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9 Challenges To Church Planting

Additionally, it is becoming increasingly popular for multiple churches, who alone do not possess the resources to plant a church, to band together to see a new church planted in a nearby community. This is a great way to leverage relationships to make real and substantial kingdom impact.

5. Churches Need a “Movemental Mindset”

The pandemic did a lot of things. One was to cultivate a survivalist mindset in a lot of churches. On the surface, it’s understandable. Many churches are still recovering from 2020 and early 2021 in terms of attendance, engagement, and finances. For many church leaders, trying to keep the sheep you already have in the fold was a big enough challenge. Thinking beyond that may seem like a luxury few can afford.

But recovering the idea we see in the Book of Acts of what I call movemental Christianity is vital for churches to flourish. Movemental Christianity expands beyond the instinct to protect one’s own kingdom in favor of the engaging in God’s mission to expand His kingdom. As churches begin to find some semblance of normalcy following COVID-19, it’s okay to recognize the impact. But like a boxer who has been knocked down, the question before many church leaders is whether they will stay down or get back up and resume the fight. Getting back up looks like movemental Christianity.

6. The Lone Ranger Planter

American society is hyper-individualized. But God has fashioned His people for community. We are knit together as one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and held accountable to one another as His missionary force on the earth (Acts 1:8).

But there are still some entrepreneurial types who are motivated to plant a church and choose to go about it alone. Some plant alone because they could not find a church, denomination, or network to support them. Others don’t seek accountability to begin with! But every planter needs accountability. They need partners, supporters, and more to help them overcome the host of challenges they will face in the early days of planting.

What’s more, if a planter cannot get the blessing or sponsorship of any denomination, network, or church, it begs the question of whether they should be planting to begin with. While we love the maverick stories of people who overcame the closed doors and proved the nay-sayers wrong, the church has always worked in community with one another. We are accountable to one another. If that accountability is not present, a new church plant can become a breeding ground for abuse and dysfunction, as we’ve seen play out in the “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”

7. Church Planting Movements Need More Than a One-Size-Fits-All Model

Have you ever been around a child who realizes they told a funny joke? They suddenly awaken to the fact that they can make people laugh. But what they don’t recognize is that timing and context matter for a joke to be funny. So they will repeat the joke, hoping to get the same response. Or they will explain it or talk about the laughter they received. But they usually don’t understand how something that worked once didn’t work with repeated use.

We run the risk of being like a little kid and beating a joke to death in church planting, too. Only instead of a joke, many church planting networks or denominations have a few early successes and develop best practices that they then use to train future church planters.

While there’s nothing wrong with models and best practices, if we’re not careful, they can also cause us to ignore other factors that impact their effectiveness. Planting a church in the Pacific Northwest will require different considerations than planting in Texas. What worked for a rural country church in Indiana may not work for a church in densely populated Los Angeles.

Church planting movements are wise to assess best practices and develop models from them. But they must also recognize that as time passes, as culture changes, and as their church planting efforts take them into contexts that are unique, they must be adaptable and agile. We don’t need one model; we need many, many models of church planting. And we need the missiological sophistication and spiritual receptivity to notice the unique things God is up to at a given time and in a given place. This recognition enables us to come alongside prospective church planters to develop models and best practices that will meet the needs of their prospective context.

8. Some Church Planters Plant for the Wrong Reasons

As I noted earlier, church planting requires tremendous sacrifice. It requires that planters count the cost and keep a clear focus on why they are planting in the first place. And while hardly anyone would consciously plant a church for the wrong reasons, many church planters do plant for the wrong reasons.

One wrong motivation is a lack of upward mobility in established churches. As with other sectors of society, many Baby Boomers are choosing to stay active in their church leadership positions well past retirement age. It’s not uncommon for churches to have pastors who lead well into their 70s. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, many younger Gen Xers and Millennials have felt held back by the lack of vacant leadership seats in established churches. So, they simply just go and start their own.

While I can empathize with this dilemma to some extent (the oldest Millennials, after all, are now into their 40s), a lack of upward mobility is an improper motive to plant a church. Church planting should fundamentally be about reaching people for Christ that aren’t being reached, not about career options for the planter.

A second wrong motivation is that many planters will plant a church when they should have just gone to therapy. As I discussed in this podcast of failed church plants, many plant and are unconsciously motivated by affirmation, praise, unresolved issues with authority or even narcissistic tendencies. Chasing the potential to carve out one’s own platform and prestige can be an intoxicating motivation, but that can also leave behind a host of hurting people and ruined families in its wake. To secure a place in the spotlight, many planters depend upon their charm and charisma and neglect the inner work the Spirit desires to do on their character.

9. Church Planters Are Getting Distracted

Related to the previous point, one final challenge I see to church planting is that planters are getting distracted. Many pastors in America feel the weight of external expectations about everything they’re supposed to be—CEO, visionary leader, counselor, financial guru, social media influencer, leadership expert, motivator, theologian, etc. There are a host of expectations we place upon pastors that are outside of the scope of what it means to shepherd a flock.

For church planters, this external pressure is a significant challenge simply because of how new and vulnerable their congregation is. But almost as fast as the church itself is planted, I see planters get distracted trying to activate the next “hustle”—growing their social media influence, becoming a leadership coach to other pastors, or otherwise establishing themselves in the landscape of Christian leadership. They might write a book, launch a podcast, or start any number of projects that are, at best, peripheral to the invested work of building an infant congregation.

Conclusion

Identifying these challenges, and others, is a good start to protecting the health and endurance of church planting. But when we see these challenges present themselves in our own sphere of influence, we must commit ourselves to the hard work of overcoming the challenge. Which of these challenges do you see in your circle of influence? And how might you address them with substantive solutions?

Church planting is, both historically and at present, one of the most effective ways of reaching the lost. As I quoted Tim Keller earlier, “Continual planting of new congregations is the most crucial strategy for … the numerical growth of the body of Christ.” So, until the whole world knows Christ, we need to be about the business of planting more churches.

This article originally ran at Focus Pastor and is posted here with permission.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Highpoint Church, as a teaching pastor. Dr. Stetzer is currently living in England and teaching at Oxford University.