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new church planning

Todd Wilson is the Executive Minister of New Life Christian Church in Centreville, Virginia and the Director of Passion for Planting. Todd is passionate about church planting and helping church planters to stay focused on people. Passion for Planting (www.church-planting.net) is a non-profit church planting support organization that exists to help church planters with the seemingly endless details associated with starting new churches. Todd lives in Manassas VA with his wife Anna and two boys.

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New Church Planning

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty (Proverbs 21:5).

Dave responded to God's call to plant a church because he was passionate about preaching and reaching lost people. Several months before launch day, Dave was asked "what is your biggest challenge?" Without hesitation he said, "So many things, so little time. The to-do list seems endless. I need to spend more time meeting people, building my launch team, and communicating vision. I keep hoping the administrative crush will ease, but every day it seems to get worse."

Dave's experience is not unique. Why do so many church planters struggle with planning, and is it even possible to focus on people while still planning for launch day? Absolutely! Our challenge is to break the paradigm of always doing things the way they've been done in the past. This chapter addresses the basics of planning and its Biblical mandate, including what it is, why it's important, and a simple, yet disciplined approach to developing a launch plan.

What is planning?

Nehemiah took just 52 days to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Imagine turning over 1.5 miles of rubble into massive walls in 52 days-a work that is unimaginable today. God provided the vision, and Nehemiah managed the plan. Armed with a strong sense of calling and God's blessing, Nehemiah organized and planned the project, motivated the people to join the work, and managed the details. Sounds much like the challenge church planters face!

Nehemiah 3 outlines the plan. Instead of treating the project as one large overwhelming task, Nehemiah divided the wall into smaller manageable tasks. Families were given the lead to complete smaller segments of the wall. In this way, large parts of the wall were constructed simultaneously. By dividing the project into smaller discrete tasks, each family dealt with a challenging, yet manageable opportunity in rebuilding the wall.

Solid planning is a key element of completing any major, complex task. Planning is the process of developing a roadmap for turning a vision or preferable picture of the future into reality. Through planning, we define what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it will be done, who will do it and how much it will cost.

Consider the construction of a new house. The average house takes about 120 days to complete with hundreds of interrelated tasks. These tasks are completed by numerous people at a cost of thousands of dollars. Similarly, a new church takes months to plan, involves many interrelated tasks, and costs thousands of dollars.

In turning the vision for a new house into reality, specific actions must be completed before others can start. For example, the lot must be cleared before the foundation can be poured. The foundation must be in place before the framing can be done, framing before electrical and plumbing, electrical and plumbing before insulation, and so on. Typically, an experienced general contractor, armed with a plan (i.e. blueprints, a budget, and an estimated completion date) manages the tasks to completion. Imagine a house construction project without a plan or a general contractor-confusion, inefficiency, frustration, and turmoil would abound.

While the church planter is expected to manage a project that is at least as complex as building a new house, the average planter lacks experience in planning and management. But there is hope! God builds His church, and we are asked to cooperate.

Throughout the Bible we see examples of God calling men and women to turn vision into reality. For example, Noah was called to build a boat, Abram to become the father of nations, Moses to lead a people from bondage, Joshua to conquer the Promised Land, and Solomon to build a great temple. In each case, God provided the picture of the preferable future and relied on faithful individuals to solidify the vision. Each of these men used planning as a tool to cooperate with God.

Fear Not: Planning is a Spiritual Thing

When Dave first responded to God's calling to plant a church, he was uncomfortable with the concept of planning. After all, it's all about God and not about us and our agenda. "Does God really care about planning? Doesn't planning just constrain God?" These are common questions asked by church planters.

In Proverbs we read, "Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed." "You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail." There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord." These verses should challenge us to be cautious as we make plans. We see that there is only one plan that will succeed-that which is rooted in God's purposes. In our desire to move forward, we must continually check our hearts for the following:

Improper Motives-God clearly states that His plans, not ours, matter. In fact, he cares more about our motives than our plans. Whatever we do, we should place God's glory above our own.

Getting Ahead of God -Sometimes in our fervor to achieve what we want, we rationalize that we know what God wants. We try and help him to help us. God promised to make Abraham's offspring like the dust of the earth. Imagine Abraham's excitement. Sometime later when no children had been born to Sarah, however, Abraham became restless. He said to God, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." Knowing that God intended for him to be a father, Abraham took matters into his own hands. Sarah's Egyptian maidservant bore Abraham a child. In going before God's plans, Abraham experienced tragic consequences that are still felt today.

Nehemiah got it right. He prayed, fasted, and confessed as he sought God's clarity regarding the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. God answered Nehemiah's prayer with a clear vision and a passion to accomplish the vision. God was glorified. We read that the surrounding nations were terrified when they realized that this work had been done with the help of God. Nehemiah stepped out on faith to accomplish something so big for God's honor that the only way it could be successful was through God's provision. Through it all, Nehemiah's plan was simply a tool for cooperating with God.

God's Role, Our Role

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "I will build my church." Ultimately, we are the workers who cooperate with God to fulfill His vision for the church. What is God's role in the process, however? To answer this question, let's consider the building of the ark by Noah and the building of the temple by Solomon. Both stories illustrate God's use of faithful servants to accomplish His plans, while also revealing His involvement in the process.

Noah and the Ark-Genesis 6:14 details God's plan for Noah and the ark:

"Make a boat from resinous wood and seal it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. Make it 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Construct an opening all the way around the boat, 18 inches below the roof. Then put three decks inside the boat-bottom, middle, and upper-and put a door in the side."

God provided specific details of what the finished boat should look like, but not a specific roadmap for building it. Why? Most of us (including Noah) would have no clue how large the ark needs to be to accommodate two of every kind of animal. We could make estimates, but in the end only God knew exactly what was needed for accomplishing His purposes. Through His plans, the ark matched God's vision, not the limited visions we often submit to.

Today, skilled craftsman spend years building small boats. Noah spent nearly a century building the ark, which was one-and-a-half football fields in length. In modern day, a boat of this size and complexity would take vaults full of blueprints and an army of highly trained craftsman to complete. Amazingly, we were not told of any specific plans that God provided Noah for how to actually build the ark. In this case, God provided the vision for the finished product, but delivered Noah with the knowledge to accomplish the vision.

Solomon and the Temple-David said, "My son Solomon is still young and inexperienced, and the Temple of the LORD must be a magnificent structure, famous and glorious throughout the world. So I will begin making preparations for it now." So David collected vast amounts of building materials before his death. "Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple. David gave instructions regarding how much gold and silver should be used to make the necessary items. ‘Every part of this plan,' David told Solomon, ‘was given to me in writing from the hand of the LORD.'"

Once again, God had a specific purpose and vision for the temple. In this case, we are told that God provided very specific detailed plans for every part of the Temple. David essentially handed the blueprints to Solomon. Whether because of his youth or inexperience, we are not sure, but God knew the degree of detail Solomon needed to complete His vision for the temple.

In both stories, God provided a vision for the finished product, along with varying levels of detail on how plans should be implemented. In some cases, God provides very little detail. In others, He literally provides the blueprints. Overall, by submitting to God and choosing to follow His plan, He then reviews our abilities and needs before providing the degree of detail needed to accomplish His work.

Starting with the End in Mind

Dave's first question as a new church planter was, "Where do I start and how do I do this?" Earlier we discussed the task of building a new house. What is the first question that a general contractor will ask when talking with a potential home buyer? "What kind of house do you want?" The potential buyer does not hesitate to describe the completed house. "I want a two story colonial with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a side entry garage on at least 1 acre." Armed with a clear picture of the product, the contractor can begin the planning process.

In every example in this chapter, planning starts with defining a preferable picture or vision for the future. God painted a color picture of the ark in the specifications he gave Noah. He provided a vivid picture of the Temple in the detailed blueprints he gave David. To Abraham, He promised offspring as numerous as the sands of the earth.

In church planting, we must start with a clear picture of what the new church should look like on opening day. Does it have one service or two, meet in a school or permanent facility, play contemporary music or hymns, have a full children's program or only a nursery, etc.? Start by making an initial list of at least fifty characteristics (similar to the list above) that define what opening day looks like. This picture will serve only as a guide and may change with time as the plan is refined.

Right to Left: The Key to Planning

We are conditioned to think from left to right. Imagine trying to read from right to left. It's just not natural.

When it comes to planning, most people naturally think from left to right. We look at where we are today, where we would like to be in the future, and we diligently work to get as much done as possible in the time available. This is the classic planning approach for most church planters. Unfortunately, if you try to fit 50 pounds into a 10 pound bag something will suffer; typically relationship building and the quality of what is being done.

We desperately need to change our paradigm and instead think from right to left. The basic principle of this approach is to start with the end in mind (i.e. first identify the preferable picture of the future), and then determine the steps to accomplish your vision.

In his best selling book, Seven Habit of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says:

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

For church planters, the practical implementation of this is to begin by defining what opening day looks like and then developing a roadmap for getting there. If I launch on October 12th, preview services need to be on October 5th. With preview services on the 5th, we need sound equipment ordered by September 5th, and so on. The schedule is built from the future to the present rather than the present to the future. This forces the planter to stay purpose driven with a constant eye toward a healthy opening day.

In many cases, the planter will conclude at the beginning of the planning process that he/she simply can't get everything done by launch day. He/she then proactively decides to change the date, eliminate specific actions/tasks, or to apply extra resources to get more accomplished in the same period of time. The alternative is to simply get as much done as possible knowing that many things will suffer.

To aid church planters in healthy pre-launch planning, Church Planting Solutions maintains a template launch plan that includes nearly 300 actions. The plan was developed using a "right to left" approach. Even for a relatively small launch, a church planter will work full-time for six solid months to complete all the actions. Of course this would leave virtually no time for more important intangible priorities such as communications, community networking, and core group development-items that most church planters desperately need to spend more time on during the months leading up to launch.

The "right to left" approach to planning is summarized as follows:

  • Start with the end in mind. Where are you headed and what will it look like when you arrive?
  • Identify critical non-negotiable areas that must be done well. Failure to do well in any of these areas could jeopardize opening day. In church planting, the non-negotiable areas include at least the following: prayer team, vision casting and communications, core group development, small groups, marketing, facilities, equipment, staffing, finance/fundraising, outreach/community networking, ministries, teams/leadership, and processes.
  • Develop a written plan for each of these critical areas. Start with a written purpose statement (1-3 sentences) for each area. If possible, link the purpose to the broader church purpose. For example, the purpose of the marketing plan is to "break down barriers with the unchurched in our target demographic and to build positive name recognition in the community so that people will respond to an invitation to church-an invitation that may change their life for eternity because of a new relationship with Jesus Christ."
  • After defining a clear purpose, identify 3-5 key priorities (objectives) that need to happen for the purpose to be fulfilled. For example, in marketing one objective may be to ensure that each household within a 3 mile radius receives at least six positive touches from the church before launch day.
  • After defining 3-5 key objectives, identify specific actions for each objective. One action may be to generate an exhaustive list of potential marketing tools (i.e. flyers, direct mail cards, radio advertising, etc.). Another action may be to prioritize the list of marketing ideas. Most objectives will have at least 3 actions, with many having 5 or more. The resulting plan will have from ten to thirty actions on average (i.e. one purpose, three to five objectives that support the purpose, and three or more actions per objective).
  • Compile the actions from the written plans into an integrated checklist. Include space to identify the cost and lead person for each action. Fill in this additional information for each action.
  • Review checklists from other church planters looking for additional actions you may have missed, adding actions where necessary.
  • Identify the relationships between actions. Go through the checklist action by action and identify which actions need to be finished before or after others. If necessary, draw the relationships on a large poster board or wall chart so the dependencies are easy to see. For example, church name is selected before incorporating, incorporation before obtaining a Federal Identification Number, a Federal Identification Number before filing for non-profit status.
  • To simplify the management of the list, look for logical groupings of actions to designate as milestones. For example, the 6-8 actions required to obtain 501(c)(3) status may be linked to a milestone called "Organizational Establishment." If possible, the milestones are strategically selected so that they are evenly spread throughout the launch phase rather than being due at the same time. Milestones are used on an ongoing basis to help prioritize a church planters work. By planning a milestone every 1 to 2 weeks, the planter will always know what the upcoming priorities are. Add the milestones onto the checklist.
  • Identify durations for each action (i.e. how long will it reasonably take to complete the action once it is started?). For example, obtaining 501(c)(3) non-profit status will take approximately 90 days from the time the application is submitted. The application takes the average planter several weeks to complete before submission.
  • Once the interdependencies and durations for each action are identified, scheduled completion dates can be determined and added to the checklist.
  • To develop a budget, simply add up the total costs of actions as a function of completion dates.

What is a launch plan?

A launch plan is the written product of the "right to left" planning process. It defines what will be done, how the tasks interrelate, who will do the tasks, when they will be done, and how much they will cost. Regardless of whether you are building an ark or starting a new church, a good plan includes at least the following: a list of actions, interdependencies between the actions, schedule dates, assignment of responsibilities, and financial requirements.

A good launch plan:

  • Causes a church planter to be disciplined in thinking and understanding before acting-Proverbs 13:16, 14:8, and 19:2, respectfully say, "Wise people think before they act;" "The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways;" "Zeal without knowledge is not good; a person who moves too quickly may go the wrong way."
  • Keeps the planter focused on people-Many church planters become consumed by administrative details and don't spend adequate time networking in the community, communicating vision, and developing a core group. Good intentions often fall victim to the reality of administrative details. A good plan helps the planter set priorities early and serves as a tool for delegating responsibilities to others.
  • Helps the planter to discern God's purpose and vision for the new church and to turn that vision into reality-The launch plan is a tool for understanding God's vision and then cooperating with God to join Him in the work.
  • Helps the planter establish a solid foundation that lasts beyond the plan-The culture and foundation that are laid during the pre-launch phase largely determines the health of the church after launch. Most church planters fail to spend adequate time during pre-launch establishing healthy teams and processes. They pay a heavy price later as these same weaknesses become growth barriers.
  • Is a flexible guide embraces change-Discerning God's will is an ongoing process that should not be constrained by a rigid plan.
  • Starts with a clear picture or vision for the future-Throughout the Bible we see God working to define a picture of a preferable future for His people. All plans should start with an understanding of God's vision for this preferable future.
  • Does not require a detailed organizer-Planning is a process, not a science. Church planters should not be afraid of planning. Instead, they should seek the council of experiences organizers for assistance.
  • Helps the planter to clarify expectations and to gain an understanding of what needs to be done-It's been said that if you can't articulate it in writing, you probably don't understand it. A written plan helps solidify your thoughts.
  • Is a great communication tool for getting others onboard-The plan helps communicate the vision for the new church and the plan for getting there. As people read your plan and discuss it with you, the people God is leading your way will get excited and want to join you.
  • Helps church planters to accomplish more with their limited resources-A plan serves to focus your resources and helps you complete more than you otherwise could.
  • Integrates wise counsel from other experienced people-In Proverbs 20:18 and 15:22 we read, "plans succeed through good counsel; don't go to war without the advice of others." and "Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success."
  • Helps church planters to focus/quantify their priorities-Some things are more important than others. Without a clear set of priorities, we tend to work on whatever is most urgent. Often in church planting, the most urgent is not the most important. A good plan helps the planter make wise choices in deciding what to work on, including identifying when specific tasks should be accomplished.
  • Clearly defines responsibilities-In addition to defining what needs to be done, a good plan identifies who is responsible for each action. A wise planter knows that he/she needs to delegate tasks. The plan identifies who (i.e. the planter, spouse, friend, core group members, contractor, etc.) is responsible for each specific task.
  • Clearly defines the sequence of tasks-A good plan identifies interdependencies between tasks, so as to promote the proper order of completing them.
  • Clearly defines financial requirements-With this information, a solid budget can be developed. If necessary, individual tasks can be revised to increase or decrease the budget.

Where do I start?

If you are a church planter wondering where to start, try the following:

  • Prayer, fasting and confession-Nehemiah gave us a solid example of how to submit to God and join His plans. Before putting pen to paper or jumping into action, spend whatever time is necessary with God to ensure your motives are right, and that you are fully submitted to Him in the new work.
  • Vision and Philosophy of Ministry-Before developing a detailed plan or moving forward with too many actions, answer these questions: (1) Who is God calling me to reach based on my unique gifts and calling?, (2) What is the vision God is calling me to respond to?, (3) What values are vitally important to me?, and (4) What does opening day of the church look like?
  • "Right to left" Planning-Work through the "right to left" planning process outlined in this chapter.
  • In Everything, Remember it's God's Church-Jeremiah 29:11 reads, "'For I know the plans I have for you' declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Church planting is an integral part of God's strategy for reaching a lost world. You are God's hero if you remain faithful in this cause and seek to cooperate with Him in everything. Against all odds, He will bless you. Keep the faith.

 

Endnotes

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.

[2] Nehemiah 6:15.

[3] Proverbs 16:3.

[4] Proverbs 19:21.

[5] Proverbs 21:30.

[6] Genesis 13:14-16.

[7] Genesis 15:3-4.

[8] Nehemiah 1.

[9] Joshua 8:1-8.

[10] 1 Chronicles 22 and 28.

[11] Stephen R. Covey. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster, First Fireside Edition, 1990), 98.

[12] "Church Planting Solutions functions as a non-profit support organization that exists to help church planters and church planting organizations to be more effective. We whole heartedly believe that the local church is the hope of the world and that church planting is the most effective way to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ! We offer project management services for church planters. With a template launch plan of nearly 300 actions, we help manage the details and we complete many of the action for the church planter. The result: church planters stay focused on people!" (www.church-planting-solutions.com)

[13] See the Appendix in the back of this book for Church Planting Solution's template launch plan.

[14] See the Appendix in the back of this book for an example of an integrated checklist.

[15] A more comprehensive launch plan includes documentation of all the steps in the "right to left" approach and is more useful in communicating vision and explaining how the list of actions was developed. Contact Church Planting Solutions (www.church-planting-solutions.com) for more information on comprehensive launch plans.

[16] This simple plan may take the for of a checklist of actions. Such an example can be found in the Appendix of this book.