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Steve Nicholson

Steve Nicholson

Pastor, Evanston Vineyard
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Crowd of people on a busy street
One of the most difficult aspects of church planting is simply gathering your first fifty people. Second only, of course, to gathering your next fifty, and the fifty after that. What’s the best way to go about gathering those people? Below are some general principles to help you draw in your first group of attenders.

Go out and get people
You have to go out and get people; This is the most important thing. You can’t wait for them to come to you; they won’t! Building a church depends on you doing everything humanly possible to make connections, network, meet new people, and build relationships.

Prioritize your time
To get your first fifty people, you must prioritize your time almost exclusively on gathering. Don’t worry so much about discipling or administration; worry about that later. Put all your time and energy into meeting and gathering new people.

Building relationships
Regardless of the approach you take, the primary goal in this gathering phase is building relationships with people. Spend time together, have lots of meals and parties, watch videos, and go places together.

Continue telling your story and sharing the vision
Share your vision one-on-one with people, do it in home group contexts, and in all your meetings. You have to keep telling the vision and the stories to people until you’re large enough to do it regularly in contexts such as membership classes.

Always keep focused on your “best prospects”
Keep focused on the people who have leadership ability, who can pastor and gather others. If you want them to keep coming, they need to feel connected to you. Besides, until the church is big enough, people will come because of you anyway, not the church. There isn’t much to show them regarding a “church”. All they have is the promise and prospect of what’s to come. Until then, they’ll come because of you and your vision.

Think in terms of variety
In terms of evangelistic methods, there isn’t any “one” thing which is going to do it. Do absolutely anything and everything that you can think of that’s consistent with your values and style. For example, servant evangelism is a great pre-evangelism tool for community visibility. Alpha Courses can be a great way of gathering non-Christians even before you go public.

Once you have your first fifty, cut your time in half
Use half of your time to care for and manage what you’ve got, and the other half of your time to go out and gather the next fifty people. Your church is likely not yet big enough for you to count on others getting new people. You’ll still need to get many of the next fifty yourself.

Church planters often get bogged down with their first group of people and they lose momentum for gathering the next fifty. With whatever time you have when you’re around 30-50 people, make sure you’re training and developing leaders to care for and manage your current group so that you’re freed up to go out and get more.

Keep in mind there is no “one” way to go about gathering. Ministry and church planting is inescapably incarnational and contextual, and what works for you, your gifts, your team, your geographical area, and your target group may not work for another person. Try lots of things. Know your culture well. Pray and listen to the Holy Spirit. Now, get out there and meet some people!

This piece was first published as a part of From Coaching Church Planters: A Manual for Church Planters and Those Who Coach Them by Steve Nicholson.

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Steve Nicholson is the pastor of the Evanston Vineyard in Illinois and was previously the head of the Church Planting Task Force for Vineyard USA.  
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