5 Reasons Why I Failed My Church Plant

Seasoned church planter Steve Swisher shares his insight on what it really takes to attract and keep church attenders.

I remember reading a statistic a while back somewhere that found most successful church planters had been a part of at least one failed attempt at church planting. I always wondered why that was until now. In 2005, I entered the world of church planting when I took over the reigns of a church plant that was struggling to survive.

In December 2008, we held our last service. I’ll never forget my wife asking me the question, “Why did we fail?” It’s taken me a year and a successful church planting experience to work on the answer to her question. I thought you might benefit from the answer.

1. I wasn’t teachable.

I had taken a class in seminary on church planting and had attended several church plants at different times over the previous 10 years. In short, I thought I knew what I was doing. Worse yet, I wanted everyone else to think I knew what I was doing. Because of this, I wasn’t willing to learn. I would attend meetings with other church planters and never ask anyone for help.

When I attended training meetings, I’d quickly dismiss whatever the speaker was saying for any number of reasons. “It didn’t apply to my situation.” “They were too old and everything they shared was outdated.” “How big is their church anyway?” And on and on the excuses went for why I didn’t need to listen to anyone else.

When I started Essential, I was fresh off my failure at New Hope. I was humbled and teachable. I talked to every church planter I could. In my opinion, they were the expert and I was the student. I didn’t care what they thought of me. I just wanted to learn. I must have interviewed 30 church planters in the short time between my failure and my new start.

One of the best questions I asked church planters was, “Who else could I talk to that you’ve learned from?” Almost every church planter I talked to had something to offer, even church planters who didn’t have a big church. One of the guys I learned the most from was a guy who, after five years, was running between 75-110.

Back when I wasn’t teachable, I never would have listened to anyone who wasn’t running more than 500. The problem with the “big names” in church planting and the church planters who are running more than 500 is that it’s been so long since they planted that they typically aren’t much help to a new planter.

Over the past year, I’ve talked with several guys who are wanting to plant a church. It takes about three seconds for me to figure out whether or not they’re teachable. Either they’re trying to convince me they know what they’re doing and don’t need help, or they’re hungry for knowledge and ask questions. Essential has been up and running less than a year right now. We’re running in the mid 200s to low 300s, and I’m still talking to church planters wanting to learn more.

2. I didn’t realize church planting was way different than leading an existing church.

When I became the pastor of a church plant, I came in with five years of pastoral experience. I had successfully transitioned a primarily senior adult church that was in decline to a growing, vibrant church of young families. Because of my previous success in a different context, I thought I knew church planting. But church planting is a completely different animal.

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  • fatcityblue

    Thank you, sir, for transparency. I also took a struggling plant some years ago – good points on some of the mistakes I’ve made and perhaps a couple I’m continuing to make. You also reinforced my “don’t let the door hit you” slant for the Little Shop of Horrors’ “Feed me, Seymour” crowd…Thnx. More determined than ever to create disciples that make disciples.
    R. D. “Blue” Mauldin

  • Devon Mcfarlane

    Good honest advice for those who messed up and lost direction too. I have languished in stagnant fear of failure, surrounded by nay sayers and disgruntled church goers who are impossible to motivate, who instigate division (other than the vision God gave), untill all that remains is more of what everyone else is doing that’s not working. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity, says the preacher.