The 3 Kinds of Church People You MUST Know If You’re Going to Plant

These 3 types will interact in different ways that can either benefit your church or threaten to tear it apart.

There are three kinds of people in every church. Pioneers, Settlers and Mavericks.

Depending on which point of its life cycle your church is in, these three will interact in different ways that can either benefit your church or threaten to tear it apart.

One of the primary tasks of a church leader (usually the pastor) is to utilize the gifts of all three, while keeping them in balance.

First, some definitions:

Pioneers are those who want to go where no one has gone before. These are the church planters and ministry starters.

Settlers are the people who keep a healthy church humming along. They form your tithing base, your teaching core and your administrative backbone.

Mavericks often feel like Pioneers, but they differ in one significant respect. They don’t start new things, they change old things. While Settlers comfort the disturbed, Mavericks disturb the comfortable.

A healthy church needs all three types of people. But each reacts in a different way at different stages of your church’s life, either by leading, supporting, or being at risk of leaving.

Strong leaders learn to distinguish between these stages so they can guide and utilize everyone and their gifts properly at each stage.

Stage 1: Church Planting

Who Leads? Pioneers

Who Supports? Settlers

Who’s at Risk? Mavericks

In this phase of church life, almost everyone will be Pioneers and Mavericks, with a few Settlers coming along for the ride. This is both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing is in the increased energy level and entrepreneurial spirit. The challenge is in finding consistency.

The reason Mavericks are at risk in this stage, is because they often go to start-up churches thinking they’re Pioneers, only to find themselves frustrated because their gifting is more about fixing what’s broken (or breaking what needs to be broken) than building something from scratch. 

These are the people who always seem to be second-guessing the group by asking questions like “Is this really the best way to do this?” The best way to utilize their gifts at this stage is to create a forum where their ideas can be expressed, and being open to making changes based on their ideas.

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Stage 2: Church Maturity

Who Leads? Settlers

Who Supports? Mavericks

Who’s at Risk? Pioneers

After the initial church planting stage is over, many of the Pioneers leave the church they helped to start. This is a constant complaint and frustration of church planters. There are two parts to solving this dilemma: 1) Keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive as long as possible, and 2) create a culture of change where there’s always something new happening for pioneers to get excited about.

Stage 3: Church Turnaround

Who Leads? Mavericks

Who Supports? Pioneers

Who’s at Risk? Settlers

When a church has become dysfunctional, lazy or business-as-usual, that’s when the Mavericks need to step up, usually with the full support of the Pioneers.

But this is also when all those kind, supportive, soft-spoken Settlers start baring fangs you never dreamed they could have. The best way to minimize this and help your long-term members feel validated in their feelings and giftings is to keep them informed. As I’ve written previously, people can handle change, but they don’t like to be surprised – especially if they’re Settlers.

How Do We Know Who’s Who?

In my church, here’s how all three work together.

My youth pastor and I are Mavericks – we’re always questioning the status quo.

Our treasurer and bookkeeper are Settlers. They keep the ship steady.

Our pioneers are always bringing up new ideas and starting new ministries, then handing the successful ones off to Settlers to manage, while they move on to other projects. Recently, we sent off a great group of Pioneering leaders to start a new church just a few miles from us.

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How do we determine who’s who?

There’s no personality test that I’m aware of to tell one from the other – mostly because I made these categories up myself. No, not from thin air. They’re based on over 30 years of pastoral experience through trial-and-error.

In our church, we help church members match up with their ideal roles through the age-old process of getting to know people. We watch how they behave in different circumstances, we notice how they interact with others and – oh, yeah, here’s a new idea – we listen to them. We pay attention to the ideas and dreams God has given them for their lives and the life of the church. Through that, we help them find roles that fit them.

When we take the time and attention to do that, every church can utilize people’s gifts, personalities and learning styles for the benefit of all.

So what do you think? What stage is your church in? And how are you utilizing everyone?

Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.