9. Expect Support from Unlikely Partners
Many church planters expect to get funding from mega churches, big time individual givers and large missions funding organizations (i.e. NAMB), and that may very well happen. But most of our support came from unlikely places, such as young pastors, individuals being sacrificial with their money, and smaller churches that have a church planting passion. So don’t be afraid to look for support from all kinds of different places, and don’t despair if it doesn’t come from the sources you first expected to help you. Ask for support, make your needs known and trust God to provide.
10. Lead from the Pulpit
In addition to preaching the Word faithfully week by week, we have also found that the best place to cast the vision for the church is from the pulpit/stage. The best way to do this is by practicing “the drip method of preaching.” That is, each week, through your application of the text, say something about the mission/vision of the church. A lot of pastors have one Sunday a year to try to lead from the pulpit, but we don’t think this is the best approach. Instead, as you seek to apply the text, consider applying it to: believers, unbelievers, and the church as a whole. Let them hear the vision regularly rather than annually.
Side Note: One of the practical reasons that we take the Lord’s Supper every week (in addition to believing it’s the biblical pattern) is that it emphasizes what we think is most important: the gospel. We want our gospel-centered emphasis to permeate the entire worship service. So we want to preach to the ear (biblical exposition) as well as the eye (Lord’s Supper), and cast a gospel centered vision for the church from the stage.
11. Be Sensitive to the Un-churched
Guests appreciate clear directions, good signage, hospitality and well-explained aspects of corporate worship. It is possible that many have never been to corporate worship and it might seem completely foreign to them. For others, it may have been years since they attended corporate worship and many will be skeptical and anxious when they come to your door. We try to remember this as we prepare for each Sunday.
Further, we also try to intentionally address the un-churched person in the sermon, by giving running application, and also by having a few “asides” where we address them more directly. This is to make things clear to them, but also to encourage our people to bring their lost friends with them, knowing that the pastor will speak to them.
12. Don’t Be Surprised if People Leave
There are a lot of horror stories about core teams and church plants generally. Many books say that you will lose a significant portion of your charter members. We have been blessed by losing very few of core team members (two are moving away from Raleigh for valid reasons). The core team is the backbone of the church. They serve in a variety of ways (we believe some of this has to do to with the intense assessment process and with setting clear expectations) and can be trusted to help the elders build community, disciple others, and communicate the vision and mission of the church.
However, as you launch, don’t be surprised and don’t despair if some leave. This may be due to a variety of reasons. Some that leave will be those that loved (idolized?) one part of your vision but didn’t necessarily buy into the whole thing (i.e. they may really buy into some of your justice ministries but not really like covenant membership or small groups). Others may expect to be in a leadership position, but leave when you didn’t give it to them when and how they desired. And some will leave for other reasons.
We would appeal to those planting not to be numbers hungry (or idolatrous). Don’t be fearful that you might lose people or that you have to gain them to be self-sustaining. Instead, fight for their growth in Christ and be their shepherd(s) even when that might mean having direct conversations with them that cause them to leave. And stay faithful to the gospel and your vision. Remember lesson 1: it’s all about Jesus.
Side Note: We have also learned the value of having face-to-face and direct conversations as we sought to plant and see this church grow. It can cause some awkwardness, but in the end it is the biblical pattern, it will never leave people wondering, and it will help to cut down on gossip and division.
13. Be Prepared, Work Hard & Rest in Christ
We believe that preparation and hard work are absolutely essential in a church plant. While some planters are work-horses who need to learn how to take a nap, others are not prepared for the hard work it requires. Planting is not glorious work; it’s more like farming.
So don’t take your cue from college basketball and be a “one and done” church planter. A lot of guys want to get through seminary quickly, and become a pastor and plant a church as soon as they graduate. Just because you graduated seminary (or didn’t graduate) doesn’t mean you’re ready to plant a church.
You must prepare in every way, and your calling to be a church planter should be affirmed by your local (sending) church.
While you prepare, get your ecclesiology straight. Know what you believe about church polity. Prepare to set a vision for small groups, child care, and global missions. Have a theology of suffering, divorce, and gender roles. Have a theology and philosophy of corporate worship. Know how to financially survive. Work at your preaching skills.
Then, we would encourage you to be part of a church that can give you good field preparation. We would encourage guys to serve under pastors that can train and prepare you for a year or two before sending you out to plant.
Finally, embrace the privilege of working hard to plant a church, proclaiming the gospel and making Jesus known. Expect hardship, but persevere by the grace that is in Jesus. Pray with childlike faith, trusting the Lord to provide for you. Mediate on the gospel daily, finding in Christ your identity, joy and rest.
The article was written by Tony Merida, Nate Akin, and Matt Sigmon from Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Part 1 can be viewed here.
5. Plant the Church You’ve Always Wanted to Go to
This is the sagely advice of Larry Osborne. It might sound self-serving, but it’s not intended to be. Larry says, and we agree, that the church you are most gifted to lead is the church that you would want to be a member of. A lot of guys seek to plant someone else’s church, or the church that they think will reach a lot of people (and those things are important and we should learn from others), but the church that you will lead best is the one that you would want to go to. This church is the one that you will be able to lead authentically and intuitively because it will be an extension of your theology, philosophy, personality, passions and gifts.
As you begin your church plant, set it up the way you want to do it. But note this big qualification: This assumes that you are following the Bible on the foundational matters first. What we’re referring to here are the various methods and ways of doing particular ministries in the church. For example, if you want to take the Lord’s Supper every week (and we think you should!) begin doing that immediately. If you want to recite the Apostle’s Creed, then do it immediately. If you want to have home-based small groups instead of Sunday school, then do it. While there are many hardships in church planting, remember that you do have this blessing: you have no tradition. So go for it! Further, remember that church planting is tough, but one way to make it a joy is to plant the church you’ve always wanted to go to. And this is the church that you will stay it for the long haul because it’s an extension of you and the other elders.
Side Note: In addition, if you hope to be a multiplying church, then plant a church where everything you do can be easily reproducible, whether that is in NYC or Tokyo. The church that we want to go to is a reproducible church.
6. Don’t Give Leadership Away to Quickly
One of the potential pitfalls will be to give leadership (or even a spot on the core team) away too early. We often think if anyone has a pulse, loves Jesus and wants to serve in a church plant, then they should be given leadership (usually driven by a strong desire to keep numbers up or to not have to do everything yourself). We avoided this pitfall because of others warning us of it, but we have also witnessed others that weren’t so fortunate. We would rather risk having less people do more, or even having small groups that are too big before forming smaller groups led by the wrong leaders. This pitfall has the potential to divide and destroy a church, its vision, and its mission. It is best to be patient and look for men as future leaders who are faithful, available, and teachable. These will be the type of guys who have humbly served in the church in various ways already, and are respected by the church for the character and diligence.
7. Start Small Groups Early and Invest in Small Group Leaders
It was our desire from the beginning to teach our people the importance of community and multiplication. We have also tried to demolish the idea that the church is a building or a weekly event. Thus, investing in our future small group leaders was more important to us than our launch service.
If you start small groups early, you will build community and promote the importance of multiplication. The key to multiplication is intentionally investing in and equipping small group leaders. It will be the best avenue for the elders to replicate themselves (2 Tim 2:2), and it will allow for you to have more men you can trust to help you shepherd your people.
It is vital that the elders spend time with their small group leaders because these are the main leaders that will interact with the flock on a daily basis. Many have said this is a major strength of IDC. We intentionally spend significant time every week with our small group leaders. There are some churches where small group leaders never interact with the leadership of the church and this can be detrimental in carrying out your vision and mission.
8. Teach Your People to Be Missionaries
The mission of the church is to glorify God by making disciples of all nations. So the reason you plant a church is to do that. Therefore it is essential from the beginning to build in a culture of missionary activity (teaching your people to be missionaries to the city in which they live). We have gone about this several ways.
One way we encourage our people to live as missionaries is to practice gospel-centered hospitality. We encourage our people to love and serve their neighbors by having meals with them, like Jesus did. Most people say that they can’t do outreach because they’re too busy, but surely they have to eat every day! And surely they can eat a few meals a week with our neighbors. Missionaries in other parts of the world use this method, and we can use it as well. Mission doesn’t always have to look “extraordinary.” It can look like a barbeque!
We also make it a point to say in front of the entire congregation when we covenant with new members that we are commissioning them to missionaries to the city of Raleigh. We keep reminding the covenant members of this reality ever week that we welcome new members.
The article was written by Tony Merida, Nate Akin, and Matt Sigmon from Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Thirteen Lessons from Year One of Imago Dei Church
We launched our first public worship service on September 11, 2011. Since that time, we’ve learned many important lessons. We want to share them with you in hopes that they may help future planters. Of course, we don’t have everything figured out. We aren’t experts. We often say, “We’re building the plane while we’re trying to fly it.” But we think these thirteen lessons may help you as you seek to plant a healthy church.
1. Remember It’s All About Jesus
The ultimate goal of church planting is the same goal for all of life; namely, to glorify Christ. Our ultimate aim is not to glorify ourselves or to please others. This is probably an understood principle, but we can soon abandon theology for shallow pragmatism once we get on the field.
If your aim is the glory of Christ, then it should keep you from two major problems, the one extreme of pride, and the other extreme of despair. We drift to pride when the numbers are good, and people say great things about our church; and we drift into despair when things are not going well (from a human perspective). We must keep the glory of Christ as our chief aim to stay out of both of these ditches.
If glorifying Jesus is the main goal, then we will judge success differently. “Success” to Jesus might look like failure to others (e.g., the prophets). Planting a church is not the business world, so bottom lines like budget and attendance numbers should not be our idols. They are important, but not ultimate. These idols can cause us to sacrifice convictions. Remember that if you don’t please Jesus, then it doesn’t matter who you please.
2. Plant with a Team of Pastors
Planting with a group of qualified elders/pastors was so important to us. We believe that plurality of elders is biblical (e.g., Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2-6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; Acts 21:18; Titus 1:5-ff.; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19; 1 Pet 5:1, 5; James 5:14) and we also believe it is incredibly practical and wise. The demands of church planting are intense.
Planting with a team of pastors/elders has many benefits, including the following:
(1) It protects you from mistakes you could make as the lone pastor.
(2) It helps make up for your deficiencies as a pastor. Each pastor is gifted differently and able to contribute in a variety of ways. Some are prophets, others kings, and others priests.
(3) It makes your job more enjoyable. Ministry is hard and often lonely. Church planting is like a team sport, it’s most enjoyable when played with others.
(4) It guards against sacrificing your family (You will be able to share responsibilities with other pastors giving you time to be with family. “If you lose your family, you’ve lost.” [Larry Osborne])
(5) It provides accountability and encouragement. Many planters quit because they have no support system. Many quit because they fall into great sin. Plurality helps prevent these things.
(6) It allows you to divide the shepherding responsibilities (including praying for congregational needs).
(7) It ensures doctrinal integrity. Elders can discuss sermon prep together. One elder can’t just say whatever he wants without having to deal with the evaluation of the other elders.
(8) It should reinforce the idea that Jesus is the Head of the Church, not a single pastor.
(9) It guards against the “celebrity pastor” movement that permeates the Christian sub-culture. The church is not built around one rock star pastor, but a plurality of servant leaders, who meet the biblical qualifications of elder/pastor.
(10) It allows for a team-teaching model to flourish. While there may be one primary preacher among the elders, we think it is wise for people to see the other elders preach – and that they preach when the primary preacher is in town. This will keep the church from feeling like the other guys are “substitutes.” During the weeks when the non-primary preacher is preaching, the primary preacher can do other forms of leadership and ministry, and also be re-charged personally.
(11) A plurality of elders is the best way to prepare for the departure of a(n) elder/pastor. We will not use a “pastor search committee” to replace a pastor. We will simply identify other elders. We will not have an interim preacher, since all of our elders can preach (It’s a requirement for a pastor – 1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9). They will just step in and preach.
What Makes a Good Team?
We often say that there are four essentials for developing a healthy leadership/elder team:
(1) Theological Unity, (2) Philosophical Unity (agreement on how to “do church”); (3) Relational Harmony (you like spending time together); and (4) Competency (each guy actually gets things done).
Side Note: This will probably necessitate that some, if not all, of your leadership team pursue bi-vocational ministry, at least in the beginning. This provides many benefits such as establishing relationships in the community and alleviating some of the financial pressures in the early stages of a plant. In our opinion, the typical “parachute” plant with one full-time pastor leading and relying on 2-3 years of financial support is not the most sustainable and reliable method of church planting. We would prefer to send out three elders, and have all of them get jobs (at least part-time), and then divide the one salary in three parts to supplement their tent-making job. In the future, as finances increase, one or more of the elders could become full-time and receive all their income through the church. This allows not only for financial stability, and shared responsibilities, but also a natural place to do evangelism and outreach.
3. Invest in the Core Team
Church planting is not only benefited by a plurality of leaders from the beginning, but it’s also a good idea to have a core team of people who will help you plant the church and serve as the backbone of the church body. In our beginnings, we invested in this core team by a weekly in-home meeting, in which we shared a meal together, and taught our theology, philosophy of ministry, vision, values, and our ecclesiological “DNA.” It is essential that you form strong relationships with these people. We did this through regular fellowship, taking trips together, and many other avenues. We believe that developing this group is priority one as it will help you build community from the beginning and set expectations for multiplication.
4. Set Clear Expectations for Potential Members (initially the Core Team)
We believe that the church is called to display the glory of God. That is why we highly recommend Covenant Membership. This involves setting clear expectations of what it looks like to join our church. We also believe that if you set the bar high early that Christians rise to the occasion. It is a shame that there is usually more expected of a frat member than a church member. Being a part of a church family should mean something, so we set clear expectations of what we think the Bible says that is to be.
We do this by:
(1) Requiring that potential members attend our membership class (includes: vision/mission/process, doctrine, our Church Covenant, and the PEACE Plan);
(2) Interviewing all potential members through an assessment process; and
(3) Requiring prospective members commit to our Church Covenant, including signing and bringing it before the church when they are commissioned as members.
We have had a few people who didn’t want to join because of these requirements, but the majority of people have commented how much they actually love this process and appreciate that membership means something at Imago Dei and is much more than just their name on a list. As elders, we know that we will give an account for the people we shepherd (Heb. 13:17). This means that we must identify who these people are! We know our members by name, and know their story. We can also hold them accountable on matters including (but not limited to) attendance and giving. Further, through covenant membership, we have the ability to exercise church discipline with integrity.
Side Note: We also require membership for a person to serve at IDC. This includes childcare, set up, greeting, small group leadership, playing in the band, etc. We believe it is a necessity to make sure that the only people leading should be covenant members who are accountable to the leaders and the church. There is a tendency, for example, to put gifted people on stage to lead musical worship, regardless of if they are members. This can be detrimental if you’re seeking to have a high view of covenant membership. There needs to be clear lines as to who is in the covenant family and who is not – in hopes that those who are not in, will join!
Switch to our mobile site