Build in the Beginning What You Want in the End

By Gabe Martin

These three biblical intangibles will stand the test of time – and allow your church to do the same.

In the planning phase of church planting, you do a lot of daydreaming about the future. As you’re working to obtain folding chairs for your launch, you’re envisioning the luxurious cushioned seats you’ll one day have. As you’re strategizing how to best utilize your budget karaoke machine, you may be imagining the concert-quality sound system that is surely just a few years down the road.

While the chairs may get upgraded and the sound may improve, you will want certain elements of your church to be present on Day 1 and still present in Year 20. These are intangible components of your church that are informed by the Bible, rather than by budget or culture. They also have far more value for your church in Jesus’ eyes, so it would be wise to give them careful attention.

If your goal is to plant a biblical church that pleases Jesus, instead of being discouraged by meager physical resources, be encouraged that the most important elements of your church are intangibles that a church of any budget or age can possess. They will require much prayer, Bible study, consideration and collaboration but, when implemented, will allow you to build in the beginning what you want in the end.

Allow me to share three intangible elements that are vitally important to a church from its inception throughout its life.

1. Identity

Throughout the history of the church, different definitions of “church” have been proposed. I don’t intend to argue here for one definition over another, but one biblical certainty is that a church is not created around personal preferences or shared affinities. Time and time again in the New Testament, churches are reminded that the core of who they are is found in Christ. We read descriptions of the church as the body of Christ, baptized in Christ, clothed in Christ, raised with Christ and many more. In other words, a church finds its identity in Christ.

This intangible element sometimes is overlooked by planters who believe that once you have a church, the identity will naturally be assumed. In fact, the opposite is true: Once you have the identity, then you can be sure you have a church. The identity must be built upon shared faith in the resurrected Christ. If this identity is not present, you are not a church. If this identity is confused, you are not a healthy church.

Regardless of your budget, size or age, this intangible element must be confirmed and communicated from the day you call yourself a church until the day Jesus calls you home.

2. Mission

I served on a helicopter crew in the Navy and, before every mission, everyone involved participated in a “mission brief” to make sure we all knew our common objective and roles. For the team to be successful, we had no room for confusion about the mission.

As a church, you won’t be carrying out multiple missions, but every time your church gathers or disperses, you will be carrying out one big mission. For your church to be successful, it’s critical for all involved to understand what her mission is. Before your church can understand, however, you must understand.

Have you taken the time to thoroughly consider what your church’s mission is? Have you considered how you will communicate that mission and ensure everyone knows what the objective is? Although it is intangible, getting the mission right matters far more than finances or facilities. For your church to be pleasing to Jesus, she must be carrying out the same mission He has given to every church since His resurrection. As leader of the church plant, your job is to pore through the pages of Scripture to understand this mission and then articulate it to your church in a way that keeps everyone working toward Christ’s goal.

Christ’s mission has not changed since He called His apostles and won’t change until He returns. Therefore, launching with a mission statement that accurately expresses Christ’s mission ensures she will have the same mission when you launch as when you hand her off to the next generation.

3. Culture

Playing sports throughout the years, I’ve been a part of some teams that, although the stated goal was to win games, you’d never know that from the conversations or effort put forth. I’ve also been part of teams where every person was committed to winning and it showed in everything we did. In other words, those teams had a culture of winning.

Good or bad, culture is an intangible element of every church. It’s present in the attitudes, the conversations and often is felt more than spoken. As you prepare to plant, it is imperative that you establish a culture that embodies the identity and the mission of the church. Beginning with your core team, you should strive to set a culture in which living as the body of Christ, carrying out the mission of Christ, is expected of every member – and anyone not living this way wants to. This kind of culture won’t appear on its own and it can’t be forced. It must be modeled, taught and encouraged and will require godly leadership, creativity and persistence.

With all my heart, I encourage you to not neglect proactively establishing this extremely valuable, intangible element of your church. Launch with it and finish with it.

It’s easy for a church planter to start believing that what ultimately sets you up for success are logistics, finances and other resources. We must remember, however, that all these things can wear out, get lost or become irrelevant. The biblical intangibles, however, will stand the test of time and allow your church to do the same.

Published July 25, 2022

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Gabe Martin

Gabe Martin and his wife, Misty, have been married since 2006 and have two children, Ross and Lily. Gabe proudly served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years. While in the Navy, Gabe began his seminary training and also served in a variety of ministries, including mission work, leading community servant-evangelism teams, serving on the worship team, teaching Pre-K Bible lessons and various preaching roles. After leaving the military to pursue full-time ministry, he attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his master of divinity degree. Before coming to San Diego to plant Pillar Church, Gabe served as a pastor in East Texas.