God’s Heart for Church Planting

I’m teaching this week at our MCM Ministry School on the topic of church planting, one of my favorite topics to teach about!  With that said, here are a few of my notes from yesterday’s session on the foundation of church planting:

The world doesn’t need more churches for the sake of new churches.  They need them for the sake of their spiritual renewal.

  • God’s Heart to change cities & communities, not plant churches.
  • The goal with church planting is not simply existence, but transformation.
    • Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples…”
  • It has been proven that evangelism happens most rapidly in new church plants, especially in the first 3-5 years.
    • If this is the case, then church plants have the potential to create a lot of disciples.
    • If our mission is to go and make disciples, then why not use the greatest tool God has given us to do so, the Church?

Building the church is at the heart of God.

  • Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
  • It is God who will build His church…we are given the unique privilege of joining Him in this great mission.
  • When Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the comforter, the Holy Spirit to help his disciples change the known world.  The vehicle that God then established to do this was the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Coming in 2010: New Church Plant in South Side

In addition to the church plant being launched this fall by Pittsburgh City Outreach, the MCM Network will be planting LifeStone Church in the South Side community of Pittsburgh. Jack and Jamie Thomas moved to Pittsburgh last year to plant this church and they have seen God do some amazing things already.  Their small Neighborhood Group has now grown and transitioned into a good-sized launch team, and in fact they have their first ‘Practice Service’ this Sunday.

To give you some perspective of where LifeStone is in the scope of planting, here are the different stages we utilize for our MCM church plants:

  • Neighborhood Group: We start a small outreach group in a potential community that meets weekly and goes through a curriculum that equips group members for evangelism.  In addition to the weekly meetings, they also do an outreach/service project each month.  The goal is to simply serve the needs of the community and be a blessing to those within the community.
  • Launch/Street Team: As the Neighborhood Group grows and it becomes apparent a church plant is not only possible but purposed by God, we connect the group with a church planter and the month before we start monthly ‘Preview Services’ we transition the Neighborhood Group into a Launch Team, or Street Team.  This team now divides into different ministry teams for the purpose of the services (hospitality, kid’s, security, worship, tech, etc.).
  • Preview Services: Usually 4-5 months prior to the Grand Opening of the new church plant, we will begin holding monthly preview services.  These services serve multiple purposes:
    • To give the various ministry teams the ability to work out their processes and systems for the sake of excellence at the Grand Opening.
    • To provide opportunity to build momentum in the church & community toward the launch.
    • To give the team leaders opportunity to build their teams bigger, which in turn establishes a bigger base from which a larger launch is possible.
  • Grand Opening/Launch: This is an exciting day when the church officially goes public with weekly services.  At this point, the church may not have all the bells and whistles of an established church, but they are doing one thing well: providing a weekly worship service that not only is done with excellence but is impacting the spiritual climate of that community.

If you are, or have been, part of a church plant.  Are there other stages you utilized or you would add?

What to Do Following a Preview Service (Part 4)

To finish my series of posts on ‘What to Do Following a Preview Service’, I’ll be addressing the final component of ‘Correction’.  In case you missed the last few posts, here’s the four-step list:

  1. Celebrate
  2. Follow-Up
  3. Analyze
  4. Correct

Once your preview service is complete, you’ve celebrated what God has done, you’ve followed-up with all your supporters, you analyzed the various service components, the final step is fixing, or correcting, the problems you’ve encountered. Correcting problems is one of those things that is always easier in theory than reality, but in this case it is crucial. For this to happen most effectively, here are a few tips:

  • You need someone at the top driving excellence. This is usually the senior pastor or a senior leader.  Without this, those on the team will not naturally have the motivation to correct problem areas.
  • Have a good idea of what the various components should look like and be willing to probe. Statements like “I don’t know what’s wrong, I just don’t like it” don’t fly.  Dig deeper and identify why something isn’t working.  Temporary fixes are just that, temporary.  You want to establish your church on good processes that work.
  • Don’t get discouraged if after a couple preview services things aren’t perfect. Remember, this is why you have multiple preview services.  Also, you’re working with people not robots.  Things will never be completely perfect (sorry to break it to you!).
  • As you walk through the process to fix broken processes or problems with your service, do so in love. Don’t use a cannon to kill a fly!  The fact that one of your greeters stood inside the doors instead of outside is not worthy of a 5 minute tirade.  Correct and express the need for correction in moderation.

Well, that’s it!  As you go through your preview service process and do these four steps each time, by the end of this stage of a church plant, you should be ready to launch big!!

If you’re in the middle of this process now as a church planter, I’d love to hear how it’s going!  Also, anything you would add?

What to Do Following a Preview Service (Part 3)

Continuing my posts on what to do following a church plant’s preview services, I’d like to address the third step, Analyze.  To read the previous two posts on Celebrating & Follow-up, click here or here.

One of the core purposes of preview services is to help a new church establish and refine quality processes for their weekend services. With this being one of the core purposes, the step of analyzing following a preview service is very important.  The goal in analyzing is not to take a negative approach to your services, but rather look at key components of your service and identify ways you can improve.  To do this effectively, you want to include the key leaders of each of your ministry teams. Each of those teams will correlate with the list below of the areas you’ll want to analyze.  Your church plant might have additions or subtractions based on your style and approach:

  • Service Programming: The structure, flow and execution of the service plan.
  • Media: Video, sound, graphics, etc.
  • Worship: The flow of worship, the quality of the overall worship experience, and musical excellence.
  • Hospitality: Welcoming and connecting guests and creating a relational environment.
  • Kid’s Ministry: Nursery, Preschool, and elementary.
  • Set-up/Tear-down: This pertains mostly to portable church settings.
  • Facility, parking & signage:  The flow of the crowd, parking availability, quality signage inside and outside.

In each of the areas listed above, ask yourself these four questions in your analysis process:

  1. What works?
  2. What’s broken?
  3. What’s missing?
  4. What’s confusing?

In my final post, I’ll discuss the final step, correction.

Any areas you would add to the list above?

What to Do Following a Preview Service (Part 2)

I apologize for the length between this post and my last, but wanted to finish my series on what to do following preview services.  In case you missed the first post, you can read it here. Here is a review of the four key things a church planter should do following each of their preview services:

  1. Celebrate
  2. Follow-Up
  3. Analyze
  4. Correct

In this post, I will address the step of “Following-Up”. As is true with most church plant services, at each of your preview services, you will have guests.  Throughout your preview services, you will most likely also have supporters attend.  Each of these two groups are different, but still very important.  In this step, I will address the need to communicate and follow-up with these segments of your preview service attendance.

First, we’ll look at the latter group, the supporters. These are individuals that believe in your church plant invest time, finances, or possibly both but do not necessarily feel led to be part of your church.  Those in this category will most likely attend a few of your preview services, your grand opening and then be gone.  Regardless of the frequency of their attendance, though, it is still crucial to follow-up with them.  I would recommend a nice hand written note and possibly a person phone call thanking them for coming.  This is not a means to ‘butter them up’ but rather to show appreciation for their support, both with their finances and their presence.

Second, is the most important group long-term, your guests. These are individuals that are from your community and are ‘checking out your church’.  I can’t stress how important your follow-up is for this group.  Here are some steps to having effective follow-up for your guests through your preview service phase:

  1. Establish a workable plan for follow-up
    • Create a process that shows guests you value them, appreciated their attendance, and hope to see them again.
    • Do not let this process rest completely on the senior pastor.  This needs to be delegated out – if it is resting on the senior pastor, the chances of it being done in a timely fashion diminish.
  2. Execute the follow-up plan.
    • Make sure this process is workable in a short time period.  Although preview services are usually once a month, don’t take that whole month to follow-up with them.  This should be done within that week.
    • I will not necessarily say what you’re follow-up plan should be, as that can differ depending on your community, I would strongly echo Nelson Searcy’s advice in Launch by saying include a ‘Comeback Event’.  These events are easy-invite events that you can encourage guests to attend and meet others who are part of your new church.  Events could include bowling, a cookout, Monday Night Football, etc.
  3. Evaluate your follow-up plan.
    • This partly ties in with the 3rd item I will be discussing in my next post of ‘Analyze’, but still felt it important to mention here.
    • After you execute your plan, get your key leaders involved with this process and evaluate if it worked.  If something’s broken, fix it.  What better time to identify a broken process then in your preview service phase.  If you fail to do this, you will launch with ineffective systems in place.
    • Here’s a few questions to ask in this step:
      • Are guests returning? Why or why not?
      • Is our process workable with our situation?
      • How can we fix what’s broken?  How can we improve what’s working?

In my next post, I’ll address the 3rd thing a church planter should do following a preview service, Analyze.

What to Do Following a Preview Service… (Part 1)

In 2006, Nelson Searcy released his first book entitled “Launch“.  It is one of the most practical church planting books on the market today.  One of the concepts he fleshes out in the book is the idea of holding ‘Preview Services’ once a month leading up to the grand opening of a church. We have since adopted this process for our MCM church plants.  In the book, aside from holding monthly ‘comeback’ events, it does not provide a lot of info regarding the follow-up of a preview service.  With that said, I would like to take the next few posts to explain the process I have our planters go through following each of the preview services.  Here are the four key things that are done the week or two following a preview service:

  1. Celebrate
  2. Follow-Up
  3. Analyze
  4. Correct

In this initial post, I’ll discuss the ‘Celebrate’ portion of this process. Church planters will often have various people supporting them in different ways:  a prayer team, a team of people financially supporting them and possibly a church family that is mothering the church plant.  The celebrate step is really about sharing with each of those groups, including the launch team, the wins of the preview service.

This is an opportunity to ‘shine the light on the flower not the dirt‘.  The services are called ‘Preview Services’ becauase they won’t be perfect.  It’s a work in progress, but it’s important for a lead planter to keep in focus the progress and wins that do occur.  Tell a story, a stat or an exciting thing God did in the service.

I have this step first, because it can often be the one we push aside the quickest.  Celebration can happen in a number of ways:  on a blog, through an email, in a video, or maybe at a service for the mothering church.  How ever it is done, following each of the preview services, it is key to celebrate the victories with both supporters and the launch team.  This will set the church up for greater success as the planter establishes what a win is and the fact that their team is capable of one.

Solutions and Not Additions

In recent years, church planting has shifted from a calling that is avoided to one that is desired and celebrated.  Because of this shift, you now see growing communities being saturated, and sometimes over-saturated, with new churches.  Now I agree that as long as a community has non-Christians, it could still use a new church, but when an over-saturation occurs, I would question the need.  Along those lines, here are a few thoughts.

As a church planter begins the process to launch a new church, they should not strive to be an addition to the community but a solution.  Communities don’t need more churches added, but they have more problems that need solutions.  If you are in this process, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the solution my church is providing the community?
  • If I don’t plant this church, what problem will go unmet in my community?
  • What need will my new church meet that no other church is meeting effectively?

For a new church to be successful, you have to know what sets you apart & what you are called to do.

Making Your City Smaller

I have spoken to numerous church planters whose battle cry is “I want to change a city.” This vision is incredible and often God-inspired, but practically speaking, how does one person possibly impact an entire city?  With that idea in mind, I wanted to give a few thoughts on making your city smaller and more manageable:

  • Identify a community in the city and strive to reach that first. Cities are comprised of numerous smaller communities.  It’s very difficult to reach an entire city all at once, but one community at a time?  That you can do (with God’s help, of course!).
  • Establish routines in your city. Go to the same grocery store, the same barber, the same auto mechanic.  When you go to a different store every time you need groceries, you’ll never develop meaningful relationships.  Relationships take time and regular interaction…so does influence.   In establishing routines, you’re establishing a sphere of influence in your city and gaining an audience.
  • Partner with other outreach-driven churches. One church is not meant to reach an entire city.  It’s meant to be reached through cooperation and partnership.  One large church will never reach an entire city, but a number of growing, healthy churches definitely can.  Impact is greater when partnership is stronger.

Are you feeling called to reach a city?  How about Pittsburgh?  Email me at nickp@mcmnetwork.org

Ready to Launch

space_shuttle_launchIf you’ve ever watched the launch of a space shuttle you know how meticulous they are in their preparation.  They go over every little detail with a fine tooth comb, making sure the shuttle is ready for launch.  They know that one panel or structure that is out of place can send the mission in the wrong direction.

The same should be said in the launch of a new church.  Often church plants can launch before they’re really ready.  As I alluded to in my post on Monday, we use preview services leading up to the launch to allow for this preparation time.  Without this time, a new church plant might experience significant, rapid growth during their launch but not be ready for it.

Think of it this way.  Imagine building a house before the foundation is ready.  Although the house might survive, chances are better that by the time you get to the roof, there will be some noticeable problems.

Preview services allow you to build teams.  Each month you’re adding to your teams.  Each team is recruiting new members.  Not only does this connect new people into your church as you prepare for your launch, but just as important, it helps you build structure and lay a foundation for your future growth. So when this is done properly and the teams are building, your church will be ready to support the new growth you have.  The house (new growth) will be built on a solid foundation structure (your teams).

This is often where churches hit their growth barriers.  They don’t grow because they couldn’t handle significant growth if it was given to them.  You want to plant a healthy church?  You want to see your church experience healthy growth?  Develop your teams.  Develop your leaders. You grow leaders, you will grow your church.

Element Church & Monthly Services

Yesterday our 8th church plant, Element Church, had their first monthly preview service. It was a great initial introduction to the community; the worship team was incredible; and we had 148 in attendance! During the service, I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was to see the group of 7 we started almost a year ago with now ministering to almost 150! Rich and his team were well prepared and laid out at a quality welcome mat to the community. I’m excited to see what God has in store in the coming months!

Now, some might ask, with such a great first preview service, why not launch now? Great question! The idea of monthly preview services has been explained in Nelson Searcy’s book, Launch, and to understand it, you have to first understand the main premise: The larger a church can launch, the quicker it will sustain itself, the greater the impact it can have. With that said, these services are geared toward accomplishing a few things:

  • Allowing the launch team to refine their process and work out the kinks in service planning & implementation. Without fail, there will always be a few things to correct and fix. Having a month between services allows the team to have time to correct these issues. The goal here is excellence.
  • It gives time for the leaders to focus on building teams, which in the long-run will impact the size and sustainability of a church plant. As people from the community come to the monthly preview services, leaders & members of the various teams (hospitality, tech, kids, etc.) that make up the larger launch team can look for possible team members and encourage them to join them in serving. The goal here is team building.
  • These services allow momentum to build toward the Grand Opening. Although a Grand Opening creates natural momentum, having some going in makes it only bigger. It’s like throwing gasoline on a small flame – it makes the flame bigger and more impacting. The goal here is pre-launch growth.

With this model of planting, the launch team still meets weekly. This weekly meeting should grow as the grand opening draws closer. Also, in between monthly preview services, there are ‘easy-invite’ events called comeback events. These might include a cookout, bowling, or other relationally-geared event. If you are looking to plant a church, I would strongly encourage you to check out Nelson Searcy’s book, Launch, and see if his model or portions of his model might work for you!

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