When we set out to plant Summit Crossing 11 years ago, our goals went beyond “planting a church.“ We desired to be used by God to spark a movement. We desired to emulate the first century church we read about in Acts. We desired to be a church body that loved Christ and loved one another well. Our goal was to be a New Testament church in the 21st century.
Honestly, as a core group, we had no clue what we were doing. While I have served as a Minister to Students for 15 years, I had never pastored a church. The rest of our team consisted of a couple of physical therapists, an event coordinator, a computer programer, a few stay-at-home moms, and a helicopter pilot. We knew, however, that despite our combined lack of experience, God was calling us to not only plant one church, but to see multiple churches planted. And now, by God’s grace, in the last 11 years we have been able to plant 2 other Summit Crossing Churches. We have also been able to be a part of the equipping and sending out of 6 other church planters. Here are a few of the lessons we have learned along the way.
1. Church-planting churches have the right leader.
Healthy churches require healthy leadership. This may seem pretty basic, but making sure a leader is heathy requires intentionality. If a leader has major gaps in his life (whether it be family, finances, or sin patterns), these “gospel gaps” will inevitably lead to gospel gaps within the church. A healthy leader will produce healthy teams, which in turn produces a healthy church.
If the church plant depends on the talents and efforts of one man, it will not succeed . . . We plant with teams. These teams include equipped men and women who are willing and ready to engage on the front lines.
Not only must the leader be healthy, he must have a healthy vision for the area in which the church is being planted. Early in our journey, we made the mistake of geographically planting a leader who had a pastoral calling on his life in a region in which he was not necessarily “called” to. The lack of vision from the leader led to a lack of vision for the church plant. There was a lack of cultural engagement and therefore, the church never gained traction. We pulled back and refocused our efforts on Gospel Communities instead of continuing to attempt a gathering. Lesson learned.
2. Church-planting churches have the right team.
If the church plant depends on the talents and efforts of one man, it will not succeed. We were blessed to plant Summit Crossing with a team. As I mentioned earlier, this team was not experienced but they were sold out. Each and every family member was called and ready to give their life away for the mission. I have seen many a solo church planter launch out with the full intent to lay it all on the line. It needs to be said that solo missions are difficult missions. We plant with teams. These teams include equipped men and women who are willing and ready to engage on the front lines. We look for individuals who know the cost and are willing to sacrifice to move the Kingdom forward.
We desire a core group of committed followers who not only have memorized Luke 9:23 but actually live it. It is for these that we pray for. These are the ones we send out.
3. Church-planting churches have the right motive.
Church planting is a biblical idea, but one may ask, “When is planting a church a bad idea?” The motive behind planting can be faulty if we are not careful. Here are a few motives we believe are dangerous and need to be checked.
Are you planting a church to provide a platform for gifted individuals to use their gifts?
While it is certainly a benefit to have a gifted teacher or worship leader up front when planting, it should not be a motivation for planting. If this is the ultimate motive, then there is much risk for the church plant to be centered around giftedness rather than multiplication. There are other ways to allow these leaders to exercise their gifts without starting a gathering. We certainly look for gifted men and women who can lead out, but a humble team player who gets the vision is priority.
Are you planting a church because you feel no one else is doing church “right”?
If planting is about doing church “better” than your comrades in the community, then you run the risk of hoarding people and resources rather than being generous. Instead of sending out teams and planting more churches, a leader with this motive might find himself going after more impressive people and developing impressive programs rather than releasing people and resources for Kingdom impact.
If you launch a church hoping to make disciples without having fruit on the tree, the dream drifts to frustration, disappointment, and burnout.
Are you planting a church driven by the vision of who you do not want to be versus a clear understanding of who God is calling you to be?
There are actually a host of other wrong motives, but let me share with you what we believe to be the right motive. For us, we plant churches for the sheer purpose of saturating our communities, our city, and beyond with the Gospel. For this kind of Gospel saturation to occur, our churches are required to know the Gospel, connect in Gospel relationships, and live out the Gospel in everyday life. We are trusting that if this is our motive, then Gospel centered churches will be planted and God will get the glory!
4. Church-planting churches have disciple-makers.
If you are going to plant churches that plant churches, then you must identify, equip, and send people who are committed to Gospel community life. When you have a community of believers truly living out the Gospel in their part of the city, the result will be a multiplication of Gospel communities. This should naturally become a sustainable church that not only scatters for Gospel mission, but gathers weekly for Gospel worship.
If you launch a church hoping to make disciples without having fruit on the tree, the dream drifts to frustration, disappointment, and burnout. Disciples are made in the trenches of everyday life, not from hanging banners from every street corner. We believe church planting begins way before a weekly corporate gathering happens. Church planting begins when multiple families are opening their homes for gospel growth and multiplication begins to happen to the point of a sustainable church emerging. When we begin to see a cluster of gospel communities emerge, we look to identity and equip men and women to lead out. We have learned this process is a beautiful way to raise up leaders, and naturally leads to a church planting church.
Finally, our hope for the future is to see healthy churches planting other healthy churches for the glory of God. Our hope is to be a part of sending out godly men who are more serious about Jesus than their favorite sports team. Our hope is that men will not take themselves too seriously, but will take the mission to advance the gospel very seriously. We desire to see men who love their families more than they love preaching good sermons. We want to see churches that celebrate sending people out more than they celebrate crossing the 1000 person barrier in worship. Our hope is to be a part of a church planting movement drenched in God’s grace and power. Our hope is for the world to look radically different in the next 10 to 20 years because of healthy gospel centered churches that have been planted around the world.
This post was written by Paul Whaley, pastor at Summit Crossing Community Church in Huntsville, AL.