It can be rough ride
Planting a church is in many ways a roller coaster ride! I sometimes think that church planting is like playing golf. When you are out there on the course you will experience every emotion a human being can go through.
There will be those shots that just fly perfectly over the fairway and land exactly where you intended them to. Emotions of satisfaction and joy will fill you and you think that nothing is impossible. You rule! Then it happens. You hit the ball and it does not go as planned. First you hit the bush and you have to search for it forever (since you won’t hold on to the five minute rule). When you finally find it, you hit and hit and it just won’t go anywhere and you get frustrated that you didn’t pay that one-stroke penalty right away! And when it finally flies again it hits the bunker… Well on a golf course everything can happen and rarely does everything go as planned! But after the most horrible play, when you tee up it all can change! Even if you have played horribly you just can’t stop. You have to follow it through! It’s just like the life of a church planter. You will have a life before the launch and a life after the launch.
I am a firm believer in Vision, Values and Strategy. And you will live in your vision, values and strategy in the pre-launch time. That is one of the most exciting parts of planning and preparing a church plant. And when it all has its climax on the launch day, when you have invited all your friends, and you pack that place you have chosen for your church, everything is awesome! But the thing is you will have to tee up next Sunday again! And the second Sunday is most of the time a serious reality check! You will start to realize that planning the strategy is not the same thing as living it!
To get a good number to attend a church launch is not that hard. But to get them back the next Sunday is harder. Especially in our secular European setting and culture. The attendance of a newly planted church in Europe is rarely as big as church plants in the U.S. And the second Sunday can often be the most challenging experience a church planter can go through.
One of the fastest growing churches in Sweden told the story how they had an attendance of 16 people the second Sunday. But as a church planter you have to decide from day one that this is not a one hole game! How you play on your first hole will not determine if you will be successful or not! We have to stick to it and play for the long run!
I think every church planter will go through the emotions and sense of failure at some point on the course! They have all said to themselves, “What am I doing! Is this really worth it… will it ever grow…” etc.
Church planting is not really that glamorous or fancy. It’s hard work with lots of failures, challenges and hard opposition! And still… it’s the most rewarding thing any Christian can be apart of! But you need to be prepared for the post launch shock!
How to survive the post launch
There are too many church plants that do not survive the first year. It can be easy to think something is wrong or that this may not be God’s will after all since we don’t reach that many people! It is extremely important to be well prepared if you want to survive the post launch year!
In the U.S., I have heard them talk about the critical first 6 months. But here in Europe, I think the first critical time is the two first years! To hold out for two years can be a great challenge! Let me give you some of the things I think are the most important tools to survive the first one to two years as a church plant!
- Be well prepared! Don’t plant without being trained for church planting. Since I had heard from great churches how they struggled in the beginning or had very low attendance their first months, helped us a lot when we planted Go Life Church. Even though I had been a part of planting several churches before I decided to do the ARC 1.0 (Church Planters Roundtable) and ARC 2.0 Advanced Training, the training was a tremendous help in preparing us for the reality of church planting. Not just the motivational inspiring pep talk, but real “how to” practical teaching that tells it exactly how it is! I am so excited that in 2013, we can offer an advanced training (EA 2.0) in Europe! The first class will be in November 2013 in Holland! If you are a church planter in Europe don’t miss that!! You can expect from the Europe Advance team that we will get some great church planters from ARC in the US to come over and teach and impart their anointing, wisdom and knowledge.
- Keep on building! Just keep on building on the dream, the vision, values and strategy you have set up! Stick to the plan. Protect your dream from the wolves that want to come into your church with their own agenda and their own ideas of how to build a church! Vision leaks, so keep on talking vision! Keep on focusing on your goals. Keep on building your team! Invest in people and build them, encourage them and help them grow! If your team members won’t grow, they won’t stick around for the long run! And if they don’t grow, they won’t be motivated to bring others in to your church! Realize it will take time and all you can do is to keep on building. Don’t try to stress things into happening. Live NOW! Serve NOW! Act NOW! It’s so easy to think that you will do everything later when you grow bigger. But if you don’t build now you will never grow!
- Keep on praying. It’s so easy to have too much focus on vision and strategy that you miss the importance of prayer. Everything is born through prayer! Teach your people to pray. Get a strategy for prayer and schedule prayer for your team! Especially when things get tough. You must be able to have your refuge in God!
- Keep on connecting. The church is built upon relationships. As a church planter you need to continually invite people out for lunch or for a coffee. Try to connect with the key people in your town. Maybe you need to invite them for lunch before you invite them to church! But also see to it that you connect with other church planters. Don’t get isolated! You need others that are in the same situation as you who go through the same challenges as you. EuropeAdvance wants to be that kind of network where you are never alone. And finally, connect with those that have gone before you. Have those that can be your overseers and mentors. It has been such a great help for us to have had people with anointing and mandate to talk into our lives in hard times. But also who can look through our strategy and give advice, and help us avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that could be a head of us!
- Keep your focus on Jesus. If you, in everything, let Jesus be your main focus it will help you from getting bitter when your best friends leave the launch team. Or when the burden of responsibility gets too heavy. “Roll all your cares on Him who is faithful.” Let Him be the guiding star and the heart of everything you do! Don’t ever get tempted to just preach some kind of motivational teaching that attracts all kinds of people! You are called to preached Jesus and lead people to Him! The church exists for one purpose only, and that is Christ alone!
I could give you ten more points on how to survive the post launch. But when you are in the post launch you just need a few that you can hang on to and remind your self and your team of every day! That will help you through! When you have survived the first period it’s time to plan for breaking through the different growth barriers. But first you survive, then you grow!
If your ball has ended up somewhere in the rough, just don’t get stuck there. Take the one-stroke penalty and just get back on the course! Growing churches are not churches that never ended up in the roughs, they are simply churches that got back on the course and did not give up!
Go Life Church