5 Things I’d Tell Myself as a New Church Planter 

By Chris Dowd

I am still learning a lot every day in my church-planting journey. I have gleaned a lot of wisdom from great leaders, church planters and friends who have poured into me. Here are five things I would tell myself as a new church planter.

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” indicates the ability to look back and see things more clearly than you did at the time. It does not mean, however, that you see things perfectly now! I am still learning a lot every day in this church-planting journey. I have gleaned a lot of wisdom from great leaders, church planters and friends who have poured into me.

God has graciously allowed me to be part of a church planting team in the town of Bedford, Virginia. Bedrock Community Church has been loving and serving that community since 2008 – and planting other churches that are now planting churches. It is both the most challenging and most rewarding effort I have ever put my hands on.

Currently, God is allowing me to continue to lead at Bedrock while also serving as the director for church planting at Liberty University. Helping train the next generation of church planters here at Liberty has continually raised the question, “What are five things that I would tell myself as a new church planter?”

While many concepts flood my mind, if I had to prioritize, my top five would involve maintaining a healthy perspective on:

1. Mission
If God has called you to plant a church, then God is not calling you to start a worship service. God is not calling you to start a para-church organization. God is calling you to plant the gospel in a community and see a church develop and grow. It is important for you to clarify your personal calling but also to clarify your biblical understanding of who the church is. You need to clarify the goal. Develop your essential ecclesiology early. Focus first on who you are rather than what you do. As Mike Breen says, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”[1]

  • Avoid this: “I will start a church instead of planting the gospel.”
  • Ask this: “Who is the church, and how does a local church develop and grow?”
  • Read this: Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen

2. Methods
The three most important things for you to remember are: context, context and context. You will have to plow before you plant. Spend time in the community and in the marketplace, prioritizing ethnographic data over demographic data. Get your hands in the soil and break up fallow ground. Make sure to focus on the gospel over gimmicks. Focus on the mission over the model. Remember that the message never changes but our methods must in order to reach a specific context. Be ready to adjust your game plan along the way. The way Paul shared the gospel in Acts 17 at the Areopagus is different than in Acts 25 with Agrippa. We certainly are in more of an Areopagus culture today and would do well to learn from Paul and his missionary methodology.

  • Avoid this: “I will pick a model and stick to it no matter what the context says or how it changes.”
  • Ask this: “What is my context, and how can we love it well?”
  • Read this: The book of Acts. The Bible is the best church planting manual.

3. Metrics
Learn to measure what you value instead of valuing what you can measure. What is the goal? How will we get there? How will we determine if we are still on the road toward the goal? Develop solid core values for the church that undergird the mission and develop a rubric to evaluate where our people are in those areas. For example, if you value relationships and community, then how will you measure if people are growing relationally? This is not to say ignore numerical growth and only measure spiritual formation – both are important because both help us evaluate health. Healthy things grow. But there is a reason why Kent Hughes and his wife wrote the book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome and why 35 years later it is still a favorite for leaders.

  • Avoid this: “I will judge my failures or success based on wrong metrics.”
  • Ask this: “What is important, and how do I measure that?”
  • Read this: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes

4. Multiplication
Disciples make disciples who plant churches that plant churches. Work on moving the endpoint of the mission. We are called to make disciples, which inherently requires equipping those disciples to make more disciples. The multiplication of disciples should necessitate the multiplication of churches for believers to be taught and observe all that Christ has commanded us. Healthy things grow, and growing things multiply. Think “Kingdom over Castle.” Start thinking about your next church plant as you come out of the gate. What if we thought more about planting another church in our first year than we did about buying our first building? I agree with J.D. Greear who said, “We must cease measuring success by ‘seating capacity’ and view ministry success as ‘sending capacity.’”[2]

  • Avoid this: “I will stay in survival mode and turn inward once I start to gather people.”
  • Ask this: “What is healthy movement and how do I multiply it?”
  • Read this: Sending Capacity, not Seating Capacity by J.D. Greear

5. Marathon
I want you to serve in a way that doesn’t lead to burnout. Pay close attention to your rhythms and your pace. Prayer is more important than you think. Sabbath is more important than you think. Team is more important than you think. Don’t fall prey to the Moses syndrome and fail to delegate responsibility and authority. Community is more important than you think. You, the leader, need all the “one anothers” in the New Testament just as much as your congregants need them. Your family is more important than the church might think – and I have yet to meet an older pastor who regretted spending too much time with his family. Your character is more important than you think. The enemy attacks when you are tired. In fact, the list in this section alone could have been the “5 things that I would tell myself.” We all would echo what Paul said to the church in Corinth, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). Don’t forget to fill the tank back up again.

  • Avoid this: “I will empty myself daily and have nothing left in the tank.”
  • Ask this: “What are healthy rhythms, and how do I keep them?”
  • Read this: Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp

If hindsight is 20/20, then what is foresight? It is always easier to look back and analyze situations and decisions from the past than it is to evaluate the present moment. I have heard it said that foresight should be 50/50. I’m not sure if that means we should be looking 50 feet in front of us or if it means that we have about a 50/50 chance of getting it right the first time!

Either way, I know this: We will need the abundant grace of our loving Father, the model of our Savior Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we look to plant the gospel in new communities.


[1] Mike Breen, Building a Discipleship Culture, 3rd Edition (Pawleys Island, SC: 3dm International, 2016), 5.

[2] J.D. Greear, Plumb Line #2: We Judge Our Success by Sending Capacity, Not Seating Capacity, October 5, 2016, https://jdgreear.com/we-judge-our-success-by-sending-capacity-not-seating-capacity/

Published June 8, 2022

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Chris Dowd

Chris Dowd serves as the director of church planting at Liberty University and teaches both residentially and online. He is currently a leading elder at Bedrock Community Church in Bedford, Virginia, where he leads the teaching team and their network of church plants. Serving in state convention leadership since 2010, he has held various roles within the SBCV and most recently as director of church planter development. His research and writing interests include church planting, church ministry and theology, which fuels his passion for the local church. Since 1994, he has served in local church ministry as a communicator, a course charter and a coach.