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10 Deadly Church Planting Mistakes

There is a never-ending need for new churches to be planted. From sea to shining sea, there is no community in America where we can hang a “mission accomplished” banner and stop planting churches. Wherever God is calling you to plant a church is a place where a church plant is needed.

“Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per 10,000 residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per 1,000 residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per 500 residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear.” —Tim Keller

That said, church planting is difficult, treacherous and not guaranteed to succeed. While the survivability rate is not nearly has tragic as some church planting statistics often report, as many as 3 or 4 in 10 churches will not survive past three years. While we may say these statistics aren’t that bad—you won’t agree with that statement if it’s your church plant that fails. Besides, our Great Commission purpose is too important. We should endeavor for every church plant to succeed.

In light of this, new church plants and the established churches who partner with them should be aware of the 10 deadly church planting mistakes. These church planting mistakes are common, and are often major contributing factors to a plant failing within three years. Here are the:

10 Deadly Church Planting Mistakes

1) Not going through assessment

Church planting is hard, and just as there is an ideal profile for a church revitalization pastor, there is an ideal profile for a church planter. Some of these qualities are hard-wired, as would be evidenced in the DiSC or MBTI assessments. Some of the qualities are skills, which can be learned. The most important qualities, however, are character-related. These come through sanctification. Church planting is hard, and it will destroy those who are not properly equipped and prepared. This is the first of 10 deadly church planting mistakes. Go to an assessment center and receive godly counsel to determine if you are ready.

2) Planting without a coach

The process of planting a church is complicated. There are literally hundreds of tasks—some big, some small—that must be accomplished prior to launching a church. Not only is it possible for you to forget some, it’s likely that you may not even be aware of them all. Work alongside a trusted church planting coach who has walked in your shoes, who will hold you accountable and who will encourage you in the process. Be certain that your coach isn’t just a nominal guide, but someone who is actively participating in planting your church from the outside—even if that means investing in a coach outside of your denomination or network. This is one of the church planting mistakes that’s easy to ignore, but would be to your detriment.

3) Launching too quickly

Peter Wagner has famously quipped that “planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” Because of this, church planters are often excited and feel as though they’re ready to launch after only a few weeks or few months of planning. This is among the most massive church planting mistakes.

Babies take nine months to grow in the womb before being born, and church plants should take at least six months (but preferably nine to 12 months) to gestate. Launching too quickly means that many of the hundreds of pre-launch tasks were either hurried or skipped. You may not see the impact of rushing the process on day one, but you will feel it eventually. Be patient. Submit to the process. It will be worth it.

4) Leading without a team

There’s a popular book on church planting which features an image of a man on the cover holding a sickle in one hand, a Bible in the other and a cross around his neck. It’s a masculine and powerful image. It’s also massively dangerous. The concept of the lone ranger church planter, going to conquer the gates of hell and reap a harvest of souls for Jesus, is one of the most devastating church planting mistakes.

The most successful church plants are the ones that are led by a team, and not by a single planter. While not every church plant can afford multiple paid staff from the beginning, there should be multiple staff pre-launch even if they are held by volunteers or part-time. Additionally, these should be leaders empowered with real responsibility, not just task-accomplishers. Churches that rely too heavily on one personality will rise and fall with that leader; it’s a dangerous and deadly path.

5) Launching too small

You can launch too quickly, and you can launch too small. Often, these are connected. Sometimes, they are not. Which is why they are listed as separate church planting mistakes. Ideally, your launch team should be about 60-75 people. Less than 50, and your church will likely struggle long-term to grow.

The reason for this is three-fold. First, launch team members fund ministry. At 75 people, much of the ministry is being funded just by your team. Secondly, you need those 75 people to be advocates for your church. Less than 50, and your church will struggle to get the word out that it exists. Finally, with less than 50 launch team members, you’ll likely struggle to sustain the necessary ministries. Launch team members are volunteers; without enough volunteers, your ministries will suffer. If the ministries suffer, people won’t want to come back. If people don’t come back, the church doesn’t grow. It’s a death spiral. Please, don’t launch too small. Take the time to build your launch team the right way.

6) Relying too heavily on outside funding

The church I helped plant in 2011 was 93 percent self-supporting on our first Sunday. I don’t recommend that. It was out of necessity for us, but hardly ideal. Alternatively, some church plants get used to the outside funding and don’t plan ahead enough for when those funds dry up. Be proactive. If the funding supports your church at the 75 percent level at launch, budget for it to cover 60 percent and stretch yourself to gain that 15 percent gap in offerings. Always budget in a forward-thinking way ahead of your projections so that you’re not caught flat-footed when the outside funding goes away.