So you want to plant a church…
Why Church Planting is Hard, But Completely Worth It!
By: Kirk Hadden | Case Studies Church Planting featured Habits & Culture
Below is a lightly edited transcription of the video above, featuring ArtSpeak Co-Founders Kirk Hadden and Jason Bowman.
Congratulations! You just signed up for one of the hardest seasons of your life.
Kirk: So I heard you want to plant a church.
Jason: Me too! Or at least I thought I did. I did plant a church and, I’ll tell ya, it’s not easy.
Kirk: It’s not. In fact, the statistics are kind of grim out there on how many church plants survive and how many ministers are dropping out. Because ministry in itself is a tough job.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, and starting something brand new that didn’t exist, any organization, any company is a tough job. I mean, the stats on that are staggering.
Kirk: So congratulations!
Jason: You just signed up for the hardest season of your life! We’re here to congratulate you.
Kirk: And I think the hardest part of any of this is people.
Jason: Yeah, ministry would be a lot easier if it wasn’t for people. I’ve heard someone else say that, but I’ve stolen it now. I just said it.
RELATED: Resource Links for Church Planters
Gathering Your Launch Team
Kirk: And especially as you’re getting started, as you’re looking forward to a launch, you’re trying to gather the momentum, you’re trying to get all the pieces together so that you actually have a church to present to the world. And one of the key challenges there at the beginning is gathering the right people before you’ve even launched — gathering that Launch Team.
Jason: The Launch Team, it’s important. I think our Launch Team, the network we were a part of [was] about 42 adults. And what I mean by “adults” is anyone over 10 years old.
Kirk: Yes. And it’s a challenge as you begin, you’re trying to scrounge up all the people you can because you know you’ve got all these positions to fill, all of the kids workers and worship team and greeters and all of that. And so you’re taking anyone and everyone.
Jason: Oh, right there, that’s, that is a landmine that I stepped on. We were taking anyone and everyone. I think whether you’re starting a business or you’re starting a church, when you start out you’re in this like survival mode mindset that says, I’ll take anyone, I just need a warm body. I just need anyone who’s had any kind of Christian experience. And I think it creates an opportunity, an open door, an invitation out there for danger.
Kirk: If you go out and tell the world, “Hey, I’m going to start a church,” you will attract a certain kind of people. Particularly people who have had bad experiences with church and with church leaders in the past, but what to be a part of a church. You know, they’re believers. They are going to be attracted to the idea of a new church that they can be a part of from the very beginning, and therefore, realize some of their ideas and their dreams about what church should be that maybe the last church they were a part of just didn’t live up to for them.
But if you look into these people, you may find that there’s actually been a pattern of that in the past and that they might have really high expectations for what a church and a church leader should be. And none of the churches and church leaders that they’ve interacted with in the past have seemed to live up to that for them.
Say It, Say It Again, and Say It a Third Time
Jason: Right, but I thought I was the Messiah who could fix that, right? We were the answer. We wanted to reach the unchurched and the de-churched and the burned-by-the-church. I said that. And honestly, that third group is a tough one. My heart goes out to their past experience where they got burned. And sometimes people that got burned didn’t get unburned, they didn’t get healed from that burn. And then that can just begin to play on. They come in with a different lens. They come in with different luggage and baggage.
Here’s one warning sign for that: when they come in and they’re complaining to you at all about that last pastor. And they will, whether you’ve been around for a short time or a long time, someone’s going to come up and they’re going to complain to you about their last church. What I found is like, chances are, and you’ve probably heard this at conferences before, too, that you’re going to be next on the list.
One thing that I started doing — I didn’t learn this right away — But right away I was like, “Oh, you’re a Christian and you know how to run sound? You’re now the director!” Or, “Oh, you know how to do graphics? Oh, you know how to do music? We’ll put you up on the stage, we need people to do music!” Again, taking anybody.
But what I learned when people would vent to me about their last church, their past church, however bad it was, I would just confess immediately that I’m worse at that thing. So they come in and say, “You know what, I’m leaving my last church. They always talk about money.” And I was like, “Oh, I know that church. I talk about money a little bit more than they do,” whether it was true or not. You know, “My last church, he just only wanted to see evangelism happen.” I had somebody say that, that they were “just about the lost.” “Oh, I know that church. I’m actually more about the lost.” And that seemed to nip the conversation in the bud sometimes.
Kirk: Yeah, and so you may lose some people in that conversation, but it’s important to set those expectations. And you’re going to have to work extra hard because you can say a thing, but they’re going to hear a different thing.
Jason: I hate that. I hate that that’s true.
Kirk: And I think it’s especially true in this church formation process where you start talking about this new church and you can start casting the vision for those values and those goals. And they are going to translate those in their minds, into their values and their goals for a church. And so you’re just going to have to communicate double or triple what you thought was necessary.
Consider Financial Independence
Jason: And also when it comes to that, you’ve got to find and surround yourself with people who are mature enough to listen and hear and work that dialogue out with you.
So if I were to do it again, I think I would try to find a way not to be as financially dependent on that future church. I know I’m getting real here for a second, but believe it or not, church planters often hope that this church will supply their family’s needs, their team needs. They know that it’s going to be difficult at first and we’re going to raise some money. But that is so often the goal in modern America. Right where we’re at, right now, that is a goal. Probably a goal of yours, even.
And of course it’s going to happen. I wish I had gone in with some sort of financial sustainability, whether it was raised [more] or even a second income. Or even a bi-vocational, yet super flexible arrangement. I don’t know what that looks like for you.
I know there are some right now where that conversation is growing in America — how can you do relevant bi-vocational ministry? Conferences are springing up, conversations are happening about how you can do that because in some contexts, like the urban core, that becomes a necessity because it’s maybe not as sustainable as it is in the suburbs. But I wonder if the suburbs are super sustainable in areas that don’t have a high evangelical base. For instance, a lot of the suburbs we planted in, only less than one out of 10 had ever been to an evangelical church, let alone were ready for mature leadership.
So, financial sustainability. Just think through it. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but that’s something that you’re going to really want to plan through and not just hope it happens really great (like these super success stories that you’ve read about or even are being mentored by, honestly). But I’d also look at the team and pick — like I would wait. That’s where the financial piece comes in — I would wait to launch until I had those key people around me that had that maturity level, education level, experience level that felt like, “Yeah, I could trust them.”
And a relational level, too. There was a relational season that you and I had gone through, not just a month, not just six months. I think ours was like a 10-month ramp up. I wish it had been more like 18 months. A longer season of doing life together, projects together, going through the calendar together before planning the grand opening because stuff can happen during that time, shifts can happen. People can reveal who they are, their vision, their values, compared to your vision, your values. Who is able to resolve conflict with you? Who’s really going to be able to lead other future leaders with you?
“Where do I find the right people?”
Kirk: That’s really good. And there’s some questions that we tend to get from the church planters that we work with. Like, “One, how do you find people in the first place? How do you get those people, talk to them, get them on your Launch Team?”
Jason: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it goes back to relationships. I think you really have to lean into your relationships, both the ones that you already have somewhere in the country — but now, if you jump in and parachute into an area, then you’re going to have to really get good at building dynamic relationships within that city. Networking, relating, connecting, following up. Maybe create some patterns of going to this coffee shop on this day or this restaurant or this gym at this time and really start building relationships.
But I’d also be looking everywhere in the country. Who’s willing to respond to your vision? Who lines up with your values? Who do you work well with that might even be willing to relocate? Or who’s there in that city that you can connect with?
And the hard thing is you’re not talking about paying these people. Say you’re going to go into an area that doesn’t have a lot of evangelicals. That means you don’t have a lot of people that have a ministry degree or ministry experience. Where do these people come from?
Kirk: Well, I think one idea that’s popped up in our conversations recently was maybe intentionally getting a job in your area that allows you to brush up with lots of different people. Maybe that means working at Chipotle. Just something that allows you to be out in contact with people intentionally. Increasing your surface area, so to speak.
Jason: Honestly, the opportunities that I’ve had — for personal evangelism, building that bridge, turning on a light, connecting with people — have radically increased now that I’m not on staff at a local church. I don’t know if it made me more approachable or if my eyes were open to it, but as I’ve networked around in my city that I’d been in for 11 years, there’s way more relational connection, way more relational opportunity because my vocation isn’t in a local church, even though a lot of what I do is still very related to a local church.
I also think I’ve been more intentional about being out there networking because I’m not just in one local church, I’m out there building relationships. I also think there’s something about being in a city for 11 years that naturally leads to that. Which means maybe that parachute in — I also see a lot of church planters, a lot of our clients that are saying, “I’m going to jump in. We’re gonna move in June and we’re going to launch in August.” I’m like, maybe. Nobody even knows you.
I think, yeah, you can market well, you can get the word out really well — it is possible to create that. But the truth is you can market yourself to death, meaning that good advertising is only going to kill an organization quicker if it doesn’t have the goods to deliver.
How To Invest in Your Launch Team
Kirk: And that’s the challenge, right? Building up the Launch Team is a huge percentage of that. That’s where you have to infuse your culture, your values and your systems, your procedures, so that you can do church and do it in such a way that people come in and they feel that breath of fresh air and they experience something that makes them want to come back.
And to do that you’re going to have to invest in that team and build them up. Which I think you did really well when remembering back to the Launch Team days. And I remember the way that you were able to give us ownership of this church while still guiding the vision and those sessions where you would bring us in, you’d break us into small groups and we would ideate.
We’d ask, “What does the church that we want to plant look like?” And we came up with adjectives and words and phrases, and then you brought us all back together. We spit it all out on a huge whiteboard. Actually I think it was just a big pad of paper. We’d begin to clump similar ideas together until we were able to draw out this word or that word or this phrase. That became our core values.
They became kind of the signpost for “This is the kind of church that we would create.” And doing it that way allowed us as the Launch Team to feel like we came up with this. In a very real way we had, but it was also being very carefully guided by the vision that Jason had.
Jason: The truth is like, you’re smart. You’ve been around church, you want to lead a church. You want to create it. It’s probably already in your head and in your heart. And you could probably write out something that would be very close to what that team could develop. No doubt we got phraseology and some vocabulary from that environment that I probably couldn’t have by myself, or wouldn’t have come up with.
But the process did create this sense of, “Hey, we’re doing this together.” So you’re not giving away a lot of — I mean, it’s felt power and it’s giving away ownership. You’re inviting more people into that conversation. And it was fun. Honestly, I remember those meetings and it wasn’t just one or two, but ongoing. It was a fun season.
Kirk: And that’s another question that we get a lot. How often should we meet as a Launch Team? And I think that answer might vary depending on your timeline, where you’re at, and how far along you are…
Jason: Your schedule at Chipotle.
Kirk: Your schedule at Chipotle. But by the time we were doing it, it was every week.
Jason: Every week, yeah. But we didn’t do music and we didn’t — I mean, it wasn’t church. Sometimes it was even on an off night, but it was a weekly thing. And then honestly, on the weekends, as we got closer, we went around to other churches and come back with, “What did we like? What do we did not like? What was the felt feeling in the room? What was the visitor experience like? How can we create one that would really mirror our vision and values?”
Kirk: And those meetings were not a ton of work from the leadership perspective of putting those on, but they were fun for the people that came. Not that we weren’t prepared, we were. We wanted to have some fun, have some team-building exercises. We did the personality assessment. We went through the growth track, if you’re familiar with ARC, as a Launch Team. And all of that was very engaging and interactive and we discovered something about ourself and we were building a church together. That made it — that just built up that vision, that excitement for launch day.
Take Your Time — Don’t Rush It
Jason: And so, you know, to give an answer in this video, I would take as long as it takes. Looking back, you have to have the right team in place. And we had leaders in place. I think I would have taken longer. I would have leaned into that season for a bit longer. I would’ve made sure that there was, again, maybe some conflict that we’d already overcome together rather than just, “This is going to be great, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be great!”
We launched, and it wasn’t that great. We thought, “Oh wait, this thing isn’t great. Wait, this big other thing isn’t great.” You know, it was just chaos. “It’s not as great as you said.” I wish we would have gone through a long enough time to maybe have some more dialogues that aren’t great. Because not everything is going to be great. You’re not starting utopia, you’re starting a church which is sometimes far away from utopia. But you can create something life-giving, it takes time.
That goes back to relationship building, and I think a mistake I made was getting distracted from really pouring in in the early season to not just the whole Launch Team, but the key leaders.
Abdication vs. Micromanagement
And I think one thing that I did was I practiced delegation by abdication because I got busy and things were going — it was busy. So here, this is yours, run with it. And then all of a sudden I come back six or eight weeks later, or six or eight days later. And I’m like, what, what is this? This isn’t good. And they’re like, well, it’s what I did, it is good. Then there was, because I didn’t pour into that team, and I could go on and on about my reasons and my excuses, but ultimately as the leader, I think I’ve learned that delegation by abdication really isn’t leadership, right?
When I just abdicate all authority to somebody, yet I’m going to come back in at the end, it starts feeling like micromanagement, even though it’s actually the complete opposite from micromanagement. Micromanagement is like, “Hey, I’m not even going to delegate this. Every day I’m going to tell you exactly what to do and how to do it.”
There’s probably somewhere in between micromanagement and complete abdication of responsibility that leadership probably thrives. And I think I missed that balance.
Kirk: That’s a key conversation and it’s going to vary depending on who you’re talking to. There’s the rope metaphor, like with delegation, that lets out a little rope and then a little more, and then a little more as a that person grows in their own skill and confidence and abilities to be able to accomplish the expectations that you’ve given to them.
Jason: And I think what you just said there is the key to that, setting very clear expectations, and then setting up a natural calendar, like weekly, not annually, because you’re brand new — setting up natural calendar accountability to that. “Hey, let’s meet, I gave you this expectation. Are we measuring up? How’s it going? How’s it feel?”
And doing it in a relational way. Listen, that’s part of the team building, that Launch Team, that leadership team. Do you have a staff team? And I’d be careful with titles, that’d be a whole other video, but here’s the deal. All the things that we’re talking about get really kinda nitty because it’s tough. It’s tough, it’s hard work.
Why Church Planting Is Worth It
Kirk: You know, to bring it back to the beginning, church planting is hard. It’s hard because ministry is hard. It’s hard because entrepreneurship is hard. And leadership in that context is hard because all that you have to pay these people with is sheer vision.
And emotions grow deep into this process. And it doesn’t take much friction for that hurt to go really deep in your life and in their life. And so the relational strain and leadership strain, it’s intense as you go through this church planting process. And I don’t know that there’s anything we could say to spare you completely from that. I’m sorry, you’re going to have some of that, but you know what, it’s worth it.
Jason: Totally worth it. What you’re about to do, what you’re planning on or considering doing, it’s the tip of the sword. It is the front lines. It has the greatest return, I think, on Kingdom investment anywhere you could ever make with your energy, with your time, with your talent, with your leadership. You’re willing to go in and advance something wonderful where it had never been before.
And some of you are going to go into areas that are excited about having the new church. Come on, more power to you. Like, you know, some of you are going to go into areas that need a breath of fresh air in the church and you’re going to create some stuff that is going to see lives changed.
And that’s really why I’m still addicted to the church plant conversation. Because I want to be a part of the conversation on what it takes to reach people in our culture. And I think it’s church planters like you that are going to have the greatest return on the investment of my time, my energy, whatever I can do to be a part of those conversations.
That’s why we’re doing this today is to be a part of that conversation. We don’t want this to be a discouragement. We do want you to walk into it with your eyes wide open. If there’s any landmine I’ve ever stepped on that I can say, “You might not want to step there, but more power to you.”
Man, I’d love to know what hurdles you are facing. What landmines have already exploded, or what ones would you like to avoid? What are some creative ways for financing, creative ways for team building? Whether it’s in the comment section here, whether it’s one-on-one, whether it’s in your city apart from us, just be a part of a conversation about how to do this well. That’s what we were hoping to facilitate.
So please leave your comments or reach out. We’d love to be a part of the conversation with you.