Have you thought about launching a church? Have you felt called? Maybe it’s something you’ve dreamt of, but the logistics of making it happen seemed too daunting. You already have a church – and possibly a thriving one at that – so why would you want to start another one? Why should you be a Launching Church?
The most important factor in the decision to launch a new church is God’s leading. In order to start a successful church, you have to know that you are being called to do so. Period. There is no way around this truth. Thriving churches have always been, and always will be, built on a base of specific calling – not personal choice. But once you are certain your call to start another church is from God, you need to start exploring the details. Avoid sitting on the “someday” excuse. The time is now. As Guy Kawasaki writes in The Art of the Start (Portfolio Hardcover), “The hardest thing about getting started is getting started.” If God is leading you down this path, pick up and follow.
Churches birthed out of existing, healthy churches have a significant advantage over independent new church plants. You have the experience, support and financial backing of your current staff and congregation. If you lead an outwardly focused church, you are already joined with a team of people who understand the importance of reaching into the community and influencing the unchurched. If your people are growing followers of Jesus, they will likely embrace the idea of being part of a church culture focused on starting new churches. They will want to be a part, on some level, of expanded opportunities to share their faith with other areas of the community.
God’s church is meant to multiply, just as it always has. In the early days of church expansion, Paul writes, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). If God is calling your church to be a Launching Church, His hand will be with you just as it was with the early Christians in Acts. The path of least resistance is to keep tending to our little corner of the world – to let ourselves be busied by the daily concerns of running our current churches. But God is calling many of us to something even greater. He is calling us to spread the Gospel even more effectively by multiplying its outlets. He is calling us to touch more unchurched people by taking the truth closer to them. By learning how to biblically and strategically launch new churches, we can grow healthy communities and lead more people toward becoming fully developing followers of Jesus.
KEYS TO LAUNCHING EFFECTIVELY
At the Journey, we seek to help churches start new churches that will reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, our goal is to equip Launching Churches with everything needed to launch effectively.
Hence, you must create an environment that allows even those new churches to reproduce themselves more quickly. To understand launching effectively, you must also understand three keys – Launching Large, Launching Quickly and Launching from the Outside In. Let me share about each in more detail:
Launching large is the ability of a new church to reach as many people as possible within the first six to eight months of existence. It’s also the ability to attain a critical mass early enough in the process to increase the likelihood of survival (most church plants close their doors within two years). Launching Large greatly mitigates this statistic.
This is an issue of discovering and fulfilling potential. Of course, large is a relative term. It will look different for different churches in different environments. Church is local, and Launching Large is as unique as the area to which God has called you. Areas that are warm to the Gospel may lend to a larger launch than completely unchurched areas. We have also seen the reverse hold true. But don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Instead focus on the potential of your area, as you allow the concept of Launching Large to sink in.
At the same time, don’t completely underestimate the numbers. Numbers are important in that they represent people and impact in a community. Others have fought the battle of why numbers matter, so I won’t argue that here. However, I do believe every person in a community matters to God and needs a spiritual home. And God wants his family to be as large as possible. So, numbers do serve a purpose…not for bragging rights, but as a tool for measuring the expansion of God’s kingdom.
Ask yourself, “What would Launching Large look like in my area?” One way to determine a broad answer is to examine what God is already doing in and around your community. When we set out to start The Journey in Manhattan, we had a difficult time finding churches to compare ourselves to, because there had been virtually no successful new churches in the years just before our start. In the New York City culture of 2002, having 110 people at the launch of a new church was significant. Since then, others in the city have launched larger than we did. And, by the way, we are their biggest fans. We understand the truth that God wants to use many churches to reach our city—and yours. This is not a competition.
God’s dream for the church you want to launch is bigger than your dream. Launching large is about cooperating with God to see His vision accomplished in an area. Don’t underestimate that vision or your church’s ability to tap into it. If God is calling you to this task, He’s not trying to play hide and seek with His plan. Take a moment and use your sanctified imagination to envision what Launching Large would look like for the church you want to start.
Contrary to some schools of thought, healthy churches can also be launched quickly. I fully believe that a new church can begin monthly services within two to three months of finding a strong leader—I’ve seen it time and time again. From that point, I recommend only three to six months of monthly services until the church launches weekly services. I have found this combination of speed and momentum-building has worked well in new churches around the country.
Some have argued that you can start a new church even more quickly than I’ve described. Indeed, in many other countries, church planting movements are being launched in less than a week, or even in one day, as discussed in David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements (Wigtake Resources). Here in the U.S., however, a slightly longer “build-to-launch” time brings greater health over the long haul. Launching a church is a bit like birthing a baby—the gestation period matters. While a baby can survive a premature birth, he may face long-term consequences. Resist the temptation to launch your replicate too soon.
On the other hand, many propose a long gestation period for a new church, with small gatherings, core groups and high initial commitment on behalf of the early attendees. Some churches stay in this pre-launch stage for a year to eighteen months. The sad reality is that many of these churches never get off the launching pad—there is always going to be a reason to postpone launching the church. Conditions will never be perfect. This slow approach to launching is detrimental to overall church health and to everyone involved—particularly your current congregation, who is championing and supporting this new church. Take the time needed to ensure that you are on a healthy track, but resist the temptation to wait too long to get off the ground.
Launching From the Outside In
Launching Large includes Launching From the Outside In, which is perhaps the most radical of these three keys. It is completely possible to launch a church where the only Christians on the initial team are the staff (pastor, worship leaders and spouses). When starting a new church, you don’t have to wait until you can attract a set number of Christians from the area or convince a few Christians from your current location to embrace the vision and relocate. God may want to use those people, or He may not. They are not necessarily required. Throughout history, God has worked through believers and unbelievers alike. Why would your church be any different?
Keeping the goal of Launching Large in front of you causes a shift in the early DNA of the church you are starting—you will have an outwardly focused mentality from the onset. Launching Churches that launch large tend to stay focused on the unchurched, while churches that wait to launch often get distracted with insider concerns and “taking care of the core.” Keeping your current church and the new church outwardly focused from the beginning is much easier than trying to refocus an inwardly concerned church.
FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS
Launching Churches are becoming more and more prevalent across the United States. In my work with these church starts, I have seen many grow from zero to more than 400 in six to twelve months, using the strategy of Launching Large. In a southern town with a population of 160,000 people, I worked with a church that grew from zero to more than 250 in monthly services, and then launched with more than 300. A church in Florida, in an established major city where many other new churches had failed, accepted the idea of Launching Large, launched with more than 300 people, and grew to more than 400 people in under eight months. God is blessing the willingness of these churches to let Him work, without preconceived limitations.
Often, churches that launch large are able to grow to several hundred or 1,000 people in a matter of just a few years. Then they, in turn, have the stability to start other churches with greater frequency. If that kind of harvest doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will! These testimonies should expand your vision of the potential that God wants to fulfill through your desire and calling to start a new church.
What is impossible with man is possible with God.
DESIGNING THE DNA
As you move toward becoming a Launching Church, ingrain that desire to start new churches into the DNA of your current church. Cast the vision. Make sure your people know that your church will eventually start other churches, locally and around the world. Decide to put at least a small amount of money aside to assist in starting churches, even if its only $50 or $100 per month. Plant the seeds. Mobilize early mission teams to work with new churches in your area or on national mission trips.
Remind your people that you are a church committed to proliferating the Gospel outside your own doors.
Here are three ways for a growing church to move toward starting their first church:
- Be on the lookout for people who might have this desire and calling. New churches, especially, often raise up planters quickly. Give them resources and take them to conferences with you.
- Find a church planter who is moving to your area. If there’s already a solid church planter in your region, seek out a partnership. If there’s a good match, jump in as one of their financial partners.
- Discover where your current financial partners are working, and join them. The churches that helped you financially may have other partnerships they are pursuing. If they are doing something that ignites your passion, get on board.
Most of all, earnestly seek God’s will so you don’t fall into the common trap of dualistic thinking. Too many growing churches who consider starting other churches make the mistake of asking themselves, “Is it God’s will for us to grow larger or for us to plant other churches?” This is not an either/or proposition. God can fully intend for you to do both. I call this bi-focal vision: Keep one eye on the growth and health of your church and one eye on planting other churches as quickly as possible.
For a church-planting model, look to the guideline in Acts 1:8, and lay out a three- to five-year plan for planting churches in each mentioned area:
- Locally (Jerusalem)
- Regionally (Judea)
- Nationally/Cross-Culturally (Samaria)
- Globally (The world)
Launching a new church that impacts the community, reaches the lost, grows rapidly, helps people mature in their faith, and then starts more new churches nearby and around the world is entirely possible—with God! When He calls you to become a Launching Church, give all the potential and possibilities over to Him and let Him lead your work. Then, and only then, will the churches He wants to start through you become churches of greater success and significance than you’ve ever imagined!