No matter where you are on the church-model spectrum few would argue that growing a congregation is something most church planters keep their eyes on. From your initial “public service” to the attendance ebb and flow of the year, emotions (and unfortunately esteem and worth) can easily rise and fall with how many more plastic, “easily stackable” blue seats you’ve put out on the rented elementary school’s “cafetorium” floor than when you first began. Far from being unspiritual as some might have you believe (see book of Acts), growing numerically is a chief concern for a planter. That is if he wants to meet monthly church expenses, increase ministry resources, reach more non-Christians, not to mention paying a home mortgage, supporting his family and continuing to eat. I’m sure there may be a few more reasons that have slipped my mind. Needless to say, having a newly planted church gaining in attendance is a big factor in said church staying in existence.
However a caution must be issued and a suggestion extended. Before you build a crowd you should first build an army.
“Fight the idea of building a crowd in lieu of an army. It’s not worth it. “
Many planters know this but several dismiss it in pursuit of adding to their membership roll way too soon. The idea is simply that until you do anything to really promote or market your church, you first build into a core group who “lock, stock and barrel” buy into your vision, values and ministry model. These men and women will go to the wall for you. They’ll defend you even if they don’t have all the information. They’re loyal, committed and put their service where their mouth is. Usually armies like this aren’t assembled, they’re forged – with your blood, sweat and tears being the catalytic mixture. In other words, forging takes intensity and time…a lot of it. You can’t build an army at an “established church”-pastor’s pace. You’re a church planter which means an insanely inordinate amount of front-end work to get your core to where they need to be – a lot of dinners in the homes of others, grabbing breakfast with a different collection of guys at the local cafe every other day and a bunch of work in between. Tiring? Yes, but remember you’re building an army not a crowd.
Core Team = Immune System
Think of your core group as your church’s antibodies. The more you have the less exposed your congregation is to the illnesses of renegade lay leaders who want to change the church’s mission, pockets of “hobby horse” groups who bring disunity over what the pastor (and his team) haven’t done ministry-wise and a whole host of other malignant attacks church plants usually suffer. Remember that when you’re about to explode from eating out so much, or when you forget what day it is due to the breakneck pace of the last seven days (or was it the last fourteen?) or when you find yourself in a message-prep “cram session” on Saturday night because important meetings filled up most of the day, you are doing the hard work now so when potential congregation-destroying “germs” hit your church during its fragile infancy you’ll come out the other side intact and focused on your mission because you’ve given it a robust immunity system. Don’t worry, you’ll likely have enough examples of how church planters didn’t do this well – they’ll either painfully meander the ecclesiastical desert of strip malls with about 20 people for years, raise the white flag and merge with another church or just close up shop altogether.
“Think of your core group as your church’s antibodies.”
If you go down this route, I would also encourage the church’s first public service (and maybe even the next couple following weekends) to be dedicated to extolling and explaining the mission and vision of the church. Set the tone early for those who’ve just shone up and are wondering if they want to pitch in with the rest. Tell the people who you are and who you are not. The message should both attract and repel – it should aim at inspiring the people who will stack hands on the church’s mission and push away those who want something different from you and the church. This kind of sermon (or sermon series) will also galvanize your army even further as they see that all the leadership you’ve given to this point wasn’t just smoke and mirrors but truly the DNA of the lead planter (and by association…the church he is beginning). By the way, I hope you like giving these kind of messages because you’ll be preaching them to the congregation for the rest of your life with the church. At least you will if you’re a good leader.
So remember, fight the idea of building a crowd in lieu of an army. It’s not worth it. The penalty may be far more congregational fires than you are willing, or even able, to put out. Don’t prematurely shoot the starting pistol until you’ve done all you can to forge a group who will be willing to cross the line in the sand for the church’s mission and your leadership in it.
Build an army before a crowd.
This post was written by Yancey Arrington, the Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in League City, TX. You can find his blog here and is the author of TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You.