Effective Church Planters Are Missionaries

Effective church planters are missionaries who learn to exegete the culture to which they are sent!  As a church planter, you must apply the same rules of interpretation that you use to understand the scriptures to understanding your cultural context.


To be truly successful, you need to create a model that uniquely fits you, the people on your team and your context!

Don’t plant the church in your head – the one you emotionally prefer – plant the church that fits your context!

You can use this simple three-step process to exegete your community:


Observation (What do you see?)

Your goal is to see the neighborhood as God sees it, to see its hurt, its beauty, and its potential as a harvest field for God’s Kingdom.  Make at least fifty observations about what you have seen, smelled, tasted.  What has made you angry and offended?  What has broken your heart?  What has convicted you?  What has excited and encouraged you?  What have you seen God doing?  Where do you see the mighty hand of God at work?  What is not happening?


Interpretation (What does it mean?)

Your goal is to understand what your experiences mean and how to extract some meaningful principles upon which to build a church planting strategy.  Why do you think you reacted to certain experiences the way you did?  Why do you think some of the groups you saw are thriving and others are not?  What are the underlying order and causes that formed the area?  Look for the dynamics at work in creating a community.  How do you transfer your observations into principles?  What are the principles or conclusions you would create out of your observations?  List at least five.


Application (What do we do?)  ACTION LIST

You need to determine specific actions to implement as you develop a comprehensive strategic plan for church planting with an appropriate model for this community.  What should your role be in fostering and promoting a church planting movement in this community?  How are you going to leverage your resources – time, talent and treasure – in order to maximize the mission here?


As Yogi Berra said, “You can see a lot by just looking.”


Creating a Culture of Story

“When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, ‘You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight. These are people—

Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word,
Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.’”
(Mark 4:10-12 from The Message)


Raising up the church out of the culture means helping people who are not yet the church become all God intended them to be.  They are the people, according to Peterson’s translation, “who can’t see it yet.”  How do you “create readiness”  or “nudge them toward receptive insight?”  I love how he says this, “everything comes in stories.

Here a few ideas for creating a culture of story in your new church:


Value stories enough to capture them.  In the early days of a church plant there are so many things going on that great stories get lost.  It’s like the great vacation that was so full of fun and memories that you forgot to take pictures.

  • Keep a journal
  • When someone tells you a story, ask them to send it in an email
  • Almost every phone has video camera, record people telling their stories

Build stories into all your communication.  We have more communication channels than ever.  Most of what get’s distributed is pointless and powerless. Leverage all of your communication channels to tell stories.

  • Include stories in newsletters whether they are print or electronic
  • Capture stories on video, post them to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • Make it a goal to Include storytelling in every personal conversation
  • Use your gathering to highlight stories that shape culture and inspire action

Repeat the stories that build your values.  The stories you tell until others repeat them are the ones that will shape your culture.  Don’t let a story shape your culture just because it’s cool, or powerful or inspiring.  Choose the stories that clearly embody your values and then tell them as often as you can.


Remember that stories will communicate God’s grace truth and love more powerfully than your best exposition.    Jesus could have exposited Ezekiel 37. Instead he told the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son.  And told his disciples “to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories.”

Becoming Resilient

Spend enough time talking with church planters and you’ll eventually hear them say, “This is not at all what we expected; this is not the way we thought it would unfold.”

Over the last 5 years, I have heard real planters say:

  • We expected ten families to move to the other side of the city, and only got one.
  • We didn’t expect to have twins during the first year of the plant.
  • We didn’t expect our family to move four times in the first six months.
  • We didn’t expect to change worship locations three times in the first year.
  • We didn’t expect to land in the neighborhood we landed in.
  • We didn’t expect it to be near to impossible to find a facility.
  • We didn’t expect to get national attention for allowing dogs into our services (Austin has more dogs than children!)
  • We didn’t expect it to be so hard to gather people far from God.
  • We didn’t expect our Missional Core to become “scaffolding” that fell away after the first year.
  • We didn’t expect an elder to fall into adultery in the first month.
  • We didn’t expect to have conflicts with close friends.

Church planting almost never goes as expected, which is why, when Dr. Charles Ridley studied church planters, he identified “resilience” as a characteristic of those who were effective. He described it as “the ability to stay the course in the face of major setbacks, disappointments and opposition.”

You can have the best training available, and be incredibly gifted, but you will inevitably face the unexpected and unpredictable in this start-up venture. Resilient leaders effectively manage their expectations and learn to make adjustments.  Without plenty of bounce, the expectations will kill you.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a behavioral pattern of great perseverance and overcoming obstacles?
  • Am I able to remain optimistic and determined in the face of resistance?
  • Am I a learner?

Effective church planters don’t just keep doing the same things while expecting different results! They learn quickly how to assess the unexpected, change course and overcome obstacles.


Adding Meals to Your Scorecard

One of our Cultivate Training  groups was recently discussing the concept of relational momentum, and how to encourage it in the early days of starting a church.  The question was: How do you know if you’re really gaining momentum?  What do you use for a scorecard?


The conversation worked its way around to food.  Which is an interestingly Biblical destination.  Jesus was constantly sharing meals with his disciples, the Pharisees and – much to their disdain –  tax collectors and sinners.  The early church “devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.“  The Corinthian church ate and drank so much that Paul accused them of gluttony and drunkenness!


There is just something about eating together.  We most often share our meals with family and close friends.  We seldom eat with strangers. What better way to know if strangers are becoming friends and family, than to pay attention to how many meals we are sharing with them?  I would suggest that you add meals to your church plant scorecard by asking these questions regularly of your core team:

  • How many meals have we shared with others?
  • How many meals have we eaten together?

You will know you are creating relational momentum when, instead of planning which nights you will invite others over for a meal, you’ve reached the point where you have to schedule which nights you will eat alone.


Raising Up a Prayer Team

Experienced church planters know the intensity of spiritual warfare in the church planting environment. God plants His church through retaking enemy territory, by breaking down barriers and strongholds. Without prayer, the opposition is overwhelming.  Before starting a church every planter should be committed to personal prayer and to the formation of a prayer team.


Here are ten simple ideas for raising up a prayer team:

  1. Pray and ask God to raise people up to pray.
  2. Make a list of individuals who might want to pray regularly.
  3. Invite people from your planting church to join your prayer team.
  4. Communicate your expectations – Total confidentiality, regular communication, at least one weekly time in prayer focused on your plant.
  5. Develop a monthly Prayer e-Newsletter.
  6. Invite the prayer team to be involved in all events, gatherings and activities as a standard part of the execution of your plan.
  7. Calendar to personally contact all your prayer team monthly.
  8. Begin to pray for a Prayer Champion for your church.
  9. Focus your communication on the development of dependence on God in the planting process.
  10. Take some time to think through all the miracles from God that you are going to have to experience between now and the time the church is healthy, thriving, and reproducing.  Help your intercessors see the bigger vision!

 Who are you raising up to pray for your church plant?