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Why Do Church Plants FAIL?

The number of failed church plants in the Denver area over the past decade is staggering. Depending on which organization you talk to, the number is dozens to hundreds. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, untold man hours and many lives invested in churches that no longer exist.

Since moving here last year, I’ve been asking every church planter, church plant leader and pastor I meet why they think so many planters fail in the Mile High City. After countless chai lattes, white chocolate mochas and orange cranberry scones, I am beginning see some patterns emerge. Maybe this list will be helpful in your life or your community as you or your church consider entering the world of church planting.

Why do church plants fail?

Unqualified leaders.

Certain good men appeal to me who are distinguished by enormous passion and zeal, and a conspicuous absence of brains; brethren who would talk forever and ever upon nothing—who would stamp and thump the Bible, and get nothing out of it at all; earnest, awfully earnest, mountains in labor of the most painful kind; but nothing comes of it all … therefore I have usually declined their applications.” —Charles Spurgeon (quoted by Tim Keller in Center Church)

Despite the abundance of church planter assessments and training, there are still a lot of people attempting to plant churches who aren’t cut out for the task.

For some it is a lack of leadership ability, for some it is a lack of the requisite gifts of a church planter, and for some it is a lack of entrepreneurial experience. Success as a youth pastor doesn’t necessarily equate to success in starting a church from scratch.

The harsh reality is there are a lot of people trying to plant churches who would better serve the Kingdom coming alongside another leader.

Lack of understanding of the local context.

Reading demographic reports, subscribing to the local paper, and chatting with a barista at Starbucks doesn’t prepare a transplant for the unique context of a city. There is no substitute for extended time living in the culture to understand the culture. I think it is significant that Jesus lived in Galilee for 30 years before he began his ministry.

Making the context even more difficult to grasp are the vast differences from neighborhood to neighborhood in a typical city. There is no such thing as a Denver culture; Boulder and Parker might as well be on different planets, Washington Park and Highlands have almost nothing in common, and Stapleton has a completely different vibe than Thornton. The only way to begin to understand the difference between Lakewood and Littleton is to rent a condo off Sante Fe and hang out at Merle’s on Main Street.

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt