The Second Plant in Every Church Plant…
I’m hesitant to add to the cacophony of voices attempting to discuss how churches should be planted in North America. There are many more adept at navigating those waters than I. Since I’ve been pastoring our church plant for seven years now, I’m not sure it’s a church plant anymore nor that I even qualify as a church planter. But, I’ve been walking in church planting circles for about a decade now and a few observations are worthy of comment. It seems that most, if not all, of the church plants I’ve encountered that last have two church plants in every church plant. Or, said another way, there seem to be two key phases in the growth and development of every singular church.
Phase one consists of everything we typically think of when we discuss church planting. It involves the training the planter receives—theologically and philosophically—before planting. At the end of, or during, that training period there is also some type of assessment done either by a local church or a denominational agency. This assessment typically involves a battery of questions designed to ascertain whether or not the planter meets the biblical qualifications of a pastor and the practical qualifications that often make one an effective planter. Then there is the sending. The planter spends time discerning a location for the plant, building a core team, and raising money.
From there the planter begins. There are a myriad of contextual strategies that are applied at this point, likely derived from the planters training. If the planter is trained and sent well then the church likely grows. Add the least bit of charisma from the leader, and the plant may grow fairly quickly. In many places in North America it is possible to grow to a couple of hundred members in a few years.
After the initial period of growth a number of factors necessitate a second stage in planting. First, the momentum of the honeymoon stage of the church begins to wane. Those who have been laboring in planting for a few years get tired. They’re ready to not have to set up and tear down on a rain-soaked Sunday morning. They wish their kids weren’t the only ones in the children’s ministry anymore. What was new and fun is no longer new and not nearly as fun. Some people leave at this point, finding solace in another church that is a bit further along in development.
The transition to this phase is also marked by financial struggle. The church is often not completely self-supporting by this time. They are much further along than they were at the outset, but they still require some 20-50 percent of their needs to be met by outside donors or bi-vocational work.
Facilities are another variable. Most have found creative ways to meet up to this point, in buildings that are less than desirable in many ways. The kids space may be inadequate, the meeting room too small, or the building may be located in a challenging spot. In some contexts, the planter may consider taking on debt and building a building, but in most urban contexts the church planter is left to figure out how to find a more ideal building or reuse an existing church facility. Many consider merging with an existing church at this point.
The transition between Phase 1 and Phase 2 is the most critical stage in the long-term survivability of the church plant. We might say that a church ends phase 1 80% of the way towards having a self-governing, self-supporting, self-replicating church. The dip that follows may move them back to 60% of the way there. This loss of momentum can be excruciating to planters if they don’t know to expect it and prepare for the challenges that come as they enter Phase 2. Over the next month we’re going to look at some of the key factors that shape Phase 2 and some of the most important ways a planter and his church can move through the dip and into the next phase of growth and development. Read the first post in the series here.