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Six Types of People You Meet in Church Planting

by Todd Bumgarner, Lead Pastor at 2 Pillars Church in Lincoln, NE

As a church planter, you are called to raise up disciples and leaders. It’s an investment of time and energy that is critical to the mission of your church. One of the hardest truths early on in church planting is discerning who is with you and who is not. As I have worked with people, I’ve learned there are six categories into which someone falls. Categorizing people is helpful to determine where to focus your time and energy and to wake you up to the reality that some people, despite their excitement and interest, simply are not on board.

1. Family

These are the folks who are all-in. They’ve caught the vision and want to help in any way possible. They are servant-leaders and their commitment is apparent via a verbal conversation in which they express it. It is important to realize that simply showing up at things does not make someone part of the family (consistency does not necessarily equal commitment). A better gauge is to combine their consistency with their language. Folks who are in the family use phrases with first-personal plurals like “our church” or “we can do this.”

2. Fence

These are people who are interested in what you’re doing, excited about what you’re doing, have come to one or more of your vision meetings, or otherwise expressed their interest/excitement. People in this category require patience. Often people on the fence are plugged in to other church communities, and asking them to uproot from that to join what you’re doing is a complicated decision and process. I tell people on the fence that we are not in the business of stealing people from other churches, but to cast the vision and trust that the Holy Spirit will do his job.

One of the hardest truths early on in church planting is discerning who is with you and who is not.

In a church plant, people on the fence ultimately have to be called by the church planter to commitment. A church plant consisting only of interested and excited people (but with no commitment) will fail. This is the category where the most time and prayer will be spent. In addition, a prayerful ear to the Spirit’s prompting of when to call them to commit must be discerned. The goal is to move people from the fence to the family or discern if perhaps they are simply a “friend.” 

3. Fans

On Facebook, having a lot of fans is great; in a church plant—not so much. Fans love what you’re doing, express their excitement, follow you on Twitter, meet you for coffee, let you buy them lunch, but never come to anything that you organize. Fans are typically podcasting Driscoll, reading Piper, and can give you the latest update on Chandler’s cancer faster than it takes for you to find it on the web.

Fans will suck the energy out of you. Often people in this category are another “F” word I like to use: “floaters.” They don’t have a church home, and float from one church to another, avoiding commitment, and seeing themselves as getting “fed” from guys they podcast. Fans love to talk about terms like “gospel-centered” and “missionally-focused” but fail to ever translate their talk to their walk.

Fans need to be quickly moved to the fence or the farm or they will consume your time and distract you from the mission.

4. Friends

Friends are typically gospel-centered people who are playing in the same league but on a different team. They are interested in what you’re doing, realize the importance of it, and want to support you in any way they can, but in the end are plugged-into and committed to another church. Friends are great, but they’re not family. You can call on friends for practical help and outside advice, but when you’re trying to build a family, sometimes you have to limit your time with friends.

5. Farm

The farm is made up of people who were on the fence and turned out not to be in the family when you called them to commit, or folks who were fans that you simply had to move to the farm, as they were much more interested in hanging out in the grandstands than ever making it onto the field. Instead of being all-in, they’ve verbally or non-verbally stated that they are out. The sad reality of a church planter is that once people are on the farm, it is typically a distraction from the mission to continue to pursue them. If they want to rejoin the fence, trust that they will on their own.

6. Foes

Foes are the critics and the opposite of “family.” We’ve had a few of these in our short history as a church plant, including one lady who accused me of trying to attract people to our church with beer, and another I’ve never met who sent me an email with some poor exegesis of 1 Timothy 3 and tried to tell me that I was not qualified to be an elder. I would have liked to meet her.

As a church planter, you will have a growing family, people on the fence, a host of fans, some good friends, a growing farm, and a number of foes. Your goal is to call people to commit and determine who’s in the family so that you can march forward with your mission to reach the unreached for Christ.