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!
Ask pastors who are more experienced than you what their experiences have taught them, what they’d do different, what they’d have done more of if they knew they could, what they wished someone had told them when they first started. Ask leaders who seem to be stronger in a certain area how they got that way, what training has been most beneficial, where they’ve gone to be stretched and challenged. Ask to meet with people when you need to talk, ask for an area pastor to visit your church because you want their input, ask someone to fill your pulpit on occasion. Ask pastors for help with your board, your staff, your key leaders and volunteers. When you go to a conference, go prepared to ask questions, hunt out 4 or 5 pastors and get your answer. When you go to an area pastors meeting, go prepared to ask questions. Ask others who they listen to, who’s on their playlist, what they are reading. Ask pastors about the first time they fired a volunteer, about their first funeral, about their worst sermon, about the last time the led someone to Christ, their biggest pastoral blunder. Ask someone to coach you. Ask your spouse how they are doing, how you are doing, how your marriage is doing. Ask your kids how their school day was, what they love about planting a church, what they think you do with your day. Ask your guests what they liked about your service, what they didn’t and if they’d come back – and why. Ask people to talk to you before they leave your church. Ask people to give. Ask people to serve. Ask people to commit. Ask people to confess, repent and forgive. Ask people to pray for you.
I have asked all of these questions a minimum of ten times in the past year – and some ten times in just the past week. The answers encourage me, challenge me, make me laugh, remind me I am not alone, give me great insight and ideas, sharpen my vision, provide valuable feedback, draw people in, get issues on the table, keep me focused, fuel my dreams, anchor my family – and usually, the answers my kids provide me – keep me from taking myself to seriously.
Journal the Journey
I would encourage new planters to make a point of keeping a personal journal or log of all the ways that God speaks and confirms His call to you. Before you plant, be sure that you’re sure of His calling and record all from the largest signs to the simplest miracles along the way. You will need these memories and truths to cling to when the journey gets harder.
There will come a time in your planting and pastoring that the enemy begins to wear away at your call. He will use circumstances, people, and your own insecurities to pick away at the assurance you had in the beginning. He will try to convince you that God is no longer with you or that life would be so much easier if you abandon the task God has given you. When this happens, return to your journal, remember all the ways God spoke and confirmed His calling in the beginning. Cling to those moments to combat the doubts and assure yourself of God’s unending faithfulness. “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable”, and the calling that He has for you now will be just a certain and just as true down the road when things get tough.
River Rock Vineyard
Enjoy the Ride
We have been part of 3 different church plants and each one had its own characteristics that God was using to draw a culture to Himself. These are some of the things we have learned over the years. Remember that God has a specific plan already planned for you. As one “old” Vineyard man said years ago, “enjoy the ride”.
Go at the Father’s pace
He knows you better than you know yourself. Stay in His presence, walk in step with the Spirit may be our best advice. Many will see your gifting and suggest you go here or there, do this or that and Father may ask you to wait here until His timing is right.
The Presence of the Father
His presence needs to be your “yes” to plant a church. Your relationship with Him is paramount, out of relationship with Him we live and move and have our being. As people start to gather with you (in home groups, house church, or a Sunday) wait on the Father’s presence, allow it to be real. You being real with the Father will bring a humility to others that encourages them to wait and seek His presence.
Go slow, but sure and steady with the gifts of the Spirit
As the Spirit moves gently reach out with His hand and touch others. He said that He will grow the church. Growth must start with you then inside of others before it happens on the outside. The Gifts will draw a culture of people that are comfortable with His presence, in turn He will form a team of people looking for Him and giving away what he has given them.
Worship, Keep it Simple.
Don’t try and be something you are not. If your worship “team” is one vocal with a guitar, rejoice in that. God will use that to draw others. Keep your eyes on what you have not on what you don’t have.
My wife and I still work other jobs along with the church, so time can become limited for study, quiet personal time, and work. For me, going through a book of the Bible keeps me on track, one less thing to think about (what am I going to teach on next week) by following a book where that question has already been answered i.e. Chapter 6:4-18. Keep them short. With God’s presence He will fill the people with revelation.
Don’t start Ministries (kids church, youth group, missions, outreaches, etc.) until God opens the door. Might be best if you waited until God spoke to the person and then they come to you and say, “Could we start meeting with the teens?”.
People will Leave
Realize this from the start. Don’t get offended when people leave, don’t take it personal, it’s just the lay of the land for church planting. Their timing, gifting, expectations of you and the church don’t match what you and the Father have been talking about. Bless them with open arms and stay in friendship with them, love them unconditionally. They may want to come back!
Slow is Good
It’s a really slow process, no matter what the books tell you. Developing leaders and discipleship is slow. Unless you have lots of people that can already do that for/with you, it’s slow. But the slowness creates a richness that you wouldn’t have otherwise – like when you see actual discipleship and transformation (folks quoting scripture at you, talking about kingdom theology at you, talking about their ministry experiences with others to you) knowing that you introduced them to Jesus.
Success does not equal numbers
Success equals obedience to Jesus. Activity without Jesus being there is like running a church like a chicken with its head cut off, lots of activity, but it’s dead and not connected to the head. “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies….10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” – Zechariah 4
There are no rules.
It’s not a McDonald’s Franchise. There is no “right” way. We wish we could follow the rule book and come out on the other side with a great church. It means that we have to spend a lot more time with the source in different ways than we thought. We go to God with a lot more of our daily decisions than we did before.
Closer to the Front Lines
The work of Church planting brings you closer to the front lines of heavenly realm fighting. It means more desperate prayers, more fighting the faith, more spiritual attack on you and your family and your leaders. The establishment of the church in enemy territory is dangerous work.
Best Laid Plans
You can have plans and expectations, but nothing will ever turn out exactly like you think it will. Sometimes people won’t show up when you’ve prepared a message “just for them.” Sometimes it will feel like the Holy Spirit isn’t moving (at least not visibly). Sometimes others will have their own agendas…and their agendas won’t always be the same as yours. Just follow God’s leading, and things will work out like they should.
You need relationships with other pastors (particularly those in your own “tribe”).
And you especially need someone in your life who knows what you’re going through. I’m a cross regional church planter, and a high percentage of cross regional church plants fail. Why? I asked Bert Waggoner that question (and pretty much guessed the answer before he said it). It’s because cross regional church planters usually don’t already have significant relationships in place with other pastors and mentors in the area of their plant. My wife and I purposefully got plugged into relationships with others in the region as soon as we could, and it’s saved us a lot of frustration and grief. Our coach, Brian Brinkert, has been a lifeline for wisdom and encouragement.
Honestly, the most important thing is to listen. Have ears to hear. Get God’s perspective on what he’s doing. Ask for the kingdom to come. Ask for kingdom people to join with you. We started our plant without a team, but God put together an amazing group of people. We plant and water, but God makes it grow.
Clicks Don’t Grow
As soon as you start gathering enough people, and start getting really close to one another, they’re going to want to stay the same size, even if they talk about the great things God is going to do in your city. I’m in the process of learning that right now, so don’t have the solution yet…but getting ready to cast a bigger vision.
Preparation Brings Peace
And, finally, I’ve learned that preparation brings peace…but it’s still the Holy Spirit who breathes life into it. Do what you can to prepare for your weekly gatherings, then let God do the rest. If God’s at work, things will work.