“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (NIV Mat 28:16-20).
The Great Commission is Jesus’ command for all Christians to spread the news of the Kingdom of God and disciple to unbelievers. But just how are Christians supposed to do this? There are several obstacles a church planter must overcome in order to establish a new church in rural America in the twenty-first century. In order for the church planter to fulfill his/her vision in following Jesus’ instruction to plant this new church a game plan must be drawn up, followed through on, and carried out. Church planting is a team effort of several people and organizations, and just as Jesus instructed the eleven disciples to work together, so must the church planter work with his or her team.
According to Aubrey Malphurs book, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty First Century, “Church planting is a long drawn out, yet very exciting leap of faith that includes the preparation and growing of new local churches by believing Jesus’ promise and obeying His Great Commission to further His kingdom” (21).
“Make disciples of all nations” is the most important and stressed command given by Jesus in the Great Commission. Faith, discipleship, and obedience are required to fulfill this command, not just for the disciple, but for the listener as well (Hesselgrave 23).
What’s the Game Plan?
Every church planter must have a game plan to have a successful ministry. This plan is a well written schedule of short and long term goals to be accomplished, tasks that need to be completed for each goal, and the people or items needed to fulfill each task. The plan of conceiving the new church to opening the doors for that first Sunday service may be several months apart, but without organization, the team can never fulfill Jesus’ command (Heron).
Malphurs also states in his book, “It is critical to the ultimate success of the new church that it has a single, clear vision. The church must know where it is going!” (119).
One’s theology of ministry will have a powerful impact on the developed game plan. If a person is too professionalized in his or her idea of the new church to be planted, his or her strategy of the church and its growth will be radically different from the person who believes in a more contemporary ministry for every new believer (Brock 19).
Recruiting your team
No one person can successfully plant a new church. A Christian can simply look at Jesus to see that our Lord and Savior needed twelve people to help Him start the greatest church of all time! Finding the right people for the team of church planters is a tough, yet rewarding challenge in the game plan. Further, take a look at Paul. He did not try to carry out the Great Commission alone, but instead used his team of Barnabas, Timothy, Luke and several others to makes disciples of all nations (Malphurs 285).
The church planter cannot simply place an ad in the newspaper for a support team. He/she must go out and canvas to find the right people God has in mind for the new church. The church planter must meet with each individual on a one to one basis and be able to articulate the vision and core values of the church, market the church benefits and its opportunities of ministering to seekers and new believers, and build a positive relationship with the new team from that first impression (Ritchey 56).
There are several ways to recruit the future members of a church planting team. School and seminaries often are good places to find other people who share your vision of church planting. These people will have different spiritual gifts and skills than a church planter that can be utilized to add to the strength of your team in fulfilling the Great Commission (Back 37).
Located in the back yard of the new church are a plethora of people looking to become part of a new church team. They may have skills never tapped by other churches, or they may be looking for that little bit of encouragement, nurturing, and training to discover the talents God has given them (Swauger 27).
Networking with other churches in the area is another great source for locating a support team. These churches may loan out their staff to help assist the new church in its growth by having one of the pastors lead a series of sermons, having the worship team perform one Sunday a month, or even have a team of teachers help with the children’s ministry in the new church (Ritchey 59). Making contact with the churches in the area and developing relationships will lead to nothing but rewards for everyone involved.
Some benefits to having a core team in place right away is that the team already makes up a church. It may be a small church, but it is a church nonetheless. A team working together in good and bad times shows the new congregation just how tight knit and powerful the glory of God is working through them. As the new members see the core team working together in love and harmony, they will perceive the Gospel as not empty words, but as reality (Shenk 44).
Another reason for having a strong core team is that it allows the power of leadership to be divided among others, thereby alleviating the stress and burden off the shoulders from the church planter. By sharing the responsibilities of building and planting the new church, it allows the congregation to see and accept leadership in the various church communities (Wagner 142).
Another aspect of church planting must be decided is whether the church planter is going to be adopted by a mother church and choose to affiliate with the mother church’s denomination, or whether will the new church be an independent entity. A mother church, is a larger, more established church in the area which gives financial and spiritual support, and is the denomination the new church wishes to follow.
There are several pros and cons associated with making this critical decision. The easiest reason for a new church to be adopted by a mother church is the support given by the mother church. After the honeymoon phase of planting a new church is over, isolation from other churches tends to set in. Some independent churches do tend to form alliances and support groups with other independents to overcome the struggles they face on their own (Schaller 47). From these independent support groups, the churches usually find they are able to survive the early growing pains of a new church life until they are able to become more established.
Another reason to be adopted by a mother church is to receive the denominational resources provided by the regional or divisional headquarters. These resources can be discounts on educational materials for Bible classes, low interest construction loans, and receiving the services of staff specialists or counselors in times of need (Schaller 47).
A tremendous benefit and boost to planting the new church is to be sponsored by a mother church. This is also known as creating a multi site congregation. There have been times when a larger congregation has out grown its current location. Instead of building a new church and moving the entire congregation to this new facility, they may in turn purchase a new church and run both churches as one legal corporation. In this case, there would be one senior pastor for each church, but one leadership board, one staff, one budget. Each church would live on its own with its own services, events, and Bible classes, but would have the support and strength of the mother church. Eventually, the daughter church would splinter off on its own and become its own legal corporation (Miller 62).
Location of the new church is another obstacle faced by the church planter. So many options come into play that most planters need the help of their support staff to keep from being overwhelmed. Does the new church rent a facility in the beginning? If so, where and for how long do they lease? If and when the new church decides to buy its first piece of real estate, the church planter and his/her team are inundated with needing to choose how big of a piece of land, the geographic location, the size of the building, and deciding if they wish to have extra land to expand upon at a later date.
Most new churches do not have the financial means to spend on a parcel of land, the architects and contractors to build the church, or the furniture needed to fill the church. They have to start small and the best locations tend to be middle or high school classrooms or auditoriums. Schools tend to be in well settled areas and are easy to find. The rent charged by schools tends to be cheaper than leasing from a banquet hall and furniture is generally provided. The schools do offer ample parking, and, as the church grows, the space is generally available to expand in the auditorium or cafeteria of the school (Swauger 33).
Another perk with using a school to start the new church is the church planter already has classrooms available for Sunday school or Bible classes. This may add a small additional cost to the lease and the core team may be held responsible for following through on clean up afterwards, but anything to help the church body to grow is a blessing.
Other temporary locations that have worked for new churches are at local shopping malls. This allows young and old shoppers alike to see and “window shop” the church while conducting their normal shopping needs. The church can also offer special programs during the week to help boost the visibility by offering Christian daycare, counseling programs, or a neighborhood crime watch (Malphurs 332).
Once the church body out grows the initial facility, looking to purchase a tract of land to build the permanent church home is required. If the town has new housing or growth in a particular area, then focusing in that area may be the smartest move. In this case, large areas of land can be purchased to allow the church to grow as it needs, whether it is by adding new buildings, more parking, or even recreational areas for the children and adult members (Swauger 33).
If there are no growth spurts in the town or no large tracts available in adequate areas, then the church planter and his/her team should look into buying an older church. Over the years, several churches have lost members and struggle with the current economic conditions (Chaney 14). These churches may allow another church to move in and share the facilities and expenses while still completing the Great Commission (Malphurs 331).
Along with the location of the new church, the church planter and the core team need to consider several other factors concerning where the new church family is going to meet. People don’t like going to a dark restaurant or walking two blocks to go to their favorite store, so why should the place they worship God be any different?
Appearance is the most important factor when choosing the location of the new church. The appearance of the new church is going to affect the core team’s attitude dramatically. The core team will be working at the new church quite extensively and people tend to see their environment as a reflection of themselves.
Also, seekers are looking to find a church that meets their high standards caused by today’s society. If they cannot find a church because it is hard to find or located in a troubled neighborhood, the seekers are going to stay away. If the building is in disrepair they will not come. If they do come, the seekers may reject the message given because of the repairs needed (Malphurs 325).
The location must be visible from the street and have access for all types of vehicles and be handicap friendly. People with special needs may require the assistance of a ramp, automatic doors, or wider aisles between the pews. To not accommodate the needs of the challenged is to fail in the Great Commission (Malphurs 325).
There is an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. In a new church, cleanliness is godliness! When people come to a church, they generally look at two things in particular for dirt: the women’s bathroom and the children’s ministry. Parents want to make sure their children are in safe conditions and with infants, generally the mother will handle the babies in the women’s restroom for changing dirty diapers. Malphurs states in his book, “Pastor Bill Hybel’s of Willow Creek Community Church believes this is so important that not only are the facilities cleaned once per week, but nicks and scratches are cleaned and repaired as well” (326).
Who, Why, and How Do We Gather a Following?
For the church planter to decide who the new church is going to minister to can be a tough choice. It can be compared to choosing which sport you wish to play as a child. Do you wish to have the new church focus on single adults looking for a more contemporary foundation? Or does the new church want to appeal to families with younger children interested in youth ministries? Choosing the type of people you want to disciple to is like choosing your favorite sport. You can actively participate in two or three successfully. But just as you can’t excel in every sport you try, the church planter cannot appeal to every type of person in the world.
Once the church planter and the core team have decided on a target group or groups to minister to, a plan has to be developed that reaches the people. Several low cost methods are available that have proven to be effective. These include direct mailings, email blitzes, billboard advertisements, and simple network marketing with local churches and support groups. Telemarketing and door to door canvassing have proven to not be as effective as they once were in the 1980’s and 1990’s (Schaller 90, 98 and Ritchey 55-58).
In 1990, there were 80 million people in the United States who did not claim to be affiliated with any church or other religious body (Church). This represents almost one third of the population in the United States. In Churches PlantingChurches, nonbelievers were asked in a survey why they didn’t attend church, the following answers were given:
• 27% did not feel comfortable with the old fashion traditions
• 18% felt ostracized for their past life experiences
• 16% could not find a church that was conducive to their work schedules
• 12% said their children would not understand it
• 8% didn’t want to make a commitment or feel pressured to join a Bible group or ministry. (Church)
No one church planter can reach every person, but it is clear that an effective approach communicating the vision of the church clearly and articulately to the population will show there is a growing need and desire among people to find a church home.
The church planter and the core team should pool their resources and find other believers with talents and gifts and use them to help build the ministry. As a congregation grows, it can expand the realms of its ministry to cater to the needs of the target groups in the area.
Of all the obstacles faced by the church planter and the core team, finances are at the top of the list. So many people avoid the ministry of church planting because of the issue of finances. Too many times, the spouse of the church planter supports the family until the church officially opens it doors and is self-sufficient (Malphurs 47).
If the new church is adopted by a mother church, then there may be a salary or a budget to help cover expenses and living costs for the church planter, the church, and maybe the core team. This may be a gift from the mother church, or a budget may be established through the missions ministry, or a call may be made to individual congregation members to help support the church through special tithes and offerings (Church).
Quite often, the church planter and the core team will have to work a second job to help pay their family bills. This often makes the church planting process longer to fulfill as valuable time is spent at the salaried position and not accomplishing the goals of the new church (Wagner 84).
There are several important, practical financial avenues that will help church planters in their efforts to raise money for the new church. Three of the principles listed are negative and focus on what drives people from not being as forthcoming with their tithing gifts. The last two are positive and aid the church planter in knowing what potential contributors are looking for in the church (Schaller 137).
People do not want to feel the church will be or become dependant on their financial contribution. Contributors do not want to feel they are satisfying a church’s “wants” (i.e. salaries, utility bills, or mortgages). The contributors may feel their money is being used to help the church minister to others by buying Bibles, donating to a church library, or a specific ministry in need (Miller 126).
People, in general, do not like being made to feel guilty by not helping the church. Too many times, church leadership will announce that the church needs money to pay for this or pay for that. Contributors who feel guilty about helping the church with their donations will stop making those donations after a period of time and may look for a new church that will not give them such a negative feeling (Church).
According to Lyle Schaller, “People do not want to have to feel their donation is going to cover the needs of the church.” (139) Church members like to hear good news about what is taking place in the church and to be constantly told the church is running short of keeping itself afloat tends to discourage them from contributing.
Givers will respond positively to visions. The key to this principle is for the church planter and the core team to always remember the vision that brought the congregation through the doors initially. If people see the visions of the church are being accomplished, even if it is one small step at a time, the people will jump on the band wagon and continue to support the vision, both financially and in prayer (Malphurs 54).
Finally, the church congregation responds to BIG visions. Church planters and the core team need to think big and have big visions because there is a big God who has big plans for all Christians. The church planter, the core team, and the congregation need to continually update and expand on the original vision that started the church family (Malphurs 310).
The First Sunday
There are a tremendous number of obstacles the church planter faces with the core team as they accomplish the commands of Jesus with the Great Commission. Planting new churches is not an easy task as taught in the Bible with Jesus and His disciples and Paul with his team. Through faith, prayer, obedience, hard work, and following the structured game plan, the church planter can effectively plant a new church and watch the church grow from a simple vision into flourishing and fruitful tree in God’s kingdom that can continue on and provide support for new churches it develops later on.
Back, Jerry. Church Planting Responsibilities and Ministry. Diss. Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1983.
Brock, Charles. The Principles and Practice of Indigenous Church Planting, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981.
Chaney, Charles L. Church Planting at the End of the Twentieth Century, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984.
Church Planting Churches. Dirs. Logan, Robert E. and Ogne, Steven L. 1995. Videocassette. CRM Publishing.
Heron, Pastor. Personal Interview. 5 April 2007.
Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, Grand Rapids: The Baker Book House, 1980.
Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Malphurs, Aubrey. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.
Miller, Bernard K. A Theological and Intercultural Examination of Descriptors of the Local Church the Goal of a Church Planting Ministry. Diss. Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1988.
Ritchey, Blair Alan. Wesleyan Church Planting in the 1990’s, Diss. Fuller Theological Seminary, 1992
Schaller, Lyle E. 44 Questions for Church Planters, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.
Shenk, David W. and Ervin R. Stutzman. Creating Communities of the Kingdom, Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1988.
Swauger, Paul L. Plan to Plant: a 10-Step Guide for Planting New Churches, Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Church, 1990.
Wagner, C. Peter. Strategies for Church Growth, Ventura: Regal Books, 1987.