From pastors.com comes an article describing the most common mistakes church planters make that lead to failure. The list is nothing new (which is a bit unfortunate since it would be nice to see some innovation on church planting from the past 20 years), but it does beg a pretty obvious question: if the premise is true, that 1000s of churches are planted every year and 1000s fail, maybe we’re doing the whole planting part wrong?

Their list reads like a strategic checklist for launching a new corporation/business. Everything is about tactics and strategies. There are so many things wrong with trying to get vocationally trained ministers to act like entrepreneurs and CEOs that it’s NO surprise 1000s fail every year.

Perhaps 50% of the article had some merit, but the other half was a reflection of the attractional church model that struggles to maintain cultural significance. It’s time we adjust the way we approach church plants.

It’s a bit disheartening when information like this list comes out on one of the most popular web site for pastors (and it’s pretty much the norm for most church planting rhetoric out there):

Here are some to consider:

1. Vision is clear and communicated.
2. The staff team has been recruited.
3. The core group is in place.
4. Worship leader and team have been recruited.
5. The meeting place has been secured.
6. A marketing plan has been implemented.
7. Pre-school and children’s ministry plans have been made.
8. A small group and volunteer system is in place.
9. An assimilation strategy is in place.

Don’t believe me? America is perhaps 10 years behind where Canada is with respect to cultural sensitivity to Christianity. Canada is post-Christendom, America is on the way. Here we cannot assume the ‘build it and they will come‘ colonial attitude will work anymore. If fact, new churches that are building new buildings in hopes a new congregation will spring out of the suburbs to support the mortgage are finding themselves in a huge struggle to survive.

Why then would we get church planters to follow a model that a) requires HUGE resources to launch, and b) is prone to massive failure?

Put it this way, if you’re going to play by corporate rules when building churches then it bears to keep in mind that: you cannot produce a (spiritual) product a declining and saturated market. No business person with any sense would open a new rental video franchise because the model is on the way out.

Same thing with ‘build it and they will come’ attractional church plants.

That’s not to say that the list included above is necessarily bad. But I think when you pay attention to how the church needs to interact with our culture today, half of the list is either useless or out of touch.

For example, the only reason you need a worship leader, secured space, children’s and youth pastors, staff team, and ?!?!the marketing plan implemented?!?!, is if you’re building a programmatic based attractional church more interested in coming up with drive by marketing tactics to trick people to get into the church building rather than building lasting impressions in local communities. See above on how well these have (will) worked in the past (future).

The other common mistakes from the article include:

Underestimating the cost

Which again, is only an issue if the church plant is burdened by expenses and salaries even before day 1. What we tend to underestimate is time-frames and expectations . Time frames on how long it takes to create a new community in a post-Christendom world increase 5-10 fold. With that in mind expectations need to decrease from “build it, let them come, have an altar call after every service,” to “redeeming our communities and neighbours through relationship.

Violating the Sabbath

I agree with them here.

Hanging on too long

Hanging on too long?!?! I wonder what ‘too long’ means? Probably less than 4 years but in the area of 2.5. Hanging on too long again, implies that the ‘profit’ is outweighed by the ‘expenses’ too long and thus the business needs to be shut down. However, with new time expectations (how long it takes to immerse into a community and build lasting relationships) too long may be just right.

Post-Christendom church plants should expect to be in an area at minimum 5 years before ‘fruit’ and may not see a third generation until after 10.

Not having a coach

Having a coach, I believe, is of great value.

Rather than critiquing non stop what are some solution? Well since this article came out focused towards a readership of attractional churches in the US let me offer a suggestion for that realm.

The way American culture is headed is a slow but sure erosion of a relevant church message/influence largely because the church community cannot speak a language that is understood by people outside of it (which is a growing number). My sense is that in churches who insist on building buildings and starting programs and services do so primarily to being in existing Christians who are merely transferring into something better (trade in the old car and get a new one).

In order to get away from discipling the discipled perhaps it’s time to re-build into our own people so they in turn can go BACK into the places they ALREADY exist for the sake of mission.

Big church leaders are perhaps bad leaders because they either explicitly or implicitly build an ethos that ensure they retain leadership and power while subtly placing a glass ceiling for anyone else to emerge. If you cannot build a wealth of new leaders within your congregation perhaps you’re implying to your congregation that the ‘pastors’ and off-shore missionaries do everything and the congregation sits, prays, and pays.

That model doesn’t work in God’s mission to redeem humanity.

If you believe that God is a sending God then all of us are sent. In fact, if you’re a good Protestant then you will also believe in the ‘priesthood of all believers’. If that’s the case then it’s time to start letting congregants exist in the places/networks they already exist for the SAKE of MISSION. It’s time to affirm our own to be representatives of the church.

People aren’t stupid, they don’t need ‘outreach’ events or ‘ministry’ in order exist for mission in their communities–they are already connected. Releasing these people, affirming them in their networks–is to create small groups that eventually become mini church plants! (I’m not suggesting that you break down into a house church model, but that is a post for another time.)

For new church plants the expectation is to affirm the core group to exist for the sake of mission. Church isn’t an attractional seeker sensitive event, thus, less resources can be placed on creating a weekly spectacle, and more resources can be placed on doing something simpler–being a good neighbour.

Lets’ get away from showy Sunday services with all the bells and whistles. Stretch that money over a longer period of time and invest it into a select group of leaders who build other leaders. Leaders in their communities spread the gospel message through their redemptive actions and love. It’s how the early church operated, it’s how we should operate, and it’s a great way to spread the gospel message in an increasingly de-Christianized culture.

If we don’t make some adjustments then we’ll continue to be disappointed 80% of the time when nobody seems interested in filling the seats of our new and ill-advised box church plants.

Reach out and join God in his work with your community. Don’t building a box to house your own people within. That’s just bad business sense.