3 Ways to Help Your Core Team Thrive

By Dean Fulks

First-time planters and first-time parents share so much of the same experience. Here are three key lessons to learn as you seek to nurture and care for your new core team.

For Planters and Parents Alike

A couple of years into our marriage, my wife had begun to feel nauseous for a few mornings in a row. She looked at me and said, “I can’t be pregnant, right?” Well, 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 all things surrounding the 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 those weekly meetings become what’s typically called your launch or core team. This newborn planting team requires just as much care as a newborn human would. I have learned a few things along the way—though, most times, the hard way—as we have prepared core teams to plant from Lifepoint Church.

So, here are three ways you can help your core team thrive.

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, though; after all, someone was doing the math for the book of Acts. Most planters swim in the apostolic gene pool, which means we like to see results. I attended a leadership cohort last year, where each of the 30 leaders completed a leadership assessment prior to attending. North of 80% of the leaders in that room were wired for results with apostolic gifting.

For most planters, progressing in the mission trumps celebrating about the mission, especially pre-launch period. You’re celebrating the relational equity being slowly built within 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 those relational wins, like “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, and 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 the church planting residency at Fellowship Associates in (It was 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. Though some planting teams have this, we certainly did not. A couple of months into our plant while feeling 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 to grow—had all eaten dinner in our home, and we had worn our charcoal grill out. Looking back, I don’t know how we did it. I also don’t know how we would have made it without doing adopting this sound advice.

There’s an old, old planter axiom that says something like, “The people who start with you won’t be the same ones with you three years from now.” 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 not only plant but also multiply. Most people won’t buy into your vision presentation until they have bought 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 wave landed on Christian bookstore shelves. Church leaders owe a debt of gratitude to those pioneers. One thread that emerged, probably more caught than taught, was 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 and developing your core team than you do right now. So, if you don’t have to make a decision yet, 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—many of which, I have also made—that they would not have chosen a month later. While planters aren’t perfect, hitting too many unnecessary potholes can erode the trust of your team. Instead of kicking the bucket altogether, kick the decision can down the road to a time when you will have the maximum amount of data and experience. You will have plenty of moments to take decisive action, moments you and your core team can look back on. In those moments, you MUST act.

In those moments, you must act; however, most of the time in your pre-launch phase, it’s better to think about how a decision will affect your core team currently, rather than 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 ever tells you how hard it is because then you would never do it. You will sacrifice more happiness than you could ever imagine for that child, but something magical happens the first time that small bundle of joy smiles at you. When that infant says your name for the first time, you become family. Yes, 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 will. It’s fair to even say that happiness may go down for a while. However, if you become family with your core team and seek to nurture those relationships along the way, the meaning you experience skyrockets as you see God’s Kingdom continue to advance and grow.

Published July 17, 2023

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Dean Fulks

Dean Fulks has been the lead pastor at Lifepoint since its beginning in 2004. He is the coordinator for SEND Columbus, an initiative to plant churches throughout Columbus, Ohio. Dean is married to Angie and they have three children — Sydney, Dillon, and Sylvia. He has a Master’s of Divinity from Mid-America Theological Seminary (Memphis, TN) with a minor in Memphis barbecue.