What It Means to Plant the Church

Veteran church planters talk about starting a new church from scratch.

Additional thoughts from these church planters:

Smith, on Setting Your Church Plant Apart: I think it’s important to really show what sets your church plant apart. What is unique about it? How does it bring something to the body of Christ that is fresh and new? If your church just sounds like half the churches in your area, those other churches might feel like you’re just competing with them for their people.

Because the majority of the churches in America are homogenous, the fact that my church plant is urban and multiracial was a plus. I was seen as something unique because my church uses elements of hip-hop culture in our worship experience.

Scazzero, on Putting Family First: Marriage comes first—even before the ministry. The ministry is always secondary. I have a great wife and four girls. But I was so busy going to church, I missed my girls’ first eight years.

Honestly, for the first two girls, I wasn’t even around. I was so busy! I was absorbed in church work. I can never get those years back.

God never asked me to die to my family. I love my wife, but we didn’t have a great marriage; it was just OK. I was too busy, so I loved her on the run.

Mangum, on Finding a Church Planting Mentor: It’s almost like finding a first job after being an intern for a long time. You just keep pushing and pushing until you get a job. You have to find those church planters or get connected with conferences. It’s all so that you can connect with other pastors. So when you’re sitting here after year one going, “What in the world are we doing?” you can call some guys and say, “OK, are we crazy, or is this normal?”

You have to really battle for that mentoring because those relationships don’t just pop up in your lap. We mentor church planters, and twice a month we’ll talk through with them—“Hey, how are things going? What are your concerns? How’s your leadership? How is your intimacy with God right now?” We are trying to become that sounding board for them. And then as we plant more churches, these guys that we’ve been mentoring become that to others.

Burke, on Developing a Core Church Planting Team: Who you take with you when you’re planting a church depends on the model of your church. You need to evaluate who you are trying to reach. But let’s say you’re going to have a public service, that you’re hoping a couple hundred people come to. Then you’d list out the positions and determine whether you need someone to do them full time, part time, or on a volunteer basis. You really need a point visionary leader, a teacher, and a worship leader who’s full time or part time. You also need someone to coordinate what is going to happen with kids. For us, community (or small) groups were core to our whole strategy of reaching people, and so we needed someone to run the community, ministry, and organizational stuff.

Roberts, on Why Church Planting Is So Difficult: Put yourself in the shoes of a guy who loves God. He’s a great preacher who could go to a large church, an established church, but he’s going to plant one instead.

But everybody is watching him, and his own sense of worth is tied to how well his church does! If you’re not mature spiritually—and who is a lot of times when you’re starting out in the ministry—you’ve got an intense amount of pressure placed on you.

It’s a tough emotional challenge. And what you don’t have nailed down is going to pop up. We’ve dealt with, sadly to say, everything from debt and pornography to depression. We’ve learned that if a church plant is going to really be healthy and make it, it boils down to the leader.

Scazzero, on Church Planting and Spiritual Discipline: When I look back on my early days of church planting, I wish I would have lived a more monastic lifestyle in terms of prayer and being with God, pausing three or four times a day. I now practice morning prayer, midday prayer, and evening prayer. But I would have been very disciplined and structured from the beginning.

I would not have ever compromised my time with God. I was more active than I should have been to balance my time of being with God in contemplation. And that was a mistake.

Smith, on Marketing Your Church Plant: Because other churches had invested financially in my church plant in the beginning, it gave me some resources to ‘market’ this new church to unchurched people.

To create the signature culture of our church, we didn’t do the typical “Oh, let’s put something in the church directory of the Christian newspaper or go on Christian radio and tell people that this is a new church.” We went on the secular hip-hop radio station in town and talked about our new church.

We also found some of the smaller social newspapers that promoted nightclubs, and we put an ad in there about our church. We wanted to make sure we were trying to connect to unchurched people in the city or those who had drifted from church for some reason.

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Andrea Willits
Willits’ first article post-college was published in Nashville Lifestyles, and bylines quickly became her business. Over the next five years, she served as assistant editor for CCM magazine in Nashville, Tenn., then associate editor of Outreach magazine in San Diego. Now she spends her days writing and editing from her cozy home in East Nashville, contributing to publications and companies like Outreach magazine, Christianity Today, Youthworker Journal, Christian Single, HomeLife, Collegiate, World Vision, Zondervan, Salem Publishing, Outreach Marketing and Willow Creek Community Church.