I don’t think most church planters know what they are getting themselves into. Starting a new church is a lot of hard work. It’s not glamorous, no matter how many conferences you attend or how much you have dreamed about being the guy at the top. If you’ve ever fought your way through a tough time, a lengthy illness, personal failure, or gut-wrenching grief, you might have an idea of what’s coming.
You may know how to program lights and create a cool web site…. you may know how to preach a sermon and quote your favorite authors from the books you’ve read…. you might even know how to conduct liturgy….. and that will last you about three months. You are going to work in a field where there is an 80-85% failure rate. You have to be more substantial than that if you hope to survive.
You’re not setting up a lemonade stand, you know.
Here are some unique features about being a church planter:
(1) You cannot coast. Ever. Things won’t run themselves by themselves and there is no auto-pilot. You will have your nose to the grind all the time, pushing things through. If you fail to act, things will not get done. Indecisiveness will quickly result in things falling apart. There’s no one else to do it. It’s not like there’s a bunch of staff or other departments to make up the slack, so you’ll have to do it.
(2) More thought has to be put into developing systems. In an established church you can rely upon established systems, but in a church plant you have to develop the systems yourself and develop them as you go.
(3) You have to move fast. Deadlines come every week. You must adapt quickly.
(4) You’ll morph into the very kind of pastor you said you would never be. When you were on staff you hated some of the decisions that your senior pastor was making. You promised yourself, “If I ever become a senior pastor myself, I will never act like that or treat people that way.” Yet, as a church planter you will. You will have to talk about money. You will be concerned about church growth because without it you are doomed to failure. You will talk about mission statements and strategies. You will have to make tough decisions that affect people. Some of your sermons will be duds. You will hurt people’s feelings. You’ll have to run some aspects of the church like a business. Yea, you will become the guy you said you would never be like.
(5) There’s no safety net. You fail, you don’t eat.
Ronnie, I completely agree with your comment about church planters not knowing what they are getting themselves into. I have made the same observations on new financial advisors that I coach (also a field with a very high failure rate). As new pastors (entrepreneurs) get into a startup, they encounter surprises. I have seen that it is how a person reacts to those surprises that determines the level of success that he or she enjoys. I am currently researching this very topic for my dissertation.
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