Note: “5 Things You MUST Do During the First Year of Church Planting” originally appeared here on the Louisiana Baptists site.
There are different strategies and philosophies that go into what you do in the Pre-Launch phase of a church plant. My purpose is not to give you another in this post, but to tell you what MUST happen along with the strategy you adopt so as not to derail success. I mentioned five things you MUST do before you plant a church here. Here’s my list of five things for the Pre-Launch first phase of a church plant.
1. Build Your Network in the First Year of Church Planiting.
Ended here last time, start here this time. Your support network is your lifeline. As an entrepreneurial leader you should ALWAYS be building your network. But in the first year of a church plant, your network must expand into the community. Meet with community political leaders, other pastors, school administrators, apartment complex managers, fire and police departments, business owners. Talk to as many people as possible to gather info, share about the church plant, find opportunities to serve and share the gospel. So many sound bites that instilled vision into our church plants came from these types of conversations in our first year.
2. Gather a __________.
Small Group? Yes! Core Group? Yes! Launch Team? Yes! I don’t care how many or what you call it, but GATHER! Somebody said there three keys to church planting: 1) GATHER, 2) GATHER, 3) GATHER. Whatever the strategy or philosophy, it must include gathering people together around the word of God and the mission of God.
We started with two gatherings in each of our church plants. A Discovery Bible Study for seekers and pre-Christians and a Leadership Development Group that went through studies like Experiencing God and The Barnabas Factors. The two groups multiplied and played off of each other, culminating in the launch of the new church. If you struggle with gathering people, then get somebody that doesn’t on your team, or expect slow growth, or consider a different role. Gathering is essential!
3. Make it Sticky.
Our first church plant was in a community with hard soil. Gathering was difficult and slow. I had no experience or coach to help me read success or failure, so I invited a friend with experience planting in pioneer areas to come to a gathering. Afterward I asked him if I should quit and go do something else. He said, “If you quit it will be the stupidest decision you every make, because you can’t get people to sit down and shut up so that you can start and you can’t get people to quit talking and leave afterward so that you can lock up.” He was helping me see the relational stickiness of our gathered group.
Several things that I’ve observed that help make new churches sticky:
• The Gospel. One of the great miracles of New Testament Christianity was the different people groups that were brought together and unified to make up the body of Christ. It’s still a miracle today. Gather around the Gospel and you can expect supernatural glue.
• Relationships. I love Ed Stetzer’s quip, “People are not looking for a friendly church, they’re looking for friends.” Don’t get organized and programatic too quickly (or at all if you can help it). Build in lots of time for getting to know people, being vulnerable and caring for each other’s needs.
• Mission & Ministry. Tackle a huge project that everyone can get involved in. Get messy if possible. Celebrate what you did together that you could have not done separately. Mission and ministry create a story.
4. Establish clear lines of communication.
“Without communication, you travel alone” (John Maxwell). You must develop a plan for how you’re going to communicate to at least six different groups of people: (1) Support network—including sponsor churches, denominational entities if applicable; (2) Prayer partners; (3) Core Group/Leadership Team; (4) the Unchurched Community; (5) Community Leaders; (6) Disciples in the making.
There have never been better tools available for communication than there are today.
Some that I’ve found helpful:
• Mailchimp, Constant Contact or Vertical Response
• Facebook Groups—open and closed
• Facebook Page for the church
• Email—don’t neglect regular email because people are more apt to reply and create conversation.
• Snail mail—never been easier and more affordable to do direct mail than it is today.
• Personal notes—get some personalized stationary. The more personal the touch, the more personal the follow-up response should be.
• Texting—many Church Management tools will have mass texting tools available.
The cliches about communication are true! “You can’t over communicate!” “People are down on what they’re not up on.” And you’ve got a great story to tell, so plan on communicating with intentionality.
5. Start Your First Year of Church Planting With Integrity.
Don’t wait to establish a framework for integrity in financial, personnel and other matters of integrity. Don’t mix personal and church finances. Get a partnering church involved in oversight. Seek accountability. Establish job descriptions. In matters of integrity, you can’t hope so. You must do all that you can to protect yourself and others from temptation and accusation.
To get started:
• Open a separate checking account. A partner church might be able do this for you at first, but get a separate place from which money can be received and spent.
• Use a Counting Sheet for donations. Helps keep track of cash and checks, and records gifts for year-end contribution statements.
• Get a Cloud based Church Management System. Popular ones are Fellowship One, The City, ACS, Church Community Builder. These are costly but worth it. You sponsor church may allow you to use theirs for awhile. Starting out from scratch they may be overkill. Our new church has used ChurchOfficeOnline.com. Designed with smaller churches in mind. Very functional. And not near as expensive or training intensive.
Design a strategy to reach your community and DON’T NEGLECT these five things. What else would you add to this list?