Read, Read – There is a famous quote: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Whether or not you typically love to read, I suggest you read every book you can on church planting and leadership. Read for 30 minutes a day. Every day. Here are some of my recommendations: Sticky Teams by Larry Osbourne // Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts by Jim Griffith // Church Planting Landmines by Tom Nebel // Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby // Launch by Nelson Searcy // The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey // Visioneering by Andy Stanley // Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels // Good to Great by Jim Collins // The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.
Clifton Vineyard Church
“It’s okay if you don’t know everything.”
God doesn’t expect you to be an expert – He simply asks you to “stay available.” He will guide and direct us and make up for our shortcomings. Stay in communication with Him. Put some good people around you who will speak truthfully to you. Mostly, stay available!
“Be ready for change.” The lease price on the building may increase, the couple leading the youth program might quit, and the worship leader could possibly move away. And you know what? That’s okay. The things you thought were set in stone will actually be set in Jello. But God is solid and sure. If you go into this knowing that things can change, you won’t be so surprised when they do.
“Keep a ‘To Don’t’ List.” We all walk into this adventure not knowing exactly what ‘to do’ (see my point #1), but we all have some good ideas of what not to do. Keep that “to don’t” list. And, we will all do a few things that flop. Keep track of that. Don’t repeat mistakes!
“Opportunity, not obligation.” Keep your perspective on target! We are so blessed to be called to work for the Kingdom! What a great opportunity. Never let it become an obligation to you or anyone on your team!
South Suburban Vineyard
“Persistence and Faithfulness”
One of the main things that I’d wish I’d known was that slow (numerical growth) is a reality for many new plants. Fortunately and unfortunately, we planted out of one of the larger Vineyards (Urbana Vineyard in Central Illinois). I say fortunately because the training, experience and resources that backed our plant were plentiful. I say unfortunately because coming from something as big and high-powered as the Urbana Vineyard had set the bar of our expectations and what “success” looks like at an unhealthy level.
We’d learned a lot from our sending church. We planned and prepared for years so when we planted our systems, ministries, sermons, worship, and core team were all largely on-point. We did things well and we were very confident that we had the goods and that we’d quickly outgrow our meeting place over the first few years. When that didn’t happen, I was very puzzled and more than a bit discouraged. As I look back on those first few years and even the struggles we face today, it is helpful for me to continue to consider the following:
New churches usually grow one person or family at a time.
God usually won’t let you (numerically) outgrow your actual foundation and capacity to lead (no matter how awesome you think you are). He loves you and your people too much to do that.
There is a front door and a back door to your church. I often reflect on the number of people who have come and gone over the last 3 years. At times I think, “if all of those people had stuck around we would need two services”. People have left for a wide range of reasons. Some, we cried when they left. Others, we danced when they left. Either way, those losses hurt because they mean one less person or family in our church. In the last year, we have managed to retain more people and we have fewer people slipping out of the back door, but we still lose people that way. It is a reality of church planting.
Persistence and faithfulness will pay off in the end.