Church Planting: The People You Meet (part one)

This is the fourth installment in a series based on my adventures in planting a church.  For more information on the series, or to see what else we have walked through, check out the original post.  My hope is to use this series to develop a resource for planters as they are thinking about diving in, or need to process their current situation… this resource is incomplete without your contribution (that is a subtle way of saying leave a comment).

One of the coolest parts of planting a church is how many people you get to meet and connect with.  One of the most challenging parts of planting a church are the people you meet and connect with.  I realize that these statements are true of any ministry opportunity, yet something about church planting seems to crank up the intensity of these statements a notch.

I would like to take some time over the course of two posts to walk through the different kinds of people that you meet when planting a church.  This post will focus on the people outside of your church, and Tuesday’s follow up will be aimed at the people within your church.

With the recent rise in popularity of the church planting movement, with help of conferences like Velocity, Exponential, and organizations like the North American Mission Board throwing their considerable clout behind church planting efforts, there seems to be no lack of people who are wanting to connect with church planters as they pursue their calling.  At times this is a good thing, other times it can be sideways energy that keeps you from being able to pursue what you are called to.  With this in mind I have developed five broad categories of the people I met outside of our church while planting, and people that I am still meeting today as I partner with church planters:

  • Sending Agencies: If you are being financially supported by a denomination, network, or other ministry, the relationship with your sending agency will be a major time investment over the next few years.  Knowing how to balance the expectations placed on you by them, and the needs of your church will be a never ending struggle.
  • Colleagues: You need to be involved in relationships with people in ministry… especially someone who knows what it means to plant a church.  The ability to truly share what is going on in a safe context, free of comparing and judgement, will be what keeps you sane during the dark patches of ministry.  Your friendship to others is what will keep them sane.
  • Supporters:  The people that help you fund your church plant.  Supporters believe in you, or the work that you are doing, and while they are unable to be with you physically, they are regularly praying for you and have committed financially towards you as well.  This is a fun group of people to connect with, yet many times we run out of time to truly maintain our relationships with them.  Church planters would be well served to place a high priority on these relationships.
  • Cheerleaders:  This is a group of people who are excited by what you are doing, let you know that you are doing great work, and love to spend time with you in order to hear stories of your latest successes.  While this group tends to be generally encouraging to be around, they are typically unwilling to commit to supporting the plant, and when asked will tell you how this is “not a good time”, or something similar.  An occasional cup of coffee with cheerleaders can be a good thing, but it can be easy to invest too much time in these relationships, to the detriment of your other responsibilities.
  • Advocates:  These are some of my favorite people.  Advocates share wisdom, resources, connections, and influence with you and your church as you negotiate the planting journey.  These were the people that I would seek out when trying to better understand our cultural context (Doug K.), maneuver through bureaucracy, better understand business matters, and make sure that I wasn’t about to do something that would result in a trip to jail.  Church planters need to develop a network of advocates as they go about their work.
  • Amway: Every six months or so a friend of mine calls me with his newest multi-level marketing pitch.  In the same way, planters get inundated by people who desire an agenda driven relationship.  Whether they want you to support a community project, a missions organization, or buy a product, they want something from you, and aren’t willing to accept no for an answer. A savvy planter minimizes the amount of time invested in these relationships, and is able to clearly articulate why “we just don’t share the same calling as you…” in a way that gracefully makes your point clear.

Relationships are a tough balance when it seems that people are pulling at you from every direction.  Learning how to negotiate them, and being prepared for them will be key to maintaining sanity while starting a church.

What types of people have YOU met while church planting?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.