On the last Sunday of April in 2008 my wife and I along with what would be a core of about 35 people stood in a living room and officially declared that we were a church. We had no idea that the housing bubble had just burst one month prior and that many of those in that room would lose jobs and suffer some of the hardest economic times in their lives. From a logical standpoint you couldn’t have picked a worse time to plant a church. Having said that God has done some amazing things and 3 years and 6 months later CCA is not just surviving but thriving in health, vision and growth. Truly, to God be the glory. On more than one occasion during this process however, I have secretly said to myself “I must be crazy.” When you plant a church you’re kind of asking for it. But the truth is, if you are called to do it you are the happiest lunatic in the world.
Here are 7 observations and lessons that we have learned along the way that I think are so important to keep in mind if you are thinking and praying about starting a church.
1. Doubts are not the enemy, they remind you of how much you need God
I don’t care how confident of a leader you may be, there are times in the process when you will doubt your ability and wonder if this thing is going to really work out. This makes you pray, trust and lean on God like nothing else ever will. Ultimately, if He doesn’t provide we are all doomed.
2. Concentrate on Culture
Your church, like any organization WILL have a culture. It will either be by design or default but be assured, it will have one. Make sure you think it through and find God’s heart for what He wants your expression to be and make it by design.
3. Empower passionate people, leverage their strengths and give them room to run
The church is one of the most leadership intensive environments in the world primarily because it is 95% volunteer driven. Identify those who share your passion and vision and give them ownership. People are far less likely to engage if they feel like they are just “helping” you do your thing.
4. Realize that there are dangers with explosive growth
Everybody who plants prays for this but it could be the worst thing that ever happened and could effect the long term sustainability of the church. Explosive growth covers too many fatal flaws and makes numerical growth the only standard of success. Cracks in the foundation will show up, you can count on it and trying to fix them with the chaos of a full house is far more difficult and dangerous than adjusting them while maneuvering with a few. Focus on long term health and God will grow His church at His divine pace.
5. Never let your environment be an excuse for poor quality
Portable church is hard, very hard. But no matter what the limitations, our desire for excellence and creating contagious environments must be constant. We worship in an old elementary school cafeteria but by 9 am on Sunday it has been transformed into an inviting and creative space for people to experience and encounter God. We pay attention to the details right down to the restrooms. People automatically know that the way you do ANYTHING is the way you will do EVERYTHING and it communicates to them that we are serious about our God and the people He has called us to reach.
6. Simple is not merely better, it is best
We are in a perpetual fight to stay simple, and trust me simple and easy are not synonymous at all. Staying simple is hard work but it allows us to be nimble as well as keeping clarity for the people. If people can easily understand why we do what we do, they are far more likely to get involved and champion the cause. Complexity and confusion kills morale and greatly reduces the number of people who buy in.
7. Find God’s heart and never apologize for it
There are as many expressions and flavors of churches as there are fish in the ocean. They are all from the same species but varied in one way or another. This is on purpose. If God is leading you to plant, I promise you He already has a plan for what He wants it to accomplish and look like. Pray, fast, talk to trusted and mature leaders and find His heart and once you do….DO IT AND NEVER APOLOGIZE. Criticism from other churches and leaders at times will come. Don’t take it personal and don’t think their your enemy. Stay humble and keep working, WE LIVE FOR AN AUDIENCE OF ONE. His approval is what must concern us most.
I pray this has helped you in some way, God bless and happy planting!