The Difference Between a Church Launch and a Church in Orbit

Orbiting works for a while but never takes us anywhere new. What does your church need to do today in order to get back into church launch phase?

church launch

If you’ve ever watched a satellite launch, you know that it’s an enormous production. A ton of preparation goes into the event, potentially millions of eyes are watching, and there is a tremendous risk being taken that results in the payoff of having a shuttle in orbit. And when you see the rocket on the launching pad, you realize that most of the stuff that starts up into the atmosphere is fuel. As it nears its orbit, the nearly empty fuel tanks fall away. Once in orbit it coasts with little effort. The same is true for a church launch.

Launching requires huge teams of people making sure that everything is precisely calculated. It requires huge amounts of rocket fuel to propel it upward at very high rates of speed. And every split-second of launching is filled with great risk. A single mistake can be quite costly.

Orbiting is literally when something falls toward the earth and misses repeatedly, creating an arc that resembles an object in flight, but the truth is, it’s much more like floating than flying. Or as Buzz Lightyear might put it, orbiting is basically “falling with style.”

When were in the church launch phase of Grace Hills Church, we carefully planned every single detail the best we can and leaving the results in the hands of the Holy Spirit. We were taking risks. We were consuming a lot of fuel (funds, that is) and requiring a lot of people to be intensely concentrating on various aspects of ministry to make sure we launch well.

I’m not afraid of failing in a church launch. I’m not worried that people won’t come or that ministry will cost more money than we have. What keeps me more concerned is our human tendency to prefer orbit over launch. We like to fall, to coast, to see things happen effortlessly. And when we make the transition, in church leadership, from launching to orbiting, we begin to quickly lose momentum and we are at the mercy of the forces outside ourselves to keep us going.

Does that mean we should just stay in church launch phase forever? Yes and no. We have quit advertising as a “brand new church in Northwest Arkansas.” But we want to maintain a church launch mentality in other ways. As we reach the elusive mark of maturity as a church body, we need to seize upon new opportunities, venture into new ministry territories, and purposely take new risks in order to have momentum along the way.

Churches that are always moving, building, and remodeling understand this. Churches that are hiring new staff, launching new initiatives, and starting new services, venues, and campuses understand this. Churches that are serious about reaching the next unreached people group around the world understand this.

So my challenge would be, keep launching. No, you can’t always start over as a church, but you can always be in the church launch mentality. When we get so big that we’re too confident in our resources to risk anything, we’re merely orbiting. Orbiting works for a while, but orbiting requires zero momentum and never takes us anywhere new.

What does your church need to do today in order to get back into church launch phase?


This article about Grace Hills church launch originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Brandon Cox
Brandon Cox is Lead Pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding, and social media. He and his wife, Angie, live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.