I have been involved in church planting for most of my ministry career - be it as a planter or as a supporter of planting. I love the process of planting. I love the energy and enthusiasm that a new church brings to a fellowship.
After planting two churches, I learned a few things. Some of the things I learned are things I wouldn't do again if I started another church.
If you are planting now - or in the future - I hope they will be helpful.
Here are 8 things I would not do again if I planted a church:
Limit God's vision
In our first plant, we started as a church to reach a part of the city. As we grew, God seemed to lead us geographically to another goal. In our second ministry, we started at one location, relocated it, and then landed at two different locations - with each train reaching very different segments of our fellowship. God continued to refine and shape our way as a church. The one we were in a few years ago was not necessarily the one we thought we would be as a church.
Do not challenge people to grow in their way with Christ
I don't know if we were afraid of it - it was certainly our heart and vision to make disciples, but in the first days we were very conscious of reaching the lost. I wouldn't change that either - and I'm still trying. But when we think back, maybe we weren't as brave as I wish we had challenged people to grow. Besides the increase in weekly attendance, people need to grow individually. It was not enough to know Jesus - we had to strive to be like Him - even when it came to changes in them and their daily lives.
Shy away from talking about money
So many people think that all a church does is talk about money. We tried to avoid this stigma from day one. We focused more on serving than on giving. (And both are necessary.) We have failed to develop our core ministers in the first years, we have put the ministries we should be doing on hold, and we have deprived people of the opportunity to become generous ministers and feel the reward of trusting God completely.
Resist leaders from other churches
We wanted to plant a church for non-believers, but we needed leadership to succeed. However, when leaders came from other churches, we hesitated to join them for fear that we would be seen negatively by other churches. We missed quality leadership and denied people the right to follow their own hearts.
Expect everyone to be as committed as they have been in the factory in recent years
The fact is that life is changing. Some people are starters and others are finishers. Some of the original people will get bored of things as they are and/or may even disagree with some of the directions church planting is going. Some become overwhelmed, tired, or simply feel led to another place. They had a great influence at first, but in later years they looked for opportunities elsewhere - and that's fine. Be grateful for the investment you made at the beginning.
Take care of the external critics
In both plants, it seemed that our biggest critics came from other communities in the region. They disagreed with our style of worship, our teaching (which we tried to make very biblical), or even the need for us to exist. I let it bother me too much in the early years. Then I had a wise planter give me advice. I still keep it today for other applications. He said, "Ron, seek your confirmation among the people for whom God has sent you to serve. The people we reached with church planting - the wounded, the lost, the wayfarers - were so grateful that we obeyed God in planting. The more I concentrated on them, the greater was the sense of fulfillment I felt in my obedience to God.
Wait a long time to reproduce
We were 5 years old when we launched our second campus. I see churches do this in their second full year. There are so many in our city who need hope. Taking a risk on my own comes easy, but sometimes I'm too careful when representing God - as if He can't handle something so large. When God leads, I want to move quickly. We saw several opportunities to launch other locations we passed on because we didn't feel "ready". I'm not sure we ever would have been.
Delay the need to add structure
We were a church plant. We were often escaping the structure and traditions which keep so many churches from growing and reaching outsiders. But with growth can quickly come chaos without some carefully planned policies and procedures. You want to add smart structure - and always want to be open to frequent and even constant change, but even church plants need a few systems to guide the organization. And the best way to do this may be to find people to help you do it. With a background in business I was a natural to do this, but I hated the management part of it - so we didn't do it as well as it could be done. We were running well over 1,000 before we hired someone as an administrator. We should have done this earlier. If a church is 400 or 500 hundred in attendance this becomes a full-time job. If the plant is smaller - recruit part-time help or even volunteers.