Why Planters Often Fail
Each year thousands of new churches are planted across the North America—and each year about a third of them close. The statistic overseas isn’t any better. 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 twenty reasons why new churches don’t survive.
1. Not having a call. Don’t do it for any other reason than God’s call. A call is not a guarantee of “success.” In fact, the clearer God calls you through His Word, the tougher it often may be. But a call will get you through the rough times.
2. Not testing the call. You my think God has called you to plant a church, 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 through ordination, encouragement and support.
3. 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 your passion for God, vision for a new and needed work and your biblical philosophy of ministry. Spend time together sharing the Word and your lives, praying, dreaming, having fun, doing ministry. Church planting is a team effort.
5. Not having a good coach. A good coach helps you reflect on what’s been happening, refocus on biblical principles and prepare for your next steps. 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 “partner gathering.” 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 launch with a strong an committed core group.
8. Not reaching people. Church planting is not about “engaging culture,” “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, evangelism 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! Your people need a loving shepherd, but you also need to be committed to doing the work of an evangelist.
9. Not having a target and a plan. Attempting to plant a church that reaches everyone often means you reach no one. Certainly you and your core are attempting to reach all those whom the Lord places in your path, but your focus must be on reaching those in your specific community. No focus, no strategy; no target, no plan, no success. A well thought out and realistic strategy that clarifies who your target community is, and how you’re going to reach it, is vital to keeping you on track. It also tells prospective partners what you are trying to accomplish 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 the Word and prayer. Get God’s perspective and allow Him to control His work. Realize it’s not your techniques but His power. He must seek to grow HIS church. Realize this is “war” and those on the frontlines may get wounded, so determine ways to minister to 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 establish ways for people (saved & unsaved) be connect with each other and to the Lord during the week. You and your core must be accountable to one another for ministry to the those you are attempting to reach. Orient attendees to the mission and vision of the church.
12. Not multiplying groups. Whatever model of church you go with, you’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. There is no better way to do this than to meet regularly one-on-one and in a group. Read the Word and pray together, support each other, 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 possess biblical vision and values, are committed to reaching your target community and are loyal to each other. The best time to fire someone is before you hire him. You’ll still face conflict, often in the second year. Learn how to resolve differences and 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 so that you can grow in grace. Expect God to use ministry 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 (your community) and your strategy continue to match up.
17. Not multiplying disciples. Nowhere does the Word command 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?
18. 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 and encourage and support others.
20. Not observing Sabbath. Church planters who become workaholics usually crash and burn. Planting a church comes with a high price. Because of this, one of your priorities must be personal care. A church planter must be mindful or his emotional, physical, and relational vitality. He must allow time to refuel. Proper rest and refueling will result in ministry longevity.
Wise church planters are learners and leaders. They assess their failures and successes and build off of them. They surround themselves with wise counselors who help them stay on the biblical path.