Lessons Learned from Starting a New Church

Though it’s only been a year, I’m thinking a lot about what we’ve learned from the mistakes we’ve made thus far, and the decisions God has blessed as well. New Vintage began both with some advantages uncommon to a new start, but also some challenges most plants never have to face. Few get to script their own dream beginning. It’s what you do with the beginning you get that matters most.

It seems to me, thus far, much of being effective starting a new church is similar to effective ministry in an established church. But not completely. A different set of gifts is most important (relationality, resourcefulness, steadfastness, ability to hit the ‘curve-ball’), and some gifts vital in established church ministry aren’t as important right now (strategy, change management, etc.). All of these matter–or will soon. All clubs need to be in the bag. However, in starting a new church, you’ll use three or four clubs more than the others.

Here are some other learnings. I offer them not as any kind of “expert,” but rather as an observer from one year in one new church:

  • On some things, church-planting experts couldn’t be more right. Spiritual warfare in church-planting is especially fierce. It is challenging in ways I have never experienced. It’s brutal on the discourageable, anxiety-producing for those who need financial “security,” and frustrating to those who need to see quick, positive results. Spiritual preparation for starting a new church is vital–if not altogether more important than the “plan.” A heart for lost people is essential. Yep, yep, yep, and yep. However…
  • On some things, church-planting experts couldn’t be more wrong. You don’t have to have much money to start–in fact our financial struggle has actually blessed us in some amazing ways. You don’t have to wait a couple of years to work out the perfect strategy or go through intensive training–provided you know, somewhat, what you’re doing before you decide to plant and spend time reading some of the best books on the subject. Let me be clear on this–they are right to recommend these things as best practices. However, what I’m saying is, the degree to which these recommendations have become doctrine may be doing some harm. There is more than one way to start and sustain a new church. Embrace best practices without allowing them to become Scripture.
  • You cannot plan for what lies ahead. You can try, and you should. But, when you start a new church you have absolutely no idea what’s coming your way–bad, and good. I’ll add that this can be said about ministry in general, but the variables and vulnerabilities of a baby church add more chances for Murphy’s law to become prophecy in the life of that church.
  • Steadfastness is underrated. Charisma is overrated.

In the end, like all ministry, it comes down to loving God, loving others, loving the Lost, and leadership. Pursue all those “L”s whether you are in an established church or are thinking about starting one.

Here’s one closing thought: Living in the community in which we started the church for a couple of years before hand has turned out to be a huge blessing. We know the city better, have more relationships with those we are trying to reach, community ties, etc. I don’t think the answer is to have planter go live somewhere for a couple of years before they start the church–unless they are working a secular job. It’s a slow and far too expensive to pay someone for a year or two of getting to know people and planning. The better way is for people to plant in a place they know well already: a hometown, a place they lived for some time, etc. Two of our four founding staff members were native Southern Californians, and the other two have lived in SoCal for a decade or more.

If you’re thinking about planting a church, consider a place you know and love. Certainly don’t let this discourage you from going wherever you feel God is calling you. People planting vibrant, growing churches on “foreign” soil happens all the time. However, it might be the mission field you’re best equipped to serve is the one you’re in or have been in the past.

That’s it for now 🙂

Thoughts?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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