You Feel Led to Plant a Church. What Do You Do Now?

By | Church, Church Planting, Leadership | 11 Comments

About once a week, or sometimes more frequently, I get an email from someone who says they feel led to plant a church. They almost always have the same questions.

What do I do now? What’s my first step?

After answering dozens of times, I decided to put my thoughts in a post.

Step one: Run as fast as you can!

Just kidding. Although that does give you a testimony like Jonah. And just kidding again.

Here are 5 immediate steps I would recommend:

Check your heart

Are you sure planting is what you are being called to do or is it a desire because everyone else is doing it? We need lots of church planters, but we also need people willing to help established churches thrive.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into is actually what God’s drawing you into.

Check your spouse’s heart

Church planting is not a sole venture. No ministry is for that matter. If you are married, you will need to be on the same page with your spouse.

Trying to do this without complete buy in from both parties will destroy one or the other – the church plant or the marriage.

Determine where you feel called to plant

Much of your future steps will depend on this one. I think God gives tremendous latitude in this. We need churches in lots of places – small towns and big towns. But this will be one of the most difficult decisions you make if you don’t know.

I once thought I wanted to plant in New York City. But when I spent time talking to God about this, I sensed Him pointing me in another direction.

Find others interested

If you tell me you can’t find anyone – and I hear it often – I’d question how successful you are going to be. As in 1 Kings 19, in my experience, God is always “reserving” (1 Kings 19:18) people who He plans to use in the vision He is shaping in you.

To build a body you need those who are part of the body to start.

Find experienced help

It can be a denomination, another church, or an experienced pastor or mentor, but don’t do church planting alone. Let me say that a little clearer. DON’T DO IT ALONE.

Too much has been learned about church planting to miss out on someone else’s experience.

3 Things I Would and 3 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in Planting a Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Encouragement | 7 Comments

In 16 years as a pastor, I was a part of planting two successful churches. My most recent experience was in church revitalization, and we did experience some success there, but I still hear get questions about church planting.

The two questions I get asked most:

If you were planting another church…

What would you do differently?
What would you do the same?

Those are great questions, because the first few times I had to answer them it made me think through some of our best practices and some of the mistakes we made along the way (and we made plenty).

So, here are my answers.

Would I would do the same:

Utilize the power of “caged momentum”

If I were planting a church again, I would be afraid to make people wait. I would make the core team wait to launch until we were ready. Additionally, I would make people wait for programs until we were ready to launch them. For example, we made people wait to join a small group until we had our process and leaders in place. If necessary, I would make the students wait for a student service until leaders were in place.

Whatever the ministry, I would not rush to have it in place until we had things as planned as possible. You want everything to launch with excellence and that takes time to build. Of course, there is also the principle of missing an opportunity, so there is a balancing act to be played here, but the power of caged momentum cannot be dismissed. I would use it again. I wrote more about that principle HERE.

Look for holy discontent

We did and I would still look for people to help launch the church who have a strong desire for something more in their spiritual life, but who haven’t been able to find it. I wrote about that HERE.

Give my vision away

I would not be the only person with vision in the church. Instead, I would give others ownership in the plant. I would let others help decide how we do children’s ministry or what we do to serve our community, for example. The more people feel ownership in their work the more they’ll be motivated to do. I wrote about that HERE

What I would do differently:

I wouldn’t shy away from churched people

To stay true to our mission of reaching the unchurched, and so as not to offend other churches, we tended to “run” from those who already attended another church. In the process, we injured some people who were also sensing God doing something in their life. We also made ourselves very leadership poor and could have used more experienced help. I wrote about that HERE.

Build structure in early

In an effort not to be bound by traditions and organizational bureaucracy, we had little formal structure when we began. As we grew adding structure became unavoidable to prevent chaos. In the process, we learned it is much more difficult to add structure once an organization is established.

Instead, I would intentionally lead us to add needed structure early. Of course, you can do this in a way that still allows for continual growth. You can read more about that HERE.

Not be afraid to challenge people

I would not shy away from challenging people to higher standards in their personal life, even while trying to reach people who may be new to their faith. We learned that people want and need to be challenged, along with feeling loved, accepted, and valued. You can read more about that HERE.

Have you ever helped plant a church? What are some things you would or wouldn’t do again?

A Leadership Experiment – The Little Things Matter

By | Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Leadership, Team Leadership | 16 Comments

In making a first impression the little things matter.

When a visitor shows up on one of our church campuses for the first time the little things matter. When a parent decides to trust us with the care of their children the little things matter. In the way we follow up with guests the little things matter.

Most leaders and pastors believe this, but we often don’t pay attention to the little things. As a pastor, over the years, even as a very non-detailed, extremely big picture person, I started to notice the little things.

In one of of the first churches where I served as pastor, I felt I needed more buy-in from them in helping to lead the church. They were a great group of people who were passionate about reaching the lost, but they had begun to neglect some of the little things to keep a church operating. I wanted to encourage them to be more observant about what needed to be done.

I conducted an experiment. I placed a Sunday bulletin on the floor of the men’s bathroom right in front of the urinal. You couldn’t “go” without stepping on it or over it.

It stayed there through two Sundays and no one picked it up or threw it away. At the following Wednesday night leadership meeting, I brought the bulletin with me. I asked, “Does anyone recognize this?” (It was before I was a big a germaphobe as I am today.) Apparently, by the look on some faces, most of the men had seen it previously.

I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but it was a tangible reminder to them about making a first impression – the little things matter – and, more importantly, each leader plays a role in this. We were a small church. We didn’t have a custodial staff for the building we rented. We were the custodial staff. If the bulletin was to be picked up, one of us needed to do it.

They instantly recognized every man visiting our church in the last couple weeks had probably seen the bulletin on the floor of the men’s room. We only had one urinal – and we had very good coffee. Although it was a minor thing, just a bulletin on the floor, it had the potential to leave a larger impression. Imagine if the same visitor returned the next week to find the same bulletin still on the floor. (Of course, in a church plant, by the second week you may be plugged in enough to be picking bulletins off the bathroom floor.)

I’m not saying it was brilliant. It may not even have been nice. But the experiment made some impact. 

From this point, some of the men became more observant about the little things which needed attention. They started to take ownership in their roles as church leaders. I felt I had more participation in leading the church.

The point of this post is we must find ways to illustrate the importance of this principle – Little things matter.

By the way, I have always been curious if this same experiment would have worked in the women’s bathroom or would someone have picked it up?

Pastor, feel free to try this experiment at your own church. Or not, but little things do matter.

7 Things I Loved About Serving in an Established Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization | 2 Comments

I recently posted about the things I miss from church planting serving in an established church. Church planting can be daunting, but the rewards from seeing people far from God get excited about Him makes all the efforts worthwhile.

After that post first appeared, a friend of mine, Tom Cheyney, texted me with a challenge – and a needed one. Tom is one of the leading experts in the field of church revitalization. His Renovate Conference is the largest conference with a primary focus on revitalizing established churches.

Tom’s challenge – Ron, I enjoyed your article about what you missed about church planting. Look forward to your follow up article about the established church!
Be blessed,
Tom

Touché! Good call, Tom. You’re right. I agree with you completely.

There are some things I miss about church planting – some of those I even believe we could stand to see in the established church. But there are also many opportunities and advantages to being in the established church, which is one reason I believe God has called me in this season of life into church revitalization.

So, here goes, Tom.

7 things I love about the established church:

Experienced servant leadership. One thing we were always scrambling to find in the church plant were people who had any experience leading within the church. It was refreshing to be in an established church with leaders from multiple generations. Some of our lay leaders had more experience serving in the church than I had spent in my entire adult life. It should be noted we didn’t always make the best use of this experience – which is one aspect of church revitalization – but established churches often have good, capable leaders willing to help.

History to build upon. I loved to find those high points in the life of a church – where everyone was excited – and renew the passion behind them. You can’t do this in a church plant. Everything is new. There’s a value in learning and building upon history. Some history will not need to be repeated, but most established churches have periods within their past where the church was vibrant, people were motivated, and God was clearly at work among them. If you can renew the excitement you can build upon these times.

Structure. I’m usually anti-structure – especially structure that gets in the way of moving forward quickly. This is one of the attractions of the church plant to me. But even in a church plant we had times where we knew we needed more structure. When I arrived back in an established church I quickly learned we knew structure well – perhaps a little too well. But there were also benefits to some of that structure, especially in the early days of revitalization. There were areas of the church I didn’t have to focus on, because they were fully functioning without me. They may have needed improvement – at some point – but for at the time they were working. In a church plant it sometimes seemed everything needed my attention as pastor.

Intergenerational. This happens some in a church plant, but it seemed to happen more naturally in an established church. This is one area where the church must be intentional. It won’t simply happen, but we already had lots of seniors when we arrived at the last established church. We quickly found that younger generations don’t shy away from a church because older generations are there. In fact, they like it. They want programs and ministries geared to their specific needs, but they love the intergenerational church. I used to tell our seniors – remember, grandparents are cool!

Resources. Whether it’s a building, or budget dollars, or people – established churches usually have more resources available than you will find in most church plants. When I arrived back at an established church my jaw was left hanging open the first six months just looking at the facilities we had available to us. There were budget concerns to those who had been there, but coming from a growing, budget-stretched church plant, I was so thankful to find the established church usually also has established givers.

Community influence. Granted, the church may not be utilizing their influence to its potential, but if a church has been in the community for an extended period of time there are connections and built-up influence which can be leveraged to help the church grow. It was amazing to me the credibility with community leaders I found as a pastor of an established church, simply because our church had been there 100 plus years.

Restoration joy. There is something special about seeing new life in an older church. I had the experience of seeing new growth in a church plant – twice. It’s awesome. But seeing an established church thrive again – regaining momentum, restoring hope and potential to a church – there’s no way to describe the joy of knowing God allowed you a unique privilege of being a part of something that special.

Thanks, Tom for the challenge. Whether it’s church planting or encouraging church revitalization and growth of an existing church – if God calls you to it, and you are faithful to the call – you’ll feel His pleasure upon your obedience and service.

7 Things I Missed About Church Planting while Serving in an Established Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization | 12 Comments

I only had four church experiences in vocational ministry. I served twice in traditional churches where God allowed us to bring a renewed energy and growth go established churches. I was also part of two successful church plants.

God was so good to us in each of these churches – we saw growth in the churches and the people. We loved every experience and the people in each church.

I remember in our last church, which was one of the established churches, that one of our staff members, had never served in a church plant. He was a great minister, but as we shared stories, he was fascinated by how different things were at times in church planting versus the established church.

Our conversation reminded me, as much as I love the established church, there were some things I missed about church planting.

There is a companion post needed of the things I enjoyed about the established church. There are certainly benefits to an established church. I actually encourage many pastors to consider church revitalization even over church planting. Look for these thoughts in my upcoming post.

I do love things about both worlds, but they are different in many ways.

Here are 7 things I missed about church planting:

There are few “pew sitters”.

Everyone has a job in a church plant – especially early in a plant, everyone feels needed. They know if they don’t do their part – Sunday will not happen. There’s an “all hands on deck” attitude each Sunday. Ownership is a shared mentality.

People far from God feel welcome.

People come to a church plant with less reservations or wondering if they will be accepted. Even though most – at least many – established churches would welcome them just as easily. I know ours will – thankfully. But perception can be a huge front door barrier. I’ve stated numerous times in our established church – sometimes the steeple can be the biggest hindrance. Don’t misunderstand, I love and appreciate our building and the opportunities it affords us as a church. I even love our steeple, and I’m thankful for the sacrifices of those who built it long before I arrived. There is great tradition and symbolism involved. But there is something about the rawness of a church with no building, meeting in a high school, theater or rented storefront, which invites people who don’t feel they “fit in” a traditional church setting.

You see people raw.

I heard a cuss word almost every other Sunday in church planting. And, it was a part of normal conversation. They didn’t know “church’ was a place for “nice” language. If they got drunk the night before – they told you. If they were struggling to believe in God – you knew it. There was no pretense. I would rather we all had “clean” language. Drunkenness is a sin. God can be believed without reservation. But it was refreshing to know where people really stood. There was no passive aggression or pretense – something I see often in the established church – afraid, perhaps, they wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.

People bring visitors every week.

People were so excited about the church they brought their friends. What a novel idea! Sure, it happens in the established church too, but it seemed to happen more frequently in a church plant. People in the established church often feel they’ve exhausted their contacts, all their friends are already in the church, or the newness and excitement of inviting has long since past. (Obviously, this is one of the major mindsets to challenge in church revitalization.)

Small steps are celebrated.

In an established church there are so many “mature” Christians – certainly people who know all the expectations of the church and appear to follow them – a newcomer far from God can often feel they don’t measure up at all. In a church plant, which often reaches people far from God, every baby step seems to be a major step.

Change is expected.

It’s not rejected. It’s not resisted. There are no politics or the “right people” you have to talk to before you implement. Everyone knows it’s part of the process. It’s in the DNA.

Rules are not cumbersome.

Granted, there were times we probably needed a few more rules in our church plant. As our church and staff grew, we needed more structure. But the longer we are together as an organization – any organization (including the church) – the more structured we become. And, sadly, the more protective we become of the structure also. Tradition forms and its much harder to adapt to what’s needed and new.

Those are a few things I missed about church planting. Church planting is an exciting time in ministry and, as hard as it is, it’s very rewarding. My prayers go out to my church planting friends.

5 Ways to Lead When You’re Limping

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 14 Comments

I entered ministry after a long career in the business world. I had significant life and leadership experience, but honestly, some of it was learned through tremendously painful experiences. Not only did I not have the pedigree of most pastors, it was actually following a sizable business loss when God called me into ministry. We sold a business mostly to get out from under the pressure of it and basically started over financially. It was then that God called me to serve Him vocationally – starting with nothing.

I entered vocational ministry limping.

The truth is the best leaders I know have a limp of some nature. It may not be visible, but if you are around them long, they will display remnants of a previous injury.

They may have had a failure which crippled them for a season. They may have messed up. They may have made a mistake. They may have lost their way. They may have been injured by others. And, as a result, they may have even been tempted to quit, but they pushed forward, never to be the same again.

If this is your story – if you have a limp and you’re in leadership – I want to offer some encouragement by sharing a few suggestions.

Here are 5 ways to lead well when you have a limp:

Don’t hide your limp.

There is most likely a younger leader around you who feels they’ve lost their way – or will some day. They need your guidance. They need your encouragement. They need to see by example they can get up again and move forward. You don’t have to wear a sign around your neck or tell everyone you meet about your limp, but you shouldn’t pretend it isn’t true, either. Your story is your story.

Your limp may be God’s way of keeping you humble. Rahab of the Bible never lost her title as a harlot, even in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11). It reminds me the past is my past – I can’t change it or hide it for long. A great leader never forgets where they came from.

Don’t be a martyr.

No one enjoys a complainer or someone who is always making excuses. You suffered a failure. You had a setback. You made a critical error. You sinned. Others sinned against you. Don’t wallow in your misery forever. It’s not an attractive characteristic in leadership. One of my favorite verses for those of us who limp is Ecclesiastes 11:3. Look it up – recognize it’s true – and deal with it. It’s what you do after you fall, which matters most.

Allow your limp to strengthen you!

You have two choices with a limp. You can allow your limp to make you a better person and leader. Or you can let it keep you from ever being whole again – and never realize your full potential. Grace is available if you will receive it. There may be forgiveness you need to seek or extend. You may need to do other “right things”. But let your limp strengthen your leadership abilities, even if it’s simply learning what not to do next time. Most of us learn more in the hard times than the easy times. Most likely, you will also.

Be empathetic toward other limpers.

There is nothing worse than one with a limp refusing to recognize others who limp. Always remember others have struggles too. If not now, they will. They’re finding their way, just as you did. Extend grace as grace has been given to you.

Keep limping across the finish line.

Don’t give up. Great leaders proudly limp to victory. They cheer on others who limp. They steadfastly keep going towards the goal. And, in the process, they encourage a lot of people and accomplish great things.

Limp well, my leader friend. Limp well.

The Tension Between Being Available and Being Accessible as a Leader

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 38 Comments

As a pastor, the larger the church grew the greater the tension I have felt between being available and being accessible. That has been equally true every time God has given me more leadership responsibility.

Leader, have you ever felt this tension?

And I’ve learned to be effective – and to protect my family and to avoid burnout, I can’t always do both.

Truth be told, there are usually too many demands on my time to always be available. Sometimes there are more requests for my time than hours in the day. As a pastor, Sunday was always coming. Even now, as the senior leader of an organization, I received dozens – some days hundreds – of emails, texts and phone calls – every single day.

As a leader, I simply always be available.

  • I must make the most effective use of my limited time.
  • I may not be the best person to meet with everyone.
  • I must spend time investing in the staff with whom I work.
  • I need to reserve ample time for future planning – and even dreaming. (It is not a luxury, but a necessity.)
  • I may sometimes need to refer people to someone who is more available at the time.

Some weeks, just being honest, sadly, I end up saying “No” more than I get to say “Yes”.

If time were limitless – I’d rather always be available. As with most leaders, it’s easier for me to say yes than it is to say no. I’m always more popular when I do.

But popular isn’t a good goal. It’s seldom an effective goal.

I can’t always be available, but this shouldn’t mean I’m unreachable.

I try to always be accessible.

  • I genuinely want people to be served and to serve people.
  • I can easily be found online. (I don’t hide my contact information.)
  • I respond to all emails and return phone calls in a reasonable time – hopefully by the end of each day.
  • I hold responsiveness as a huge personal value and lead our team to do likewise.
  • I always try to help people get the help or answer they need.

I realize even this doesn’t make everyone happy. Some want me always available to them. But the goal of leadership is not to make everyone happy – it’s to lead people to a better reality than today. To do this, I must make effective use of my time.

I share this because there are so many pastors facing real burnout. They are struggling with effectiveness. Their family life is suffering. All because they tried to always be available, when all they needed to be was accessible.

(By the way, the church leaders in Acts 6 understood this tension. Read it again to see how they responded.)

Pastor/leader – the tension is real. But realize you can be accessible even if you’re not always available.

Pastors, do you ever feel the tension between being accessible and being available?

Sometimes the Problem with the Gym can be a Problem with the Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Encouragement | 17 Comments

Let’s face it…going to the gym can be brutal on the ego…

Recently Cheryl and I moved downtown. It was an intentional life change (You can read about it HERE.) Part of that move involved changing gyms. I now workout on the campus of our local university, Austin Peay State University. I love the facility. I’m a huge supporter of our local school. Cheryl and I graduated from there, but there’s only one problem with my new workout location.

Most of the people in the gym don’t look like they need to be there…

They are young, lean, fit, strong, beautiful college-aged gym people…

More so than my last gym where lots of people looked like me. 🙂

Recently as I was sweating like the oldies it got me thinking…

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4 Benefits of Empowering People in an Organization

By | Business, Church Planting, Innovation, Leadership | 13 Comments

I recently posted on the need for leaders to delegate and some steps to doing so. (Read those posts HERE and HERE) Following this post, I asked a supposed leader in an organization for a decision from his organization. It appeared to be a minor decision. It certainly would be in our organization. I have held leadership positions in larger organizations, and it would have been a minor decision in either of those places. This leader, however, had to pass the decision up a chain of command. We eventually received a yes answer, but it took a great deal of time through several layers of people to get there. By the time we got the answer, I didn’t need it anymore. (True story.)

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