For Planters and Parents Alike
A couple of years into our marriage, my wife felt nauseous a few mornings in a row. She said, “I can’t be pregnant, right?” The pregnancy test said otherwise. Like most first-time parents, we felt totally unprepared. Lucky for us, a book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting was written to “Yoda” us towards parenthood. The book previews everything pre-arrival of your child.
First-time parents and first-time planters have a lot in common. As you plant, the people who join you prior to having weekly services become what’s typically called your launch team or your core team. Your newborn planting team requires just as much care as a newborn human. I learned three things along the way—most times, the hard way—as we have prepared a number of core teams to plant from Lifepoint: celebrate what doesn’t count; follow the “go slow, plow deep, think big” pattern; and kick the can, not the bucket.
1. Celebrate What Doesn’t Count
The metrics that matter to most western churches will matter to the members of your core team. However, most of those metrics won’t be present in your early days. (I’m not against metrics… Someone was counting in the book of Acts.) And most planters swim in the apostolic gene pool, which means we like results. I attended a leadership cohort last year, where each of the 30 leaders completed a leadership assessment prior to attending. North of 80 percent of the leaders in that room were wired with apostolic gifting, emphasizing results and progress.
For most planters, progressing in the mission trumps celebrating about the mission, especially pre-launch. You are celebrating the relational equity that you are slowly building in your community and among your core team members. Your ministry metric becomes spiritual momentum in most cases. This is the 401k phase of church planting—long-term investment over short-term market gains. When and where you can, take the time to call out the relational wins, such as “We met these needs in our community,” or “I had a great God-conversation.” From your earliest days, build a culture of celebrating Christ-like attitudes and behaviors, not just metrics and results, which leads to a second idea.
2. Go Slow, Plow Deep, Think Big
One of Lifepoint’s early church planting wins was a “chance” meeting I received with a guy named Bill Wellons. Bill was the founder of a church-planting residency at Fellowship Associates in Arkansas (the only long-term, planter training residency that I knew of in the U.S. at the time). While I could not do the year-long intensive, I drove to Little Rock, where Bill graciously downloaded the highlights of their residency training into me in one day! (I still have those notes.)
I had church-planter delusions of a 100-person core team and 400-person launch day. Some have this; we did not. A couple of months into our plant and fairly discouraged, I remembered Bill’s wise counsel, “Go slow, plow deep, and think big.” Instead of making a huge splash, we had to think about small drops in the bucket with greater ripple effects. So, we shifted our strategy. Our first 100 members—which took us almost two years—had all had dinner in our home. Looking back, I don’t know how we did it with young kids a bad charcoal grill. But I don’t know how we would have made it without doing it.
There’s an old, old planter axiom that says something like, “The people who start with you won’t be the same people who are with you in three years.” While some people may move on, that doesn’t have to be the case. Many of those first 100 people are still with us 20 years later and have helped our church plant and multiply. Most people won’t buy into your vision presentation before they buy into you. Relational equity and trust are built slowly, one poorly grilled burger at a time.
3. Kick the Can, not the Bucket
Thirty-ish years ago, the leadership genre landed on Christian bookstore shelves. Church leaders owe a debt of gratitude to those thinkers. One thread that emerged—probably more caught than taught—is that the best visionary leaders take decisive action. While history is littered with moments of incredible, pivotal decisions, I would counter that those mega-decisions do not happen every day. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that you will never know less about church planting than you do right now. So, if you don’t have to make a decision, kick that can down the road.
The alternative in my mind is making decisions that many times you cannot “un-make.” I watch a lot of planters make choices (and I made a lot of the same) that they would not have made one month later. While planters aren’t perfect, hitting too many unnecessary potholes can erode the trust of your team. Instead of kicking the bucket, kick the decision can down the road to a time when you will have the maximum amount of data and experience. There will be plenty of moments to take decisive action, moments where you and your core team will look back at that specific crossroads. In those moments, you must act. But most of the time in your pre-launch phase, it’s better to think about how a decision will affect your core team currently, instead of trying to make every moment legendary.
Magic in the Meaning
Let’s land where we began. Planting a church is a lot like having a baby. No one tells you how hard it will be because you would never do it. You will sacrifice more happiness than you can ever imagine for that child. However, something magical happens the first time that small bundle of joy smiles at you. And when that infant says your name the first time, you become family.
So, happiness decreases with sleepless nights, but meaning increases along the hockey-stick curve. Church planting will most likely cost way more than you think. It’s fair to say that happiness may decrease for some time. However, if you become family with your core team along the way and nurture those relationships, meaning will skyrocket as you see God’s kingdom advance and grow.
Published July 17, 2023