Twenty Fatal Errors in Church Planting

Published on 10/29/15

Each year thousands of new churches are planted across North America—and each year about a third of them close. When this happens, the fallout can be great for the church planter, his family, and those who attend.

Avoiding common mistakes can improve the survival rate of new churches. Here are the top ten reasons why new churches don’t survive.

1. Not having a call. Don’t do it for any other reason than God’s call. However God speaks to you, make sure He has. A call is not a guarantee of “success.” In fact, the clearer God speaks, the tougher it often may be. But a call will get you through the rough times.

2. Not testing the call. So you’ve heard from God, but that doesn’t make you infallible. Allow others to test your call with godly wisdom and an effective assessment process such as the one developed by Dr. Charles Ridley or used in Project Jerusalem. Because they know you best, your home church should also be 100% behind you, affirming your call.

New attached image3. Not sharing a call. If you’re married, your spouse should join you full-time on the frontline. She must be a valued team member in addition to being at home with the kids or pursuing a career. Just make sure you share the call and understand and support each other in your respective roles or you’re in trouble.

4. Not building a team. Not even Paul planted churches alone. Recruit and build a team of workers who share the vision and your philosophy of ministry. Spend time together, dreaming, sharing your lives, praying, having fun, doing ministry. Church planting is a team sport.

5. Not having a good coach. A good coach helps you reflect on what’s been happening and refocus for the next stage. They raise awareness and help you take responsibility. You need someone who has been there and understands the planting process.

6. Not having sufficient funding. It costs money to launch a new church. Successful planters are those who can cast the vision for why this yet non-existent church is needed in this community and can motivate others to get behind them. If God calls, He provides. It’s not “fundraising;” it’s “people raising.” Don’t start until you’ve invested time in raising up a support team.

7. Not delaying public worship. Those who prematurely go public (i.e. – begin public worship services before they have a sufficient core group from the local community) often find their works struggle and remain small. For a healthy birth, you need adequate prenatal development. Plants that survive the first three years normally begin with a “big bang.”

8. Not reaching people. Church planting is not about “engaging culture” or “seeker sensitive” services or clever strategies. It’s about people discovering the love, truth and power of Christ in their lives. Get off the computer and get out among the people who need Jesus. Evangelize or fossilize! In many plants, recruiting ceases after the “grand opening.” The leader moves from an outreach role into a “pastoral” role. The majority of time is spent on those who come through the door, rather than those who are not yet in the door. Big mistake!

9. Not having a target and a plan. Attempting to plant a church that reaches everyone often means you reach no one. No focus, no strategy; no target, no plan. A well thought out and realistic strategy plan clarifying who your target community is, and how you’re going to reach them, is vital to keep you from a “shotgun” approach. It also tells prospective donors/sponsors you know where you’re going and enables you to better recruit a team that shares your vision/values.

10. Not taking spiritual warfare seriously. As a team you must spend time in fasting and prayer. Get God’s perspective. Realize it’s not our techniques but His power. He must grow His church. Realize this is “war” and those on the frontlines may get wounded, so adapt to a plan to deal with the wounded.

11. Not assimilating guests. What’s your plan for the other six days of the week? Visitors must be followed-up well or they’ll not be back. You must have a process where people are connected to each other and to the Lord during the week. Orient attendees to the mission and vision of the church.

12. Not multiplying groups. Whatever model of church you go with, New attached imageyou’re still going to need to gather people into disciple-making small groups. Make growth the by-product of multiplying healthy groups. Sunday worship services alone will not make disciples.

13. Not growing leaders. If you want to grow the ministry you’ve got to grow leaders. No better way to do this than to meet regularly one-on-one and in a group. Support each other, pray, cast vision, identify the next hill to climb and make sure everyone knows what their contribution looks like.

14. Not resolving conflict. Ouch. This one’s a killer. Recruit team members who share the vision and values and are loyal to each other. The best time to fire someone is before you hire them. You’ll still face conflict, often in the second year. Learn how to resolve differences biblically and how to grow through them. Ultimately it’s not what you do in conflict, it’s who you are that matters. 

15. Not becoming like Christ. Sooner or later God will want to teach you that effective ministry flows out of who you are, not what you do. So expect trouble and grace. Expect God to use this ministry assignment to refine your character and deepen your faith. Don’t resist his discipline. Ministry must come from the overflow of your daily walk with Christ. Neglecting your spiritual disciplines is a killer. 

16. Not refocusing on the target. Once the plant is launched you’ll need to modify what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll need to accommodate somewhat to those who come and adjust to what God seems to be doing. Don’t hold each other accountable to things which no longer matter. Be sure your ministry focus group (target) and strategy continue to match up. 

17. Not multiplying disciples. Nowhere does the Word commend us to plant new churches. It does mandate that we give priority to making and multiplying Christ-followers. Be sure your leadership team has defined biblically what a disciple is—and has a well thought out plan for developing converts into reproducers able to pass on their faith. What path for them have you laid out? 

New attached image18. Not counting the cost. When you plant a church, you can count on three things: It’s going to take longer, require more money, and be harder than you imagined. As church planters, we are often guilty of getting “drunk on vision.” We’re so intoxicated with the desire to plant that it clouds our good judgment. When we’re intoxicated, we fail to listen to others, think clearly, and make wise decisions. Jesus tells us to count the cost. It always pays to listen to Him.

19. Not letting go. When you give birth to a new church, it’s your baby. The church you planted begins with the vision God put in your heart. When you first plant, everything begins with you. You have to do everything. However, as the church begins to grow, the longer you hold on to everything the more you become the bottleneck. There simply comes a time when we must let go and empower others.

20. Not observing Sabbath. Planting a church comes with a high price. Because of this you have to make taking care of yourself a high priority. A church planter must nurture his vitality. This requires taking regular time to refuel your emotional, physical, and relational vitality. Paying close attention to these gauges can add longevity and impact to your life and ministry.

Avoid common mistakes by starting with an awareness and practice of these biblical principles and ministry dynamics. Wise church planters are learners and leaders. They assess their failures and successes and build off of them. They surround themselves with wise counselors and coaches who help them stay on the path to success.


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