A friend who is planting a church called the other day asking my perspective on what it’s like leading and launching a church.
CrazyWonderfulHard was my response. No spaces or commas in between. It all runs together.
He then asked for some advice and I thought I would pass along what I shared with him to our email community. This isn’t a complete list and they’re in no particular order.
(One disclaimer: I was more of a campus planter than church planter. I had a huge advantage being affiliated with North Point Ministries. Additionally, while a lot has changed due to COVID, I think these principles still apply.)
1. Create a portable vision statement.
By portable, I mean a statement that people can remember and share with their friends. One of the reasons vision stalls is the language is too lengthy. If it’s more than ten words it’s probably not portable. Also, it doesn’t have to capture everything. “For Gwinnett” was built upon a vision of creating a church unchurched people love to attend. Those two words were portable for our team and volunteers to use in order to communicate our vision.
Question: What is the language most commonly used to describe your church, or organization? (A way to find this answer is to ask people, “What do you think we want to be known for?”)
2. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “God needs me to do this.”
When we think God needs us to plant or lead this church, it will inevitably lead to an unsustainable pace. Over time, the church becomes our God, instead of God. And church is a terrible god.
On the other hand, a sustainable pace becomes an act of worship letting God know you are worshipping Him and not the work He gave you to do.
Question: Are you personally taking a Sabbath once a week?
3. Wait as long as you can before launching Sunday services.
For those of you dreaming and planning to launch a church, the #1 question you’ll get is, “When are we launching?”
I say this from personal experience. I left Buckhead Church at the end of 2010 to launch Gwinnett Church. We didn’t officially launch services until October of 2011. We could have launched sooner but I didn’t want the decision of when we launched to rely on me. I wanted it to rely on the core group.
This meant establishing a mile-marker that would serve as a decision-maker — in our case we wanted 500 people to automate their giving and join a small group. When people asked me, “When are we launching?” I would respond with, “I don’t know. Have you joined a group and automated your giving?”
Question: How are you inviting people to personally own the mission and vision of the church?
4. Building your marriage is more important than building and leading a church.
If this sounds heretical, please see point #2.
Question: Are date nights a weekly rhythm for you and your spouse?
5. Don’t force your teenagers to go to church. Invite them to serve.
Fortunately for Wendy and me, Jesse and Cole loved attending Gwinnett Church. What they loved most of all though was serving. For too long now, the Church has treated students as consumers and not contributors. Perhaps that’s one reason the next generation sees the church as irrelevant.
Question: If you have teenagers in your family, ask them, “What’s it like being a ministry kid at this church?”
6. If the church fails, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
It simply means you had the courage to try something incredibly hard — crazywonderfulhard with no commas and spaces to be exact.
When I left Buckhead Church to start Gwinnett Church, the question that haunted me was, “What if Gwinnett Church doesn’t work like Buckhead did?” Honestly, it took courage to leave a church that was thriving to start all over and plant one that might not. It’s why Wendy and I had to be crystal clear that this was what God was calling us to do. We both believed that God had opened a door for us to launch Gwinnett Church. That didn’t mean that God was promising us success — whatever success might look like. He was simply asking us to obey and trust Him. What I came to realize is that the ultimate success as a church planter and pastor was obeying and trusting the Lord.
Question: Are you taking too much ownership on whether the church makes it or not? Is it your church or God’s?
7. If the church succeeds, it doesn’t mean you’re the reason.
As I’ve reflected on my 17 years as a pastor, I’m asking myself some hard questions — one of those is around ego and pride. Did I knowingly or unknowingly start to take some credit for the momentum Gwinnett started experiencing?
While it’s true that false humility has its own share of danger, when an organization starts to experience momentum, the leader is susceptible to a danger. That danger, as Ryan Holiday describes it is this: “Ego is the enemy.”
It’s why I’ve begun meeting with some former co-workers asking them to reflect back to me if or when they saw pride, vanity or ego in my leadership. While I can’t go back and change the past, their feedback can help me in the future.
Question: Who are the truth-sayers in your life who will confront you?
8. One of the most helpful questions a lead pastor can ask is “How many great sermons can I preach in one year?”
The answer to this question is usually less than we think.
I remember hearing a retired pastor share that he would speak 50 times a year. In reflecting back on this pace, he shared, “I could have preached longer if I had preached less.”
For me, I think I can preach 12 – 15 great sermons in a calendar year. It’s why, for many reasons, video church was a fantastic option for me. I know there is a growing number of people that don’t like video church or argue against. I understand that, but at the same time, a boring sermon in person is still a boring sermon.
Question: How many great sermons can you preach in a year? Be honest, and start planning around that.
9. Don’t be your own critic. You’ll have enough of those so don’t add to the list.
I’ve been in church all my life. One observation I’ve made is that there are people who believe God has called them to criticize the pastor and church. And they often do a great job of fulfilling their calling. (I’ve also noticed that a lot of these folks don’t give or serve, but that’s another sermon for another day.)
This isn’t a plea to ignore criticism or to use the word “loyalty” as a leadership weapon.
At the same time, it’s helpful to remember what King David did when he was facing his own share of criticism.
“And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” 1 Samuel 30:6 ESV
Question: How are you strengthening yourself in the LORD your God? What’s your plan to remain inspired and encouraged?
10. Pray one minute more than you worry.
Church planting and leading will involve some sort of worrying — at least it did for me.
So, I made it my aim to simply pray one minute more than I worried.
Question: Are you praying more, or worrying more?
In closing, if you’ve found this list helpful, here’s what I would encourage you to do. If you’re on a church staff, forward this around to the team and have a discussion around it. If you’re not on staff but you attend a church, forward this to someone on your church staff and write them a note of encouragement.
Encouragement is never small when you’re on the receiving end of it.
PS. My next book, What to do Next, is releasing in August. To ensure your copy, we are encouraging everyone to go ahead and preorder it now.