22 years ago I started my first church in Gresham Oregon. I made many mistakes, and didn’t follow all the rules, but in the end God was faithful to raise up a church that was not there before. In my ministry, I have planted 2 churches and resurrected one church that basically was an empty building. Just this last weekend I met another successful church planter named Steve Sjogren. He started the Cincinnati Vineyard Christian Fellowship which ended up becoming a church of 6,000 people. We hit it off instantly, partially because of our mutual love for church planting. It is because of this meeting and because we have started a church planting section of this website, that I decided to write a post on how to plant a church.
6 Steps To Starting A Church.
In all honesty, there is no finite number of steps to start a church. I used the number 6 because of my warped sense of humor. There is a competing website that comes here all the time and gets ideas from us. When we started the church planting section of this website they immediately did a blog post on church planting. It was called “How to Plant a Church? 6 Helpful Steps” Church planting is a journey and not a formula. However there are some basic ingredients that most church plants other than accidental ones, have in common. I will try to outline for you what those ingredients are.
The call to be a church planter.
The call to be someone who starts a church is an unique calling. It takes more than a seminary degree or an ordination. It takes a personality and drive that is different from regular pastoral callings. There are personality traits and evangelistic giftings that need to be in place as well. You must know that you are called to start a church.
1 Corinthians 3:6
New Living Translation (NLT)
6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.
The Apostle Paul was a consummate church planter. He would go to town to town and start a church and then leave it in the hands of people that he trained to continue the ministry. Not all people have this calling or are equipped and gifted for this type of ministry. So before you run out and decide to start a church, prayerfully consider whether or not you are called to this type of ministry. Here are a couple of resources to help you in this consideration.
Engaging in a church plant is more than just starting a church. It is taking territory away from the enemy. It is an offensive move against the kingdom of darkness. As such, you better have people who are called to pray for you and your new church. I find that one of the key indicators that God is calling you to plant a church is whether or not people of prayer will commit to praying for you and the new church daily.
I recommend that you have between 25 and 100 people that will commit to praying for you and the new church for at least 15 minutes per day. This is more than people just praying for God to bless you. It is people that will beseech heaven on your behalf for souls to be saved, for protection for you and your leadership team, and that the Holy Spirit will move in powerful ways.
Every mighty move of the Spirit of God has had its source in the prayer chamber. – Edward McKendree (E. M.) Bounds
You might be able to start a church without prayer, but it will be an ineffective church. It will not see people saved, healed, and filled with God’s Spirit without a prayer backing. So do not neglect this step and do not ignore this if God does not bring alongside of you people willing to pray.
I recommend you read these two books about prayer before starting your church plant.
- The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds – Experience the wonders of God through prayer.
- Rees Howells: Intercessor
Scope out the land.
You need to understand the area that you are going to start your church in. You need to know what type of people, their needs, their culture, their values before you start your church. Starting a church in the Bible belt is much different than starting a church in the Northeast or the Northwest. Taking what works in Atlanta or Houston may not work in Seattle or Boston. You need to know the people you are trying to reach.
The first step is by doing a demographics study.v A demographics study is a study of the social and economic factors in an area. It shows the ages, sexes, marital status, economic factors, and employment factors of a place. You can get a demographic study done for you at MissionInsite. Learn what the people are like. Ask God to give you a burden for these people. Let Him place them on your heart. Evaluate whether or not these are the type of people that God has qualified you to minister to.
This may sound like something that is boring and unimportant but it really isn’t. You will be able to tell if you are dealing with a lot of people who are divorced, single moms or poor. You can tell if a city or town is growing or declining. You will be able to tell if it has a lot of young people, families, or retirees. This is important as God begins to give you a vision on how to reach this community for Christ.
No man is an island. God has not given you every gift that is needed for a church plant. Even the Apostle Paul didn’t go out on his church planting mission trips by himself. You will need those that will come beside you to work in this endeavour. It is another sign that God is leading you to plant a church. A leader has those that are willing to follow them.
Some of the basic elements that you need on a church planting team are people who are called to lead worship, called to teach, those who are natural evangelists, and those that are gifted with a helps ministry. Each church planting team is unique and what you should look for is those people that have giftings that are different and compliment your own gifting.
Here are some key considerations in picking members of your team.
- Character. Don’t make the mistake of valuing abilities over character. Always, always, always go for character first.
- Vision. When a diverse group of people come together on one team, there’s great potential for disagreements and splits. Make sure you make your vision plain to all the church members and they have the same vision as you.
- Function. Only after the first two considerations are satisfied do you then look at their function and role in the church plant.
One final note in team building for your new church. Remember that some people have differing needs and motives for wanting to be on a church planting team. Some of these needs and motives are not healthy so use discernment when choosing your team members. In one church plant I did, I was not that careful and I ended up having 3 Korah style rebellions in 3 years. It was no fun!
Obtain Financial Support.
There are times where a church is started without needing a dime in the beginning but these are few and far between. In every church plant that I have done, God has supplied the funds needed to start the church. There is an old axiom that I believe in.
“Where God guides, God provides!”
You will need money for things like flyers, equipment, chairs, a rented building, advertising, ect. Not all churches start expense free. Some of the places to look for God’s providence is places like your home church, your denomination, if you are part of one, or churches that you are affiliated with. There are also parachurch organizations that will fund church plants. I have also had God provide finances directly through team members. I remember in our church plant in Ely Nevada that God gave an attorney that was part of our team a settlement that was quite large. The tithe from that settlement was enough to start the church. God always provides for what He wants us to do. I have seen it time and time again.
Finally it comes down to launch day. You have the call. You have the prayer support. You have the vision for the community. You have your team and they have been working together for a while. You have the funds and it is time to start.
- Secure a meeting place. Not all cultures in America are open to home meetings. Some are more individualistic and prefer meeting at neutral locations. So you have to decide if you are going to meet in a house or a public location. If it is public, then you have to secure your meeting place. Schools, community centers, and hotel conference rooms make great places to start. You can also rent a more permanent location as well. In my first church we rented a warehouse. In my 3rd church we rented a storefront. Both worked well for us.
- Purchase your equipment. You will need things like a PA system, video system, chairs, communion trays, offering containers, ect. Some of these might be able to be obtained from your home church or another church that has extra equipment. But you will need these things.
- Get the word out. This is not field of dreams. Just because you hang a sign on a building saying “Joe Blow’s Excellent Church” does not mean people will come. You need to get the word out. Advertising is one way but not the only way. When I started my first church I did press releases to every newspaper and radio station in the community. Because of the stories that these media avenues ran, I had new members on my very first day. Get your team to pass out flyers, and if you can afford it, do a postcard mailing informing people of the new church in their area.
- Schedule your opening Sunday. Set a date for an opening Sunday. I recommend that you don’t do it during summer when everyone is busy with other things. Get your team in place. Have a night of prayer beforehand and open your doors. Let the adventure begin.
Honestly, starting a new church sounds a lot scarier than it really is. God is on your side. You will make mistakes, do dumb things, but in the end God honors people that will honor Him. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t try to be a mega-church or the church you came from. The church you start will be unique and different. That is part of God’s plan. Just be honest and sincere believers in Jesus who are banded together to reach that community with the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus.