How I Totally Failed in Planting a New Church (And Why I’d Do It Again)
Presbyterian pastor and blogger Landon Whitsitt shares two ways that a church plant can fail. The second one is trying to do it like you would staring a business. The first one kind of takes a motto from a certain athletic company as gospel:
For folks in the circles I typically run in (read: postmodern young adults) anything that seems like it comes from the immediate past era of church work is anathema. This especially includes strategic plans, goals, and objectives. We don’t like quotas. We don’t like benchmarks. We don’t like deadlines. And, because most of us want to do something fun and creative, we incensed at the idea that our funding will get shut off after 3-5 years. “They can’t expect us to be ‘self-sufficient’ in 3-5 years! This new kind of church doesn’t work that way!”
The way churches begun by this kind of person usually gets started is the “Nike Method:” just do it.
When we begin churches of this kind, we just jump in. We don’t think. We don’t plan. We just do. We live in the moment. We have fun. We talk about communities growing organically, and of trying to not stifle the Spirit. This means we don’t press too hard on one another. We don’t hold one another accountable for anything, because, usually, there’s nothing to hold each other accountable for. Why? Because we’re trying to find that one thing we can all agree on, and there’s always someone who “doesn’t feel called to that.” Believe me, I’ve sat through these marathon meetings. They suck. Hard.
As many of you know, I planted a church once. It worked for three years.
And it failed. Spectacularly.
I tried planting a church on the “just do it” model. I just asked some people to come together and they did. And we met together for worship for quite some time. But for a lot of reasons, this community could not sustain itself. Maybe it was too organic, but it did fail and for quite some time I felt that I had failed.
I know there are those around me who tend to believe Community of Grace wasn’t a failure and I get where they are coming from. But it was a failure in the sense it died shortly after its birth. I’m willing to own up to the fact that there were a lot of things I did wrong and a lot of thing I needed to learn from that experience.
But even though it failed, I would do Community of Grace all over again, though I would hopefully be smarter about it. I would do it again, because I heard the call from God to start something. I would do it again because it made a difference in people’s lives. I would do it again because it help me become the pastor that I am now. I would do it again because it provided insight to an existing congregation when I became their Associate Pastor.
There has been a lot of talk about new churches from various leaders (here and here for example) and how they can be church. I’ve seen new plants that were carefully planned and fail and those that had no thought and also failed. I’ve seen also seen new churches thrive and grow. I think at times that what matters is not so much that a new church be successful but that we are faithful to the call. That doesn’t mean that we do half-a**ed jobs, but it does mean that sometimes we will fail in sharing the good news. A lot of new churches die within a few years, but as the Apostle Paul has said, Christ was still preached.
So, yeah, following the “just do it” model is probably not the way to go in church planting; but if I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.