In the US, churches are closing at alarming rates. Church attendance continues to decline as the number of people who view religion as irrelevant or don’t believe in God steadily increases. Planting and sustaining evangelistic churches that make disciples of Jesus has never been more urgent.
While church planting is worthy work with eternal significance, it’s also hard work. You might assume the main reason a new church plant closes its doors is due to a lack of funding. While insufficient resources are often a factor, according to a recent ECFA study, planters whose churches closed cited “lack of an adequate core group” as the primary reason. Church planters and their families face many challenges. Having passionate, skilled, and committed teams around them drastically contributes to the sustainability of a new church.
Building a solid core team for your church plant is critical, but how is it done? I asked some pastors and leaders of Acts 29 churches to share their expertise learned after years of planting. Read their helpful tips below for identifying, developing, and growing missional core teams who plant churches worldwide.
“I think the biggest trap in identifying a core team member for a church plant is when we get distracted by a person’s gifts and competencies. Although core competencies are important for any team member, I’ve found greater success when building around the gospel character of an individual—the faith, missionality, and resilience—which make up the church’s culture in its earliest stages. Your core team stands a greater probability of remaining intact when you build around people with a desire for the gospel to be central, a genuine love for Jesus, and a repentant heart as opposed to people who have important skills. We get drunk on a person’s skillsets and assume too much about their character in church planting.”
Donny Cho: senior pastor, Metro Church
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania I think the biggest trap in identifying a core team member for a church plant is when we get distracted by a person's gifts and competencies. - Donny Cho Click To Tweet
“Ask Jesus for workers. Ask young people for a year. Ask professionals to relocate and retired people to use their spare time. Ask, ask, ask, ask!”
David Pinckney: mission pastor, River of Grace Church
Concord, New Hampshire
“The most important thing to have on your core team is complementary leaders. Ask yourself, ‘who do I need around me to lead this church holistically?’ Those are the leaders to target and develop.”
Justin Anderson: Acts 29 director of church planting
“We’ve planted three churches since 2019, and I’m more convinced than ever that the healthiest church plants start with a good team. We’ve made a strategic decision that we’ll never plant a solo planter again. Two are better than one, and the three-cord strand is not easily broken!”
Chris Lewis: lead pastor, Foothill Church
“One of the most valuable things to look at when building your core team is not necessarily what they can accomplish/do or what they are gifted at (though these matter a lot!), but look at who they are. We found some of our most outwardly gifted people were also some of the ones who struggled the most with pride or other sin issues. Our most humble, hungry, and teachable folks are the ones who have grown the most, grown the church the most, and stuck around the longest.”
Travis Cunningham: lead pastor, Story Church
Rancho Cucamonga, California Our most humble, hungry, and teachable folks are the ones who have grown the most, grown the church the most, and stuck around the longest. - Travis Cunningham Click To Tweet
“The number one thing I tell guys is that they have to develop their launch/core team to think like church planters. It’s not just them planting the church; they must develop a team of church planters. Planters today need to have the mentality that they’re developing a missionary band that is planting this church.”
Chad Clarkson: pastor of church planting, Clear Creek Community Church
League City, Texas
“One mistake many church planters make when building a core team is being content with gathering people instead of gathering the right people. You don’t just need warm bodies to pad out your numbers; you need people who are evangelistic, missional, enthusiastic, and bought in. As well as making sure you gather the right people on your core team, as the lead planter, you need to communicate your expectations with them clearly.”
Tyler St. Clair: lead pastor, Cornerstone Church
“When gathering a core group, it’s important to cast a wide net with a well-executed networking plan. Many church planters don’t meet or connect with enough people. The result is a core group that is too small or doesn’t accurately represent the population they’re trying to reach. To gather a group of 50, a church planter will need to connect with hundreds of people. Many have no plan for how to do this.”
Hunter Beaumont: lead pastor, Fellowship Denver Church
“A core team gathered to plant a church should be united around the mission of church planting. Be wary of core team members primarily concerned with finding a platform for their ministry. Church planting has a communal goal.”
Will Basham: lead pastor, New Heights Church
Milton, West Virginia
“Core teams are critically important and immensely valuable, but it’s possible that many of them won’t stick with you to the end. Some won’t make it five years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pour into or care for them. Just prepare for potential heartbreak and keep your identity secure in Jesus.”
Noel Heikkinen: pastor of teaching and church planting, Riverview Church
Holt, Michigan Let’s set up new churches for success by maximizing their missional effectiveness through solid core teams. Click To Tweet
As we work together as a global network to make disciples of Jesus Christ, let us do so by giving our church plants a good start. Let’s set up new churches for success by maximizing their missional effectiveness through solid core teams. May a new story be told soon of how more churches are being planted worldwide than ever before.