By Rich Poirier
The church planting movement is growing across the country — but establishing a new religious organization and actually growing it into a thriving congregation are two different battles.
There are a variety of legitimate reasons to consider planting a church. Respondents to a 2016 study by Barna Group and Cornerstone Knowledge Network gave geographic outreach, mission and calling as their top three.
New churches are either tied to an existing church or are brand new entities conceived by the church planter. Whatever your specific situation, a little diligence will go a long way in deciding if the time is right to start a new mission or expand your existing ministry.
For example, if your megachurch has gotten a bit too “mega,” it may be time to think about going multisite. Target an area where you know many of your congregants already live, and you have a ready-made core group with a vested interest to help launch your new church.
Or, you may simply see that spiritual needs aren’t being met in a particular geographic area and feel a strong calling to fulfill it.
Even with a concept that appears bulletproof — or a calling too strong to ignore — there are certain challenges that await the would-be church planter. Careful consideration on the front end will allow you to proactively face these struggles head-on, and better overcome them to put your church on the path toward success.
Adequate funding, proper planning and the right group of people can all make the difference between a church plant that flourishes and one that fails to sprout.
Secure adequate funding
All organizations, including religious institutions, need financial resources to support their mission. This is particularly important at the beginning. Numerous expenses will come up early on, including costs connected with the location, the proper insurance and other necessary resources.
Some planters believe that if their vision is powerful enough, funding will simply fall into place. To be successful in a church planting mission, however, financial support must be organized and concrete, and it should be planned out before the major parts of the planting process have even started.
In addition, requesting community support through investments, partnerships and donations can help immensely; as can pursuing opportunities for funding from parent religious organizations.
Obtaining adequate funding up front can help reduce stress during planting and further ensure that your team has the resources needed to follow through.
Now is also a good time to consider your long-term goals. Do you intend to plant one church in one location, or do you envision strategically reproducing your ministry in multiple locations? Your answer to that question can make a difference in your financial planning strategy.
Don’t go it alone
While some church planters begin their journey as the sole member, it’s better to have the backing of a team to truly put your planted church on the right path. No single person has all the attributes required to successfully plant a new church and grow the congregation. Having a few trusted individuals on board will make all the difference, particularly in the early stages.
When recruiting for the church planting team, remember to encourage those not currently associated with a religious organization to participate. Being included in the initial planting can be exciting, and it may even help them become more interested in religious pursuits.
In a 2017 Gallup poll, 38 percent of American adults said they attend church regularly. Looking at it another way, you could say that leaves 62 percent who aren’t currently committed to a religious organization. That represents a lot of opportunity for outreach.
As you build your team, keep in mind that this could be a great way to attract and retain new members. You’re not just building a group to support planting; you’re also cultivating your future congregation.
Though you may personally be the driving force behind the initial plant, you’ll want to ensure that the new church can survive without you, if need be. The 2016 Barna Group study found that leadership issues/turnover is among the top causes of church closures. Assembling a solid leadership group will help create a sustainable mission that doesn’t depend solely on you.
Create a plan
Even with funding in place, some planters struggle due to limited budgeting experience. Certain unexpected costs might come up, or planters may forget to plan for specific, important expenses, which can leave a fledgling church on rocky financial soil.
It’s particularly important not to overlook these major planning needs:
The ideal location. You don’t want to plant your church near another already established church, unless you’re sure that the community can and will adequately support both congregations. Start those conversations early to get a feel for the community. Be there. Be seen. Be heard. But most importantly, listen.
Outreach and community engagement. It’s important to spread the word about your newly planted church. Consider creating a church website, social media page or even a simple blog to publicize the church and motivate attendance and participation. Holding events to engage with the local community can be a great first step. Get people talking about the new church. A 2015 study by LifeWay Research revealed that good old-fashioned word of mouth and personal relationships were by far the most effective means of attracting new members.
The appropriate insurance coverage. Once you have your location and have started building your congregation, make sure that you’re able to keep your church and your members safe. Things like inclement weather or safety issues can have a major impact on a newly planted church, but the right insurance will help give you confidence in your church and its mission.
It can be beneficial to speak to a veteran planter who has experience budgeting and navigating obstacles. Consider contacting a parent congregation or other religious organization to find someone who has planted a church before.
Checking online religious communities can be helpful as well. There are several organizations that specialize in assisting with planting and reproducing missions. Look into what they have to offer you.
In addition, requesting guidance from team members who may have financial experience can also be a great way to call upon the community your new church will serve.
Be open to new ideas during the early stages of your planning process. You may get some advice that leads you to the perfect approach for your situation. There are many ways to grow and sustain a new church, but a thoughtful, strategic method will get you off on the right foot.
Richard Poirier is the president and CEO of Church Mutual Insurance Company. He joined Church Mutual in April 2011 as the vice president of claims and was promoted to chief operating officer in October 2011. Three years later, he was named president and assumed his present position in January 2016.
Poirier has a Bachelor of Arts and a Juris Doctorate from Marquette University.