Best Practices for Core Team Members

By Ed Stetzer

Your core team is the heartbeat of your new church. So, how do you get your people moving in the same direction for the same mission? Here are 7 incredible ways to get off on the right foot as you set the tone of who your church is becoming.

To Unify Your Core Team

Once you have a core team in place, you can then work to build your church planting philosophy around the giftings and connections of those people. Here are seven best practices for solidifying your core team, especially in the early stages of development when you have a group made up of different people at different stages of maturity.

1. Build the core from the core

First, ask your core team to find other core team members. With the addition of each core team member, you have more people who can consider their relational network and invite others into the work. They can share the gospel and see people come to faith and be connected to the church. They can consider friends who have given up on the church but who might come back to a new church plant. And they can find other maturing Christian disciple-makers who can join in the work as well.

For example, in one of our church plants, a lady named Pam used her relational connections to lead six people from four families to our church. Pam was someone God used to build our church, and the primary basis of the connection was simply the relationship of trust Pam had established with so many people from the community.

2. Allow people to be temporary

Core team members can be temporary. I sometimes call these SWAT team members—special, willing, and temporary. People often think they are signing up for life when they commit to a church plant. We need to give them an offramp that acknowledges the significant role they play while embracing the fact that they may not be with the plant indefinitely. After a few years, they might come to us and say, “Well, you know that wasn’t quite what I had in mind,” or “I sense that God might be leading us to start again with a new church plant.”

Planters should not fear this type of transition and should prepare the church so that some of those foundational members whom God uses early in the life of the church will move on to bless other churches. They might be part of the first phase, helping lift the church plant even if they are not part of it long term. And thank God for them. Give them a place and the space to transition out, if that’s God’s calling in their lives.

As Clint Clifton writes in Church Planting Thresholds, “Often, church members want to help with a new church planting effort, but they cannot bear the idea of leaving indefinitely the familiarity of the church they love. Offering commitment terms of six, twelve, or eighteen months allows members to serve wholeheartedly on the new church planting team without worrying that they will disappoint someone when they return to their home church.” This provides a seamless offramp for those who want to be part of the planting core team but need to redirect sometime later.

3. Disciple your core team

Not only should you screen church planting team members coming in, but you need to commit to the work of discipleship and relational development, especially in the early years. These people can’t merely become cogs in a machine, nor should the planter assume these people have the maturity to handle the challenges of planting. The planter should foster church health by actively discipling members of the core group. Depending on the size of the group, this effort may need to be dispersed among other team members, but it’s vital that someone is meeting with everyone on a regular basis.

Not only does this help address any relational challenges that might develop or head off any character issues that might hinder the work, but it also sets the stage for a culture of disciple-making to develop within the church, rather than assuming that all those committed to the mission are invested in taking spiritual care of others. It’s also a reality that you can never stop beating the drum for reaching people, so ongoing discipleship will include continually pointing those in the core group toward the mission. Our natural pull is always inward, so keep the core team looking to the fields.

4. Use the core team to disciple the next core team members

Create a culture of multiplying disciples. A natural way for this to happen is by assigning existing team members to the care of new team members. As new people are added, they are immediately placed with an existing core team member who will ensure that they understand the church’s mission, their gifts, and how to use those gifts to foster the worship of God and the forward movement of the mission. It’s wise for planters to think about a scalable process for such discipleship. Most core team members do not have the gifts or time to come up with a playbook on their own, so a planter can serve the team by giving them tools they can use to help others.

Be careful to not make this process too complex, or it will continually rise or fall on the work of the planter. You want to design a process that enables all those who are committed to the core team to walk someone else through how to partner in the mission of Jesus and the work of His church. This process is not a small matter; it can serve as the foundation for the way the church continues to fulfill its mission in the coming years, creating the culture or DNA you desire for the church. Early on, however, the church planter should expect to carry much of the weight of this discipleship until a culture of disciple-making has developed.

5. Focus the core team on shared mission

Encourage the core team to embed themselves in a place to live out their missionary calling. The beauty of a core team is that you have different people with different gifts, jobs, and homes all living out the same mission together. You want to protect your team against an internally focused, collective mentality and instead encourage your people to scatter on this shared mission. Celebrate the way God positions His people in various domains of society—from government to business to education—so they can declare and demonstrate the power of the gospel at work in each of your lives. Help people understand how their gifts are instrumental in the work God is doing to build His church.

Press them to think about how their age and their family’s life stage might provide ample connections for missionary work. In the best scenario, attempt to focus these efforts on the part of the city you’ve identified as the epicenter for your church planting work. Then, as you come together in weekly worship and discipleship, you can celebrate the ways you are all, as a team, investing in the work of church planting.

6. Pray external prayers

We are arguing for a core team that is made up of different people from different backgrounds. The Spirit of God is the “super glue” for these relationships, and the shared mission is the basis for their ongoing development. Spending time in active prayers is the best means to embrace the work God is doing among you to solidify these relationships. This needs to be more than merely encouraging the church’s members to pray individually about matters of shared interest; you also should work to encourage collective, corporate prayer.

Something unique happens when God’s people pray together. They grow to love one another as they hear shared concerns. They are emboldened to be about the work of the mission as they hear brothers and sisters ask God to save those they love and are reminded of the beauty of God’s church as they look around the room and see those who have no other basis for relationship, spending time together, seeking God’s guidance and direction.

As your core team prays, make sure to encourage external prayers for the lost, for God’s work in His church, and for the various discipleship needs present among the body. This is another way of calling the core team to live in this shared mission.

7. Begin to model church practices

Good and proper questions should be asked about various aspects of when and how a church should begin holding Sunday services, when it should receive members, and various other complexities in the rhythms of a healthy church. We can set that aside for now and simply say that this core team can—and should—begin to do church-like things from the outset, even before they officially constitute a church. Among those, they should spend time learning from God’s Word under the instruction of a church leader or pastor. They should pray together and sing songs of praise before God. They should give of their resources to invest in caring for one another and bearing the burdens of those who are hurting.

The list could continue, but these basic church practices build the scaffolding around which you can build more—and better—habits of church life together once the church has formally united. You’ll likely have greater flexibility in the core team stage, so use this as a season to develop the practices you hope become common and habitual.

To Shape Your New Church

Core team formation is some of the most important work a planter can do. So, don’t truncate this process. Don’t rush through it. And don’t do it haphazardly. The end result would be that you’d end up with a core team of people who don’t share the values you hope to instill within the DNA of your new church.

As you move forward in your church plant, this group will, more than any other, shape the mission and personality of the church. So, prayerfully trust God and wisely labor to build a core team that’s on mission together to see God form His church through their work.

Published May 22, 2024

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.  He is the incoming Dean of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Mariners Church, as a Scholar in Residence and Teaching Pastor.