Undoubtedly the first years of church planting are hardest and most volatile for the church planter – which is why so many churches never make it past their childhood, as the planter implodes under the pressure brought on from lack of resources, exhaustion and loneliness among other factors.
A significant factor in survival during the first few years is getting the church planter connected to wisdom and encouragement through other men who have gone before him. Acts 29 wants to see this happening through coaching and many other avenues. Here we pass along some wisdom from Jonathan Dodson, lead planter of Austin City Life in Texas.
Don’t forget to ask the pagans! If you are fundraising, remember that God used the pagan king Cyrus to fund the rebuilding of an entire city. He can definitely handle your church planting needs. Most pagans know more about your city than you do, and some of them love it more than you. Be sure to ask God first and others second when you are fundraising. And don’t forget to ask the pagans.
Spend more time with people and less time with books in the first year of church planting. Learn your city, know its lostness, love your city, re-learn how to share the gospel in your context. Most of your reading should be your Bible and what I call “emergency reading”–reading in areas that you are deficient so that you can lead well. Don’t spend inordinate amounts of time in your study or at the library. Spend time with your people, your fellow citizens, your neighbors. Ask them good questions. Fall in love with your target people. The more you know and love them, the more you will be able to share the gospel in a way that makes sense, that strips away misunderstandings of the gospel and slides in truly good news. Deliberate time with people also leads to better applied gospel from the pulpit, better preaching.
Identify the top 10 Obstacles to the Gospel in your Context. Don’t do this from the armchair, do it from anecdotes (conversations) and cultural exegesis (spending time in pockets of resistance or indifference). Sure, read local authors, newspapers, and magazines, but don’t stop there. Talk deeply with nonbelievers. Ask them what they think of when they here the word “gospel.” Ask them what puts them off from Christianity. Learn from them on mission.
Identify the top 10 Obstacles to the Church in your Context. Anecdotes and exegesis. Learn the history of hypocrisy in your city or town so that you can apologize and distance yourself from mockeries of the Church. What do people think of when they think “church”? Have they ever gone to one? Why did they stop? Learn how to talk about and be the church in your cultural context in a way that is biblically faithful and culturally sensitive.
Don’t spend ungodly amounts of money or time on developing your first website. It will all change anyway, several times. You should be with people, not websites and blogs (!). Here are two good, inexpensive web solutions for early stage church planting: Church Root & Clover Sites. If you don’t like social networking, find someone on your team that does. Network through social media, but don’t make it a substitute for spending time with people. More time with people; less time with the screen.