If you’ve thought about church planting for more than five minutes, you’ve probably realized how potentially daunting a task it can be. There is so much to do, so many details to think about. But if you can identify what your main priorities are, they can form a useful grid for sorting and deciding all the other stuff.
Some of what I’m about to say might seem really obvious. But that’s exactly why they need to be top priority—it can be easy to get bogged down in individual decisions and details, but anything that you are doing should fit within the framework of these priorities.
- Stay intimately connected to Christ.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but seriously, I can’t restate this enough. You just can’t give away what you don’t have. You can’t invite people into what you’re not experiencing. And it’s the absolute beauty of a life intimately connected to Christ that we have to offer. H. R. Rookmaaker once said, “Christ did not die to make us Christian, but to make us human.” The very best thing we have to offer is the only way to live a truly human life—through a deeply intimate connection with the living Christ. So make sure that you live right there everyday, and that you never stop inviting others into that same reality.
- Gather people.
This is so huge and important, but honestly, it often gets overlooked among all the other things going on in our lives. The church is the people, right? The church is a community of people who are rearranging their lives to follow Jesus. Without people, we haven’t got a church. In the early days, weeks, month, and even years of a new church this has got to be the most important priority (besides staying connected to Jesus). So gather people, introduce them to the resurrected Christ, bring them into a transformed and transforming community, and teach them to do absolutely everything Jesus told us to do (that’s my bird’s eye rendition of the great commission). In my first years of church planting, I constantly evaluated my calendar, my time, my energy, and my money by this metric—”how is this helping me to gather people to Christ and to one another in a redeemed community, the church?” And seriously, if we as pastors ever lose this focus, I think we’ve gotten off track somewhere.
- Constantly develop leaders.
There are only so many folks we can disciple ourselves. Think of this—Jesus worked mostly with just twelve guys. But he trained and released them so they could turn around and do the same with others—leadership should be able to reproduce itself.. This is such an important priority if you want your ministries to grow, or if you want to plant more than just one small group. In my community in Duluth, MN, we use the acronym “IRTDMN:” Identifying, Recruiting, Training, Deploying, Monitoring, and Nurturing new leaders.
Leadership development should be something you’re doing constantly. 2 Timothy 2:2 says “And all the things you have heard me say…entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Unless you plan to lead every meeting, every ministry, you’ve got to learn how to do 2 Timothy 2:2 each and every day…And if you do want to lead everything from now till eternity, then you may have a different problem!
- Press into Holy Spirit ministry.
Honestly, everything we do could be described as ministry with and through the Holy Spirit. But what I’m talking about here is power ministry—the stinkin’ fun stuff of healing, deliverance, prophetic insight…and so much more. I’ve watched so many leaders back off of this area over the years. I think that’s mostly because of how risky it feels, but the risk is oh-so worth it. And to embrace the supernatural doesn’t mean you’ve got to be weird, by any means. That’s where the classic Vineyard term, “naturally-supernatural,” comes from. We’ve got to position ourselves to allow God to supernaturally break into our lives at any moment, in any interaction anytime of the day or night, and bring his healing and freedom to ours or others lives.
So those four are some of my top priorities for church planting, and the ones I really wanted to emphasize to you this month. Take an honest look at what you are doing, and then I encourage you to rearrange your life to make these four priorities a part of each and every day of your church planting life!
But that’s not all—as an added treat, I thought it would be fun to also highlight some pastors who are actively planting right now and to ask them what they thought it would be good to prioritize. Ben Ganson and Scott Hatch are both church planters who have been out on the field for a little while. Ben and his wife Janelle are leading the Vineyard Church of Rock Hill in Rock Hill, SC. Scott and his family have been out preparing to launch Grace Vineyard Church in Austin, Texas—they have been meeting privately since they moved to Austin, and are planning to publicly launch on Easter.
Check out what they had to say about prioritizing in the first year:
What were your top 5 priorities in the first year of planting, and how did you decide on those priorities?
Ben: Early on in our church plant the Lord led me to write out these questions to ask myself on a regular basis:
- How can I encourage, support, bless, and serve my wife and kids this week?
- How can I encourage, support, equip, shepherd, and resource my church planting team this week?
- How can I follow up with, connect with, and deepen my relationship with the new people God has brought into my life?
- How can I meet new people, and develop new friendships this week?
- How can I encourage and inspire folks back home who are supporting our church plant this week (how can I use the church planting process to disciple our donors)?
I think these were the main priorities that guided me in the first year and really still do to this day. These were what shaped my schedule and to-do list from week to week. The church is people, so I feel like the major priority is finding ways to connect with, support, and encourage the people God has placed in my life.
- Learn our city
- Share our vision
- Meet as many people as possible
- Gather a Launch Team
- Launch big
As you look back, do you think any of your priorities should have been different?
Ben: No, I feel good about this list and still follow it to this day. Although, #5 has taken a little more of a back seat as the church plant has grown.
Scott: As we’re on the cusp of finishing my first year of church planting I would not change any of these priorities. There are some things that I would have done differently, but my priorities would remain the same. I don’t think a church planter can meet too many people, and I don’t think it really matters how you meet them. I’ve found that sometimes it’s the most unlikely places that I find people interested in our mission.
What good fruit have you seen as a result of maintaining those priorities?
Ben: One of the great benefits of keeping family as the top priority during this past year is that my home life feels as healthy as it has ever been, and my wife and kids are still on board and excited about the church plant even after a year of major transitions and life change (moving twice, working for 4 different employers, now living 7-8 hours from family and friends, etc.). I felt like the Lord told me specifically that I was to plant the church “with my family, not at the cost of my family.” So it has been exciting to see them still passionate about the church plant and to know that they aren’t being neglected for the sake of ministry. We are over a year into this and my family has never felt better. My kids still love doing all the church planting stuff and I can see the Lord at work in their lives as much as He is at work in the lives of the people we are reaching out to.
Scott: When I got to Austin I quickly connected with a great group of pastors and church planters here in the city. I found it immensely helpful to have community with other planters who were planting in the same place at the same time. While receiving wisdom from people who planted 20 years ago is extremely valuable, I’ve found that the best practices are often shared among present day practitioners. Meeting with friends who’ve launched in the last 3 months, 6 months, and year gives me great insight as to what is and is not working.
The vision to launch big is compelling. People want to feel a part of something big. We’ve found that people are attracted to a big vision and we’ve been able to gather a solid Launch Team that includes leaders for the following areas: Worship and Creative Arts, Children, Prayer, Hospitality, and Logistics.
Have you seen any negative consequences come from devaluing any of those priorities?
Ben: I feel like I didn’t do a good enough job supporting my team in the early stages of the church plant. I had the thought that we should be spending all of our time with “outsiders” and as a result I didn’t spend enough time shepherding and building community with my team. I thought pastoral care was going to come later in the game, but, in fact, I needed to be wearing that hat early on as well.
Final Question: Do you have any insider tips or words of encouragement that you would like to share with other planters?
Ben: The main words of encouragement that come to mind:
- Love the person God places in front of you. Don’t worry about growing your church or doing all the right things or finding the perfect people to join your church. Just love the person in front of you and be faithful to the people God is bringing in your path. God will build the church.
- Live at a sustainable pace as much as possible. You are in a marathon, not a sprint.
- Be yourself. Do the things you enjoy and put yourself in environments that feel natural and exciting to you. That is where you will meet and connect with people, and find deeper relationships.
- Know your identity. Allow the Lord to tell you how much he loves you, and how much he is pleased with you just because you belong to Him. Allow your identity to be completely wrapped up in being a child of God and not a church planter.
Scott: Here are the biggest tips I would offer another planter:
- Read Nelson Searcy’s Launch
- 1 year before you even decide where you’re going to plant read this book. It would be immensely helpful. Even if you don’t follow every principal he lays out, read the book and apply the principles that fit best for you and your calling. It has been a useful roadmap for us in our early stages.
- Utilize social media
- Social media is the cheapest and easiest way to connect with people and communicate your vision. Invest in a strong Facebook page and use it! Take pictures of everything you do, and share it with your followers. Tell your church’s story to the world! Get creative and innovate.
- I’d never heard of this until I moved here, but use Craigslist and other job forums to gather Launch Team Members. Make it very clear in the ad that you can’t pay, and that the job is limited to serving the church through the launch phase with no guarantee of a paid position. Through Craigslist we added a PhD veteran pastor with over 30 years of experience.
- Go Bi-Vocational!
- There are two reasons why bi-vocational is the best approach in church planting. First, you will more than likely be asking your Launch Team to be bi-vocational. When you’ve shown you are willing to do this yourself you will gain their buy-in faster. Second, in a very real way your survival depends on the people you meet. Choosing a job that exposes you to lots of people can be a huge catalyst for your church’s growth. Being a group fitness instructor at a large health club has initiated over one hundred new relationships in a very short time with the people I train that include business owners, teachers, and other prominent people in our city. If you’re not planning to go bi-vocational, have a clear strategy for how you plan to meet people.
- Take advantage of the Vineyard Network
- The Vineyard network is really valuable. Take advantage of everything your sending church offers. If they send you with money, awesome. If they send you with people, awesome. If they offer to send teams to train and help with your mission, awesome. Take advantage of that stuff. Also, connect with other Vineyard pastors in your area and see if they can help you. Sometimes they can give money, or people. We found that one pastor in the area provided us with a worship leader and another helped fund the marketing for our launch.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for money
- What do you have to lose? Your church needs finances and depends on you to raise funds. Don’t be afraid to ask bigger more established churches to help fund your mission.
Thanks, Ben! Thanks, Scott! I love the different things that you each highlighted—that’s part of the beauty of being part of a body with many members, isn’t it? We get the benefit of many different perspectives on how to follow Jesus. It’s the same Jesus, the same mission, but from different angles.
And now it’s your turn—what do you think of these lists? Planters, what was important to you in your first year? Pre-planters, what are you wondering about? What seems particularly difficult or pressing? Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow me over to the forum.