Whether you’re a pastor planting a church with an organization, as a multiplication of your current congregation, or as a brand-new startup, there’s a lot of things to consider. Many of the questions will fall within your wheelhouse, and others are going to be outside of your skill set.
Obviously, you’re thinking through many of the pragmatic considerations like:
- What city will you plant in?
- Where will you meet?
- Who will be joining you?
- What kind of resources will you have to start with, and what will you need in the future?
As a former church planter, I can assure you that these practical concerns are only the tip of the iceberg. Here are 12 of the questions I wish I would have thought through before I started:
1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Don’t answer too fast. I know that if you would have asked me this question, I would have said, “Of course I am.” I naturally had an idea, but there were areas I was pretty aware of, and others I wish I had a better handle on.
It’s wise to seriously ask for feedback from others who might see a little clearer than you do. And as difficult as it sounds, you don’t want to just ask people who are going to give you the best report; you need to hear from people who might have worked closely with you and will be honest.
It’s the only way you can adequately answer the next question…
2. What kind of personalities do I need on my team?
It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the people who want to join you on this exciting new endeavor. Remember that five of the right people can outperform 15–20 passionate people with overlapping strengths or varying levels of commitment.
Once you’re aware of your weaknesses, you can begin to look for people who can compensate for them (instead of pouring all of your energy into making incremental improvements in these crucial areas).
We’re not just talking about roles that will need to be filled; we’re talking about the strength and weakness of personalities. If you have a lot of detail-oriented people on your team but no real extroverts, you’re going to be imbalanced. This is the time to think through how the makeup of your team is going to affect your goals.
It’s not just the giftings that you want to consider in your team. You want to consider the personality behind them. You might have someone who’s extremely hospitable but also introverted. They’re going to be helpful putting together your gatherings, but they’re going to struggle with making people feel welcome.
Imagining what you need, knowing what your strengths are, and building a team of people to counterbalance your shortcomings can make all the difference in the world.
3. What is my plan to network and build relationships with local people?
Opening the doors of a church and waiting for the people to come flooding in isn’t a great plan. You might think I’m kidding, but I know plenty of church planters who imagine it will be that easy.
Having a plan for getting out and networking with key people in the community and building relationships is a must. Ultimately, your church plant is about going to them. How do you plan to do that? I know of pastors whose plan was to simply spend the day hanging out in a coffee shop reading while hoping life-changing discussions would naturally materialize. Have a better plan than that.
Think through the influencers in the community and how you can build a relationship with them. Are there other church planters in your area? They can be great friends to have.
How about the city council and other community leaders? Charities and community outreach organizers? Principals and school administrators? Building a relationship with them can be invaluable.
4. What are the contingency plans for your facility?
While not completely necessary, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan for where you’re meeting. You might have a great location lined up, but what happens if you grow fast? What happens if it falls through?
The first couple years can be tricky for a new church. After a year or two, enthusiasm gives way to just plain hard work. Having the owner of the building you’re renting decide he wants to sell it might be that straw that breaks the camel’s back when everyone is already weary.
You may never have to worry about it, but have a contingency plan regardless.
5. What do you have in place to prioritize prayer?
This is another one of those areas where you’re likely to say, “We sure have!” But ask yourself, what are the signs that it’s true?
We all know that prayer is important, but it’s so easy to fall into relying on growth gimmicks, books, workshops, and corporate theories. As helpful as some of that stuff may be, it’s partnering with God that’s going to make the biggest difference.
Make sure that your team relies on prayer first of all.
6. How will you manage conflict?
Trust me, you’re going to run into potential problems. It might be issues that arise with others from outside of your new church, but there will definitely be squabbling from your team as well. It’s natural and it will happen.
The skillset of managing conflict is one that you’re not going to be able to contract out to someone else. If you’re not good at navigating and resolving it in a healthy fashion, that might be an area it would be wise to develop it.
7. Why does the community need this particular church?
There was a time when mission and vision statements were completely in vogue. I don’t know how many meetings I have sat through as an established church worked through their mission statement together. After many discussions and debates, we’d write these strong new statements, print them on the bulletin, and never address them again.
When you’re starting out, nothing can be more important. Why are you planting a church? What are you going to offer people that is different from any other church in the area? If you don’t have a good answer for these questions, maybe the kingdom would be better served by your investment into an established but struggling church?
If you’re committed to planting, it’s extremely important to have a vision that will inspire you and your team to press on when the going gets tough.
Of course, having a vision is great, but it’s worthless if everyone isn’t on the same page. Having your team gathered around a common goal is amazing, but you take it to the next level when you’re able to align everyone’s purpose and expectations.
You’re going to need to empower others to make important decisions, and it becomes a lot easier when their decisions are made based on the same vision.
8. What technologies can you leverage to make ministry easier?
There are so many great tools that I wish would have existed when I was planting. You don’t have to be a megachurch to create your own church app, and that alone can be a make-or-break opportunity. Imagine being able to communicate with and share your ministry with people on a device they carry with them all the time.
When you integrate that with a remarkable giving tool like Pushpay, it solves so many church planting problems like security issues, opportunities for spontaneous giving, and administration issues. Seriously, the thought of having auto-generated end-of-year giving statements makes me excited for church-planting teams who are already stretched thin.
9. How will you get the planting resources you need?
No one likes asking for stuff, but it’s going to be an essential element of planting a church. You’re going to find yourself in need of volunteers, equipment, resources, funding, and even time off.
Our fear of rejection or hearing others say “no” can be a huge impediment to asking for help.
And while you can beef up your planting team with more outgoing extroverts who are more comfortable making requests, you’re not going to be able to dodge it entirely.
10. What is your plan for childcare?
Churches bring families and families bring children—this is a real blessing. Children aren’t the “church of tomorrow”; they’re just as much a part of the church as anyone else. But because churches can forget to plan out how they’ll meet their needs, they bring with them some interesting challenges.
Your church may have its own unique vision of children’s role in the church, but if you don’t think through some of the specifics, it’s going to be hard to facilitate.
Will the children have a separate children’s church? If so, where will it be held? Who will facilitate it? How can you stop the staff from getting burned out? Do you have a plan for background checks on all volunteers with children? These are just a few of the rubber-meets-the-road questions you should have answered before you begin.
11. How much time do you really have?
When you consider the commitments made by your team, the resources you have, and any financial help you’re getting, how long can you run on your current plan?
Do you have enough time to crockpot a healthy congregation, or will you need to microwave one? It’s entirely possible for you to build a self-supporting church fairly quickly, but the fastest growth isn’t always the healthiest.
Knowing how long you can run at the current level, and what needs to happen to make steps toward self-sufficiency as integral.
12. How will you know if you need to pivot?
In light of the fact that you do have a limited amount of time and resources, are you prepared to rethink and change your direction?
Not knowing when to change your strategy might be one of the biggest silent killers of church plants. And it’s not always an easy question to answer. You definitely don’t want to be one of those “we’re willing to try anything….for a week” churches, but you don’t want to be afraid to change directions, either.
Once you’ve established how much time you can pour into this plant, it’s time to gather your team together, look at where you are, and reassess whether the current vision and strategy is helping or hurting you—and then make the appropriate changes.
Tell Us about Your Experience
For those who have planted or will be planting churches in the future, we’d love to hear some of the questions you wish you would have asked yourself and your team before starting out. Leave us a comment and tell us about your experience!