I have been on a church planting journey unofficially for about a year. The decision to plant happened sometime in the summer of 2018. Throughout the Fall of that year, plans were being made, funds were being raised, a team was being assembled, and prayers were being prayed. In January 2019, it became official, we had received our 501c3 status a few months before and we were ready to begin the pre-launch process.
Growing up in the church, the concept of church planting was not foreign to me. But I definitely encountered a number of people who looked at me sideways if I used the term. It sounds kind of weird if you don’t have a church background. Most people just want to say that you are starting a new church, which is much simpler and probably leads to less staring.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued to strive for authenticity from myself and the people around me. Authenticity and transparency. I get a little tired of things being shrouded in secrecy. Maybe it’s a result of growing up in a pastor’s home where Mom and Dad were always whispering about something. Nowadays, even with my kids, I probably tell them way more than they should know, but secrets never helped me in my own formation, so why should I think it will help them?
All this being said, I know that some of the most powerful lessons that I have learned in life have come from two places: learning from the mistakes of others and learning from my own mistakes. Throughout this church planting journey (as I seem to keep referring to it), I’ve decided that I need to pull back the curtain to show what’s behind it. While there are multiple reasons for it, the two main ones that jump out are that it will provide some accountability and it will also demystify what’s back there.
Two weeks after launching the first public worship service of our church startup (aka church plant, The Branch), the big question I was bombarded with was, “How’s it going?” I knew everyone meant well, but it’s a far bigger question than a two minute conversation thrown out in passing at the grocery store. I’ve never been known for brevity in words, and this time is no exception, so asking such a gigantic question and leaving me limited space to answer is hard for me.
The answer that I consistently gave to those who asked was that church planting is a little like tracking your 401k, it’s more about the long game, the journey, the trajectory. If you look at it day after day, it’s easy to get frustrated, angry, scared, worried, nervous, anxious, and a variety of other emotions that are based on its instability. Church planting, like a 401k, is not about overnight success.
I’m not sure what everyone wants to hear when I am asked that question, but I have desperately fought to not simply throw out numbers. Telling people how many people were at our launch service and how many we have had every Sunday since is tempting but not a true indicator of what’s really going on. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way we count in the 21st century church. I call it “nickels and noses.” How much money do you have and how many people are coming?
If that’s what we’re counting, than we aren’t measuring something that gives a deeper indication of the change or transformation that is happening in the people who come, in our community, and in ourselves. I didn’t start a church from scratch to see how big it could get, I started a church from scratch because a) it was what I felt God was calling me to and b) I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Despite popular belief, walking through the doors of a church and sitting in a chair or pew doesn’t automatically equate to life change and transformation.
So, I’ve tried to get into the habit of talking about what I am seeing beneath any numbers. I’m talking about things that some church planters might not be talking about. I’m walking with a high school student through depression, identity, and thoughts of self-harm. I’m visiting a recently graduated young man in prison, I’m spending time on the psych ward of a hospital with a friend, brother, and fellow sojourner. I dare say that you’re not going to see a ton of church planters doing these things.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to distinguish myself as different, outside the norm. I like to mess with people’s preconceived notions. It’s probably heavily linked to being an Enneagram 8, but I also think it’s because I’ve grown tired of settling for the status quo and the norms that are too easily passed off as prerequisites for success.
We don’t have tons of people coming to our Sunday worship service, but we are beginning to make a mark. We’re caring for people. We’re caring for our town in small ways. We’re doing our best to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where God has planted us. We are partnering with others whose heart beats with a similar beat.
So, if you run into me in public and you decide you just might go there and ask me how it’s going, be prepared, you probably won’t get a statistical resume of how wonderful of a leader I am (I’m not) and how amazingly successful we’ve been so far. Instead, I might just tell you a story, a story of how God is beginning to break down barriers one at a time. While others are doing their best to put up walls, we’re trying to break some down. If you want to hear stories like that, then go ahead, ask away.