How do you prevent your church plant from failing in three years?
Here are the facts about starting anything. Especially in the business world, we talk a lot about startups and the correlation between the startup mindset to the church plant mindset, which are very similar. Most startups fail. The ones that make it at best become a fairly small lifestyle businesses. Very few go on to employ a lot of people, create a lot of profit, maybe become a unicorn and become a billion dollar company. That's very, very rare.
It's similar in the church planting world. I've helped and been around many startups and churches alike. I've seen my fair share of churches that work and churches that didn't work. There's been a myriad of reasons for that. I'll touch on a couple, but the fact of the matter is that some church plants fail for no good reason, and more than that, for no reason that the planting couple did wrong.
Some of those external forces that you have no control over can cause your church plant not to work. You're passionate for Jesus. You're passionate for the church. You want to plant a church. You're all excited and you give it your heart and soul. In three years, you've got to look at yourself and go: "You know, for me and my family, I've got to stop this." That's okay. It's okay if your church plant didn't work.
Let's talk about some things that could prevent that.
1. Be in community
Being in community with other like-minded pastors, sharpening iron, gathering, getting great teaching, receiving great encouragement—this is absolutely critical. A lot of church plants fail because if the church doesn't grow to a certain size, it doesn't have the income to provide for the hard costs, building, rent or PA equipment. All that stuff that goes to getting the church off the ground.
2. Consider working another job
You've got to get a sufficient income. Let's say you've saved up and you've got six months of expenses, you've burned through that and your offerings are not covering those basic raw expenses. Like that's really tough. So what are you going to do? My philosophy always was for the planting couple, even if they had six months or even 12 months, was to at least work part-time. And there's twofold reason for that.
First, there's financial stability for the senior couple. And let's be honest, when you've got 100 people, if you need 40 hours a week to do that, there's something wrong. I always encourage church planters to work part-time for the financial stability.
But also there's another secret to that. You've got a foot in the community. You're actually out in the community, meeting people, and working with people that live within your community, so you've got a better chance than sitting in your office all day reading your Bible of actually meeting people and inviting them to church.
There will be a point when you start getting over 120, 150, when this will become unnecessary. You start getting a budget, perhaps between $100,000 and $200,00 a year. Now you can provide for your family and think about hiring a part-time associate pastor.
3. Start a side-hustle
You've got your hard costs covered. You've got to look after your own family and if you can't do that day one, and you don't see enough growth to do that, you’ve got to make sure you have income coming in from other sources. And that leads me to pastors having a side hustle. In this day and age, there is almost no excuse not to have some other streams of income coming in as a pastor. Even as my church grew and I was on staff for many, many years and was very blessed and fortunate, I had other things that I did that actually provided for my family.
I invested in real estate. I had some other consulting businesses on the side so that I made sure I had more than one source of income. That's really critical in stopping the potential flame out of your church plant. Because when the money isn't tight, it frees everything up. When money is tight, all of a sudden things that aren't even hard get exponentially harder because of the pressure of finance. Make sure those finances are taken care of.
4. Develop a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset is important. It’s critical to carry with you the sense of believing God that my church is going to grow. “I'm called here into this community. I'm called to reach people and I'm called to grow this thing and serve my community. If I get this church to 200, to 500, I can stand before God and he's going to say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’”
5. Actively participate in your community
Forget the mega church goal for a second. Forget “I'm going to have 10,000 people one day.” Just go and serve a few hundred people in your community and love them, keep them, pastor them, teach them the word of God, and look after their kids. You are a fantastic minister if you can do that in your community.
6. Be evangelistic
The last thing is something that is not always natural for pastors. Some pastors are evangelistic. That's their nature. They share Christ wherever they go. They're praying for opportunities. We all know pastors like that.
It drove me insane when I first became a pastor, because I was not like this. They're praying for people, leading them to Christ at every restaurant they turn up to, every server is bringing their food and they're praying with them. Some guys are like that. Most pastors are not like that. But you can have an evangelistic mindset. You can preach and teach sermons that talk about evangelism. You can talk about outreach. You can get involved in community events. You can go and introduce yourself to the local headmaster at the local school. Get involved in community organizations and serve in local community events.
You can do a ton of stuff as a pastor and get out there in the community so people know who you are. All that networking, which sometimes goes a little bit against our nature, is the very move we need to make to catalyze growth. We want to hide in the church. We want to be in the church, want to read the Bible and teach the Bible. But we need to develop other instincts to increase the impact of that work. Get out. Make it a goal to meet 20 or 30 new people a week. The more that you network outwards, the more opportunity there is for people to meet you. "Man, that guy seems like a really good guy. Let me go and attend his church."
Don't be a little hermit inside your church. Get out, get in the community and that way you'll have a really good chance of getting that church through that 100 barrier, that 200 barrier, and having a fantastic, growing, and healthy local church.
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