Some Linkage

Got these from over at Church Marketing Sucks.

This is the full article “Things they tell church planters that are wrong”, for those of us that won’t click on the link!

Things They Tell Church Planters That Are Simply Wrong

Next weekend, Mother’s Day, marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of the church that my family planted and that a year ago closed its doors (for the second but final time).

I’ve been thinking lately about the process of starting new churches. A lot of that thinking comes from me knowing that I still have work to do, that clearly I’m not in the retirement home for Christians like some worn out kitchen sponge that still holds water but is full of the stink of overuse.

I think we’ll end up leading a church again, but when or who or how is still up in the air. I have lots of thoughts on this topic, but none I wish to type at the moment. But I do know that the past four years – and the months before that which we spent preparing to launch our church plant

So here are some of the things we were told along the way that I just don’t agree with anymore, whether or not I did back then. Some were said directly, some just implied. And the folks that I read them from or heard them from – I really respect them, their lives, their churches. But I know these ways are not my way. Not then, and even more so now.

It’s all about Sunday.

Put all your energy into a great experience on Sunday, and build community out of Sunday worship services. Greet people who come to the door warmly, have great coffee and donuts, a good band, be welcoming and funny, treat the kids well so they’ll want to bring their parents back. If you’re dead to the world on Monday, or through Wednesday, so be it. Sunday is worth it.

For a church which gathers on Sundays, well, Sunday’s a pretty big day. And there’s a lot to be said for being hospitable and safe for the kids. But nowadays I think that if Sundays leave you – pastor or leader or guest – feeling worn out and drained, perhaps you’re missing the point of celebrating the the life of the Trinity, the risen Christ, in your life and the life of your community. What if the community’s gathering is actually refreshing, invigorating, restorative, re-creational?

If we can’t live an everyday faith, 7×24, because the events of last week crushed us, then our faith is out of balance. If we’re so focused on getting the chairs set up on Sunday that we’re not going to hang out with neighbors on Saturday night, then we’re missing the whole point.

If it’s not working, your signage or location is wrong

I was actually told this, along the way, when my response to “how big is the church now” didn’t satisfy the lady asking me the question.

In our tribe of churches, there used to be a day when you could literally put out an A-board sign and people would flock into the worship gathering. Stories are even told of the early days when people wouldn’t even put up a sign, but God’s Spirit would just divinely guide folks to a house in the suburbs where something was happening, and it would be overflowing.

Now, I think signage and maps and directions are helpful, for those that know they want to go. But I also think that, at least in the Pacific Northwest, those days are long gone. People who want to go to a church can find one in the newspaper or phone book or the local junior high building.

There’s a societal shift happening. The means and ways of the church’s expansion are shifting as well. Or at least they can be, and should be, and in some places are. Perhaps it’s about people, relationships, networks.

If it’s not working, perhaps God’s doing something else.

What counts is attendance, baptisms and signups for membership class

My tribe’s annual health check sent out to church plants asked those three questions: How many in attendance (and what count by racial heritage), how many did you baptize this year, and how many people have gone through your membership class.

In the church growth era and movement, we were told that if the church is a healthy organism, it must grow. Lack of growth was due to an internal restriction – bad programs or bad leadership or bad structures.

I always wanted to be able to write in the margins, to tell the story of the woman who’s doing pretty well with her crack addiction, or the couple who’s not fighting so much these days and their kids feel safe, or the guy who has a kind ear to listen to his crazy stories of the good old days. But they don’t make the margins very big on those forms.

For the first two years, work as hard as you can without burning out

Then, just before you burn out, you’ll have enough people in the church that you can hand off duties to them, and then just work super extra hard.

At one point, early in our church plant, my wife and I had 5 evenings a week PLUS Sunday committed to the church. We were leading a couple small groups, doing a marriage workshop for the community, doing premarital counseling with a couple and doing postmarital counseling with another. All were good choices, all were “needed”. But we were going to die.

Two stories about John Wimber, who founded our movement, come to mind. In his church’s middle aged days, he would pass friends (now on staff in his thriving church) – folks who were, like him, working so hard that they didn’t have time to be together as friends. John would shake his head at this loss, and say, “well, maybe in heaven”.

Or another. John used to tell his guys early on that pastors don’t retire, they either die on the job of old age or have heart attacks.

John didn’t always get it right. And there’s a difference between being driven and being workaholic.

And moreso, leaders – church planters – model healthy lifestyles to the folks that they lead. If we’re too busy for relationship, we’re telling those who follow us that it’s ok for them to be so busy that they don’t have time for people.

We – early on – made the choice that the church wouldn’t do more than 2 weeknight things at a time, and nobody was invited to both. You could come to one or the other, but not both. A marriage workshop or a small group, but not both. On the other night, go have dinner with your neighbors instead.

Did this decision stunt our growth? Quite possibly, but if it did, it only did so numerically. My family’s still intact and healthy. I wouldn’t trade this decision for anything.

The goal of every pastor is to be full-time, paid

Being bivocational (working in a ‘normal’ job just pays the bills so that you can lead the church) is only for a time; but the real work of ministry is when you’re full time on staff for your church. This usually happens when your church is between 100-150 in attendance, with normal giving patterns.

I liked being able to focus on the church only, during the time that this happened for us. For my family, that happened because I was a stay-home dad, and my wife supported the family financially. These days – the first couple of years of our church plant – were a lot of fun. I had tons of time with my daughter, I had tons of time to read and write and meet people and pray and reflect. Better still, I could talk about the discipleship aspect of financial stewardship easily – because I wasn’t taking the money of the people. The most I was ever compensated for leading our church was 1/2 of our health insurance. Oh, and being reimbursed for my book purchases (that part I miss a lot :-)).

But now that I’m back in the software world, I’m connected to the reality of workaday life that I wasn’t during that phase. I wonder now, if I’d ever really like to be paid to be a full-time pastor of a church. With that comes a lot of structure, organization, planning, staff work that I’m not convinced is the best way for me.

Some people are just scaffolding people

A book I read by a guy I highly respect said this. When a church plant starts, some of the early people who come won’t be with you in the end. That’s OK, but you should see them the same way that you build a scaffolding in order to build a house. They’re not going to be around for the long haul, but they can be useful in the short term.

To some extent, I still believe this: Early in a church plant’s life, you attract all kinds of folks who see this new organism as the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams, or better yet, as better than the last place they were at because you’re not their last pastor. Inevitably, the newness fades. And hopefully, the community’s focus becomes more and more clear; it discovers for itself “which way this bus is headed”, and people who don’t want to be on that bus recognize it and hop off.

However, this mentality encourages you to see people by their usefulness to you, and your plans and vision. And it also sets you up to look for enemies, for betrayers. And if somebody’s not totally with you, then it must be that they’re fickle and not long for your church.

One of the guys we had with us was a very difficult personality – very legalistic, stringent, and upset if we all didn’t live life his organic, no-sugar, no-tv kind of way. (For some reason my constant movie references didn’t give him a clue that I wasn’t in his world). I was praying one day, complaining about him to God – as clearly as I’ve ever heard the voice of God speak, he told me, “Hey! You say that you want a community of different people, right? And that discipleship happens in community. He’s here not in spite of your plans, but because of your plans.”

We still see this guy. And have a better relationship than ever, even though I still watch TV and eat Cheetos sometimes.

Gather a crowd first, figure out who the disciples are later

Same book, but this one’s more commonly held. Start out by attracting as many as you can, as quickly as you can. Don’t do discipleship – hard calls to faith – but let there be a sense of joy, a buzz, a lot of excitement as the church is growing. Later, identify those among the crowd who are are willing to be disciples of Christ – the truly committed – and build them to be leaders. After all, Jesus did this – he had crowds around him, but he only choose 12, and really 3, to be intimate disciples.

For a church which measures its value by Sunday attendance, that’s fine.

For me, though, I see it this way: Jesus focused his time on 12 people, and really 3. And the course of history was changed.


One thought on “Some Linkage

  1. I had to visit your site because the name was so very intriguing. We are planting a church and were discussing the pros and cons of different facilities in which to meet in. Someone mentioned using an old warehouse, to which I suggested that there might be an old chicken slaughtering warehouse available. Our new marketing slogan was born: “Convergence – What’s that Smell?” So, the discovery of your site was very timely indeed!

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