My husband and I are not church planters. We were once called to lead a new mission after it had already begun; and we have been a part of a core group starting a church, becoming a part of the group shortly before the church met for the first time. Although we have not personally started a church from scratch, we know people who have. As I was preparing to write this article, I realized how many people God has placed in my life through the years who have planted churches. This article will be about two of them.
In 2006, we were searching for a fresh and new experience. We started seeing signs around town about a new church to be planted. My husband got in touch with Pastor Todd, and we became a part of the core group, already in process. The church was being planted from an existing church who was commissioning a group of hometown people, and the new plant had the backing of our state convention. The concept behind the church was servant evangelism, showing God’s love in practical ways with no strings attached. We began meeting in a school gymnasium with about forty people. Less than a year later, the Lord called my husband elsewhere to pastor and we moved on. But in the next eight years, the church plant grew from our original group of about forty to about a thousand members and was listed on Outreach magazine’s 2014 list of fastest-growing churches. It is amazing what can happen when people join God in what He wants to do.
Last year, my daughter and I went on a cruise. At dinner the first night we were introduced to a family at our table—Lynn, Tracy, and Hannah. After chatting a bit we realized we had something in common. Our family was in ministry, and they were feeling led to plant a church. We were members of different denominations, but it didn’t matter. The goal was the same.
Lynn told me their call to church planting came through a process. Initially they knew they were supposed to plant a church but didn’t know where. In the process of time, and through prayer, the Lord refined the call. God first revealed that the church was to be in North America, but the state and city each came later and separately—Hammond, Louisiana. So Lynn and family packed up and moved to a city where they knew no one and would need to find jobs to support themselves while they followed God’s leading. The North American Missions Director for their denomination was involved, and the church was planted in an area that the denomination had targeted due to population. It was strategic and intentional. Lynn told me, “LifeWater Church is experiencing revival and a harvest of souls through the power of the Spirit of the Lord . . . I have learned that this is not a marathon, but baby steps in this process with the Lord.”
I wish I could say all church plants I have known about have been as successful, but that would not be true. I have known some churches to start from splits. Being dissatisfied with your present church is not justification for beginning a new work in the same town. Your town may have a church on every corner and doesn’t need another one. Personally, I don’t believe in starting a new church of the same denomination in the shadow of another’s steeple. Maybe you need to ask God if you are to join in with another existing church that may be struggling and needing your help. If God does not have a plan for a new work, it will fail. But if you feel He is leading you to plant a church, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Start with serious prayer about how God would have you to proceed. Just as in Lynn’s case, He will reveal his desire to you in His own timing.
- Begin the right way. In other words, you need to have support, including financial support. This may come through your denomination’s national work or through the work of your state leadership. During the organizational and building time you will need funds, possibly for the renting of your meeting space, chairs, promotional materials, staff salary (as appropriate), and so forth.
- Make sure the new work is being planted in a place of need—possibly there is an area being targeted by your denomination where new churches are needed and God would lead you there. Be open to whatever He has—you might have to relocate if you don’t already live in that particular area.
- Don’t go it alone. You cannot do everything by yourself. You must have a group of believers who are committed to supporting the new work with their finances and their time and talents.
In the beginning of this article I shared that we were called to lead a mission after it had already begun. We had a small congregation. We were given a bank account by the sponsor church with which to operate, but we needed people who were willing to work. For the most part, volunteer help from the sponsor church never materialized, and with the additional demands of my husband’s seminary work and my full-time job, we burned out in the space of eighteen months.
Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (nkjv). God’s plans and timing are perfect, so let him build the house.
Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.