I have a friend who has started a new church. He suggested I write a post listing some lessons I’ve learned from helping start New Vintage Church in Escondido. It’s been an awesome journey, and if what we’ve picked up along the way can help others involved in the noble vision of church multiplication, I’d love to help. So, without further ado, here are the first five of 10 things I’ve learned while starting a new church. I put these out there with the caveat that starting new churches if far more art than science. What worked for us might not work for you; and, what didn’t work for us may work swimmingly for you. With that said:
1) You cannot plan for it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t; I’m saying you can’t. Despite all the emphasis on strategy that has dominated the church planting sphere for the last several years (not a bad thing), even our best-laid plans will be turned over. It’s less like following a strategic plan and more like following the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness day by day. Whatever you’ve planned should be viewed as a game plan, not a blueprint.
2) Resourcefulness is the most valuable gift a church planter possesses. I’m not talking here about spiritual gifts; I’m talking about skill sets. People who get upset when something off the script happens will neither enjoy, nor be effective at, starting new churches. Much of what keeps a church going through its awkward beginnings isn’t just the enthusiasm of the church at beginning a new thing — it’s the God-given ability of the Pastor to morph into McGyver, making something serviceable out of scraps when resources are extremely scarce.
3) Faith can not only move mountains, it can keep churches afloat. There will come a time in the life of any new church (and its planter) when things will be brought to the brink. There might be several such occasions in just the first year or two. The test of whether or not one is called to do this will come not in labs, but in the trenches of red ink, disgruntled people, and discouraged staff. Staying the course because you have faith that God is going to bring a new day to the church — and doing it over and over again — is what will keep the church afloat when the spirit of the people (sometimes, including your own and those of your family) are sinking.
4) One of the biggest favors you can do for your church is say “no” to things that might pull the church off of its founding vision and philosophy. Especially in the young and vulnerable days, lots of people will have lots of ideas about what the church should be, how it should be run, and what you’re doing wrong. It’s OK to listen, but be extremely careful not to allow the vision of others to co-opt the vision God gave you when you risked everything to start the church. Peter though it wrong of Jesus to go to Jerusalem and die. The Israelites wanted to go back. A majority of spies said the Israelites couldn’t take Canaan. Wise leaders listen but are willing to discern God’s voice amidst
5) One of the worst things you can do for the church is compare yourself to others. Our young church (yet to celebrate our three-year anniversary) has grown rapidly; but for some, it hasn’t grown rapidly enough. I’ve had people compare us to church plants started by celebrities that boomed the day they were started, to megachurches, and to other traditional plants that are ahead of us on certain things. Don’t fall for it.
Listen to me here: Comparisons will kill you. They will make you paranoid and potentially drag the church off course as you pursue someone else’s vision. You are right to study what others are doing as a means of gathering new opportunities and strategies for ministries. But, don’t even think about comparing yourselves to others.
I’ll have five more in the next post.
What would you add?
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book Jesus, the Powerful Servant.