I only have four church experiences in vocational ministry. One was a traditional church where God allowed us to bring a renewed energy and growth. I was a part of two successful church plants. And for the last several years, I’ve been involved in revitalization of a historic, established church.
God has been so good to us in each of these churches—we have seen growth in the church and the people. We have loved every experience and the people in each church.
Recently, I was reflecting with one of our staff members who has never served in a church plant. As we shared stories, he was fascinated by how different things were at times in church planting versus the established church.
Our conversation reminded me—as much as I love the established church—there are some things I miss about church planting—just being honest.
Here are seven things I miss about church planting:
There are few “pew sitters.”
Everyone has a job in a church plant—especially early in a plant, everyone feels needed. They know if they don’t do their part, Sunday will not happen. There’s an “all hands on deck” attitude each Sunday. Ownership is a shared mentality.
People far from God feel welcome.
People come to a church plant with less reservations or wondering if they will be accepted. Even though most—at least many—established churches would welcome them just as easily. I know ours will—thankfully. But, perception can be a huge front door barrier. I’ve stated numerous times in our established church: Sometimes the steeple can be the biggest hindrance. Don’t misunderstand, I love and appreciate our building and the opportunities it affords us as a church. I even love our steeple, and I’m thankful for the sacrifices of those who built it long before I arrived. There is great tradition and symbolism involved. But there is something about the rawness of a church with no building, meeting in a high school, theater or rented storefront, that invites people who don’t feel they “fit in” a traditional church setting.
You see people raw.
I heard a cuss word almost every other Sunday in church planting. And it was a part of normal conversation. They didn’t know “church” was a place for “nice” language. If they got drunk the night before—they told you. If they were struggling to believe in God—you knew it. There was no pretense. I would rather we all had “clean” language. Drunkeness is a sin. God can be believed without reservation. But it was refreshing to know where people really stood. There was no passive aggression or pretense—something I see often in the established church—afraid, perhaps, they wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.
People bring visitors every week.
People were so excited about the church they brought their friends. What a novel idea! Sure, it happens in the established church too, but it seemed to happen more frequently in a church plant. People in the established church often feel they’ve exhausted their contacts, all their friends are already in the church, or the newness and excitement of inviting has long since past. (Obviously, this is one of the major mindsets to challenge in church revitalization.)
Small steps are celebrated.
In an established church there are so many “mature” Christians—certainly people who know all the expectations of the church and appear to follow them—a newcomer far from God can often feel they don’t measure up at all. In a church plant, which often reaches people far from God, every baby step seems to be a major step.
Change is expected.
It’s not rejected. It’s not resisted. There are no politics or the “right people” you have to talk to before you implement. Everyone knows it’s part of the process. It’s in the DNA.
Rules are not cumbersome.
Granted, there were times we probably needed a few more rules in our church plant. As our church and staff grew, we needed more structure. But the longer we are together as an organization—any organization (including the church)—the more structured we become. And, sadly, the more protective we become of the structure also. Tradition forms and it’s much harder to adapt to what’s needed and new.
Those are a few things I miss about church planting. It’s an exciting time in ministry and, as hard as it is, it’s very rewarding. My prayers go out to my church planting friends.
There’s probably a companion post needed next of the things I’m enjoying about the established church. There are certainly benefits to an established church. I actually encourage many pastors to consider church revitalization even over church planting. I’ll work on this post. Share some of your own if you want to help fuel a future post.