Death by Overplanning

Church planters must keep a loose hold of their plans and allow the Holy Spirit room to teach.

There are actually some really important things that have happened in the church in the last few decades. I think one of these things is that we’ve gotten much better at planning within the church. Many churches now spend time listening to the Lord, discerning where he is at work in their communities, feeling out where the Holy Spirit is sending them, and finally, developing plans around that.

Find where the Holy Spirit is at work and join him there.

But here’s an interesting thing: We often overplan.

In other words, when we step out into new frontier, we won’t always know what it’s like in that place until we’ve actually spent time there. We can spend LOTS of time planning what it will be like BEFORE we get there, but honestly? Two days in, some of those plans may get chucked out the window. Particularly when you’re pushing into new things that you have very little experience with. There’s a need for planning and order, but we’ve got to leave space for learning and the Holy Spirt.

Over time, I’ve found this formula to work:

Provisionality + Perseverance = Breakthrough

In other words, put together a plan that gets you into the new frontier and gets you as prepared as possible. But leave room for learning on the go.

“We thought it was going to be like this, but it’s actually like this. We should probably adjust,” or, “It really bombed. Utter failure. But through that failure, as we listened to the Holy Spirit, we learned. And I think if we did it again, took the lessons learned into account and really kept pushing, it would turn out differently.”

We often forget that almost all of the greatest successes were built on some spectacular failures. What we often don’t understand is that well-processed failures, ones we choose to learn from, almost always serve as stepping stones to breakthrough.

So what if we expected mistakes along the way? Failures? For things to be different on the missional frontier than we first expected?

But then we kept persevering.

You’d get breakthrough.

I wonder what would happen if we built that kind of space into our plans? What I’m suggesting is that whenever we walk into a new frontier, we have a plan. But within that plan, there is always space created for on-the-go learning and change. In addition, you always recognize there are things in the culture you are creating that are TIGHT and things that are LOOSE. In other words, some things really are non-negotiable. They aren’t going to change. No matter what.

And you’re best to know what those things are ahead of time.

Jointly, there are things that are LOOSE that we go in and say, “You know what? I think this is probably the way this will play out. But if I’m wrong, it’s OK. We’ll adjust.”

Tight and loose. Build space in every plan for change. And keep persevering.

Mike Breen is former Senior Rector at St. Thomas Sheffield, one of the largest and most progressive churches in England. Today, he lead 3DM, the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church that is centered in the United States.