Like the rest of the Body of Christ, church planters come in a wide variety. It’s difficult to say, “Planters are like this,” or “Planters are like that.” They are individuals, like the rest of us.
Yet those men and women who are drawn to the idea of planting their own church often do share certain commonalities. They are quite visionary, having big dreams, but often lack the process leadership skills to help bring people along on their endeavors. They are usually intuitive in their sense of how to go about the process of building a new church, but many times have difficulty reproducing that ability in others. And—like the rest of us—many potential planters don’t yet have a clear understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
Therefore, here’s some of the advice I most frequently give to church planters who are either just getting started or who are trying to determine whether they are called to plant.
Get an assessment. It’s absolutely key to know beforehand how God has wired you and how he has equipped you to serve him. Not everyone is the same. Get a formal church planter assessment—one based on interviewing about past behaviors, as that’s the most accurate way to predict future behaviors. Many denominations and independent groups offer church planter assessments. By undergoing one, you can learn more about your strengths and how use can make use of those, and your weaknesses and how you can grow in those.
Get a coach. Anyone who thinks he or she doesn’t need a coach isn’t ready to plant. A go-it-alone attitude will not get you far in planting a church. Just as every elite athlete needs a coach to reach his or her full potential, every planter needs a coach as well. A coach can help you determine how to best grow, develop, and strengthen. A coach can walk alongside you, providing guidance and helping you think through your strategy. A coach can provide a needed sounding board through the challenging process of church planting. Take your time selecting a coach you feel you can work well with; interview at least two or three to try to get the best fit.
Increase your processing skills. By processing skills, I mean your ability to work with people, to listen, to ask questions, to help them reflect, and to potentially bring them on board with your vision of planting if that is what God is calling them toward. These communication skills are some of the most critical for planting a church, as well as for leading an existing one effectively. Getting an assessment can help you determine your starting point, and getting a coach can help you decide how to go about strengthening your processing skills.
Incorporate discipleship from the beginning. Too many planters focus on getting a core team together and starting a service. Those are both important steps, but if you think you can wait until you’ve gotten started to shift your focus to discipleship, you’re wrong. The DNA you begin with is the DNA you will grow with, so it’s critical to have discipleship in the mix from the very beginning. There will never be a more convenient time to add it later. Rather, with every core team member and every leader, make sure you are not only developing their leadership capacity but also that you are investing in their personal journey of discipleship. That includes not just spiritual formation, but also active engagement in mission. A healthy, growing disciple is also engaged in reaching out to make other healthy growing disciples.
Use reproducible processes. What is obvious to you is quite likely not obvious to others. You may be able to lead a small group just by winging it and doing what comes naturally. However, if you look more carefully at what you have done, you may discover you are following a subconscious template of some kind. You just “know” to start with something relational, and then to move deeper. You just “know” when to encourage a quieter member of the group to speak. Examine your practices and discern the underlying principles. Then script out the principles and actions so you have a template for training others. Intuition is impossible to pass on to others; reproducible templates are easy to pass on to others. Learn how to translate the first into the second. Whatever you do, do it in a way that allows others to imitate it.
Birth the vision out of prayer. No matter how much time and effort you put into your vision, the church you eventually plant may very well look quite different than what you were expected. Many, many elements in church planting are beyond your control. This new church may not be what you think, so be flexible. Rather than clinging as hard as possible to your own vision, allow God to shape that vision through prayer and through your faithful steps in trying to follow where he is leading. As Henry Blackaby has written, “Find out where God is working and join him there.” Following the leading of the Holy Spirit is sure to be a better path than expecting the Holy Spirit to follow your leading.
And here’s one of my favorite resources to recommend to church planters and their coaches: The Church Planting Coaching Guide. It leads you through all the essential stages and aspects of church planting in an interactive way.
Note: This entry first appeared on Fuller Seminary’s blog.