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Monday, November 2, 2009

Mistakes I Made In The First 6 Months Of Church Planting

I have come up with a list of 8 mistakes I have made during the first 6 months of church planting in Chicago. I am sure there are more, but this is what I am aware of so far.

1) Public vs Private Venue
Our goal is to gather 50 people into our core group before we do a BIG launch. We are actually not using monthly preview services as the sole strategy to gather a launch team. We'll use previews but for a different reason.

For the first 6 months we were gathering in a home environment. Over 60 people visited our weekly core group meetings during this time. However, I believe that gathering people to a new church, in a pre-launch phase and in a home environment is not a great approach unless they are all people you know really well. We are trying to gather together new people to join us. I believe that people find the home setting to be too awkward and base their decision on this rather than the vision of the future.

So we fixed this. We are now gathering at a Cafe to continue to build our core group. It's costing us more money, but people are sticking better and more people are visiting. I wanted to avoid the cost of rent but in this culture the church-in-your-home model is hard to win people to even if you tell them you are in a pre-launch phase.

2) Recruiting Core People Sooner
To be fair, we did have a list of people we wanted to recruit before we even moved to Chicago, but the politically correct way to approach these people is to ask their pastors for permission. Our list of about 15 direct invitations turned into a list of 1! We were turned down and somewhat crippled from gathering core group members ourselves. This is not a complaint because I know that God is ultimately in control of this. But it is definitely something I can learn from.

I wish 2 years ago I had started envisioning my circle of friends about my desire to start a church. I think that taking steps earlier to dream with friends about the possibility of planting together would have helped recruit more people ahead of time. Perhaps I was too insecure in talking about this, but if I could do it again I would have started a LOT earlier.

To make the best of this I've started exercising our new networks in Chicago and we've already attracted a potential worship leader from Minneapolis. In the end -- this is the way God wanted us to do it so I'm cool with it. But as a pastor now, I want to be more releasing to people who want to church plant. It would kind of be hypocritical if i wasn't!

3) Creating A Budget Sooner
We have a comprehensive budget now and our core people have pledged their giving over the next 12 months, plus we have a budget seminar this Saturday. However, I should have put this together before I hit the ground and got busy with immediate needs. We've fixed this, but I should have known better.

4) Not Starting Socials Sooner
Our strength and passion as a couple is having lots of people in our home and creating an environment for extravagant fun. But, it took us 4 months to start regular social events in our home. While this isn't totally bad, we needed a bit of adjustment and networking time, I wish we had done it sooner. We have now started building a strong sense of momentum and have been able to harness our new friendships and started gathering people more effectively. This also has provided a context for our core group to invite people into than just our weekly core gatherings.

We are consistently building friendships with people and gathering them into the community now. While these events are legitimately just for relationships, our hope, prayer and strategy is to bring people into the church.

5) Not Praying Enough
I have not been committed to prayer like I should have. I have seriously adjusted this aspect of my life. I am prayer walking, fasting and consistently asking for specific things on a daily basis now. I have always been good at praying in the moment but that is simply not enough. While it takes hard work to start a church is also takes a LOT of time in prayer. I just preached on this here. As a church we also only had a monthly prayer meeting. We've moved this to every other week now.

6) Sunday Afternoon vs Sunday Morning
Our core group was gathering on Sunday afternoons which has worked for many church plants but I don't think it worked for us. Other Christians who were looking in could keep going to their churches and simply visit us. This seemed good but in the end it hurt us. Since moving to Sunday mornings things are more black and white. Any Christian from another church who is considering joining us is now in the position to actively miss their church to visit ours. If they aren't willing to do this then they probably wont join anyway.

7) Telling My Mentors What Questions To Ask Me
I have some great men that I look to for mentoring and input. I have been on the phone many times since we moved to Chicago getting help with various things. This has been very important. However, I think I should have done a better job of telling them what questions to ask me rather than just presenting a situation for their input.

I have now asked for these questions to come my way when I call them:
  1. What new contacts have you made?
  2. How are you following up with them?
  3. What are you procrastinating on?
  4. What can you delegate?
  5. Have you initiated and protected time with the kids and with Heather?
  6. What have you spent money on this week?
  7. What time have you been going to bed?
  8. How are you handling sexual temptation? (I am already accountable for this but it's good to include the question again!)
  9. Is there anyone in the church you need to personally encourage this week?
  10. How are your devotions? How much time have you spent in prayer and the scriptures?
8) Expecting More Gathering Fruit During The Summer
During the summer we surveyed close to 600 people in the city. We attracted about 8 of them to 2 events we did on a Saturday afternoon. I thought that response was a bit lame, although still something to be thankful for. I now realize we made some BIG mistakes. We blew our invitation on an event which we called a 'Presentation', not the perception we should have given it, which was on a Saturday afternoon -- during the beautiful Chicago summer.

The topic of the presentation was 'Encouraging Community'. While community is part of our vision and a real need in the city, most people think that Chicago has a good community. In the end we only incorporated 2-3 people from this outreach. Not bad, but not great. The summer is a good time to sow but the reaping should be expected in the fall. Reaping in the summer was very hit and miss for us.

I had kind of pinned a lot of hope on building our core group from the massive amount of surveying we did during the summer. Since this didn't have the return that we had hoped for I lost my personal emphasis on networking. Having realized this in myself I have already started scheduling more coffee appointments again and working to connect new people I am meeting into our socials.

It is essential to evaluate and consider what could have been done better. I have been wrestling with God in prayer over the past few weeks as I felt that we should be seeing more fruit by now. Really, what we have seen is great and to be prized. Every new person we have won over is a HUGE blessing and a validation that God has called us to be doing this.

The biggest lesson for me is that growth comes from God so that he can get the credit and that my personal level of readiness in ministry and persistence in prayer CANNOT be overlooked. It has to be central. It doesn't rest on me, but God will never grow this thing beyond where I am at. I feel like we are right on track with the adjustments that have been made and I have faith for God to build our core group up to 50 people.

I've realized that church planting is much harder than I ever thought but I am encouraged that to launch this bad boy we just have to persist. It is going to take time but, God said it would happen and so we are leaning on that a lot right now.

Please continue to pray for us.


Rick Hein said...

Good stuff Matt. This is helpful stuff for any church planter

Tim Simmonds said...

That is a cracking post. I am linking you.

ian said...

Matt this is excellent stuff, not that you wrote it for others to learn from though that is very helpful. I just think it is very encouraging to see the process and the evaluation you are undergoing. By the grace oh God you WILL build a strong and healthy church, but I can see that his grace to you is being able to humbly see mistakes, evaluate, make adjustments and pray! That will be your greatest strength as you move forward, I am not sure how many church planters have that humility and teachability. Shall be praying for you mate.


Steve Tipton said...

Excellent post Matt, As we have been planting Journey, I believe we have made some of the same mistakes. Yet even in the mist of all the missteps it is amazing to see how God works. Keep up the good work.

Warren Stroup said...

Way to go Matt. I appreciated your honest look at church planting. Keep up the great work. We needed to hear that.

danielle said...

We can relate to wanting to see more fruit when it's not time for harvest yet. I think it's so hard as a church planter to plant and plant and plant, and then hope for fruit. We're doing eternal farming though which operates so differently. I appreciate your post, and can relate with some of the lessons you've learned, especially about prayer. God bless you in Chicago, He will work through you guys in big ways.

Derek Flanigan said...

Hi! thanks for a great post. We are in the process of planting a church and I found your post really helpfull...thank you

My Name is Rob said...

Matt! Euan referred me to your post. Fantastic stuff. Number 7 is exactly where I'm at right now with your father-in-law. I go full time with the church plant (after 31 months of bi-vocational) on April 1. Carl and I will meet more times each month, and I've been thinking this whole time I needed a checklist of things to work through (just the business manager in me, I guess) each time we meet. This is a magnificent start.

Thanks for the honesty, simplicity, clarity, and humility in the gospel here bro.

Hope to hook up with you soon at some point.

Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................