Ten Tips from a Struggling Church Planter (Part 3)

by New Church Starts

by Rev. Marty Cauley Pastor, leader, writer, blogger, and spiritual coach

Here's the final part of my blog "Ten Tips from a Struggling Church Planter". Part 1 covered often neglected concerns planters should consider when discerning whether to start a plant. Part 2 address some issues that come up as you're preparing to launch. This last part deals with things that you should continue to focus on long after your church has launched as you continue to lead it.

  1. Research, research, research… I often tell people that I have made 52,716 mistakes during my first six months as a church planter.  After researching my market I did two things that absolutely failed. First, I did a 38,000 call automated phone campaign. While the results were modest, I did it too far ahead of my public worship launch and was never able to connect with the people.  Secondly, we had an artist design a beautiful brochure that highlighted the core values of Morningstar Church in a non-threatening way. The piece was attractive and unique in that it was 5”X 5” square, but that turned out to be a mistake. This was to be the final piece of our launch puzzle. I got it to the post office, labeled, and sorted it in plenty of time to make our launch, but the postmaster refused them because they were square and not rectangle. After two weeks of negotiating between the mail house who labeled them, the printer who designed and printed them, and the local postmaster, they agreed that they should have been accepted with a .02 service charge (which we had already budgeted) and not the .20 service charge they tried to charge me, but it was too late. By the time they had agreed who was wrong the launch date had come and gone by two weeks….I recycled 14,176 that should have been in the mailboxes of my community.

  2. Take time for yourself… Remember, these are mostly things I should have done but didn’t do. I am performance-driven. I have been since I was young. I try to manage my needs to excel in my unhealthy determination not to fail, but at the end of the day I have usually worked far more hours than I should have. If there is ever a ministry where you are certain it will fail if you aren’t on your game 24/7 it is church planting. Your entire self-worth gets wrapped up in the effort and you feel like you are disappointing God, your family, the friends who gave you money and assistance, and the denomination or organization that is sponsoring you if you don’t meet your ideas of success. What this usually means is that you neglect yourself by not taking time off, exercising, practicing spiritual disciplines, etc. in order to make one more phone call, get out one more letter or do one more task. Church planting by its very nature is a recipe for burnout.

  3. Be real… Authenticity is far more important that acceptance. The tendency for those of us who are performance-driven is to give “pie in the sky” answers to questions about our work. We optimize the positive, downplay the negative, and gloss over the struggles. This, of course, makes our inner struggles all the more difficult and doesn’t allow people to come alongside to help. I have tried in my correspondence to my denominational sponsors and supervisors to be positive and truthful, to let them know when the frustration was building up to overwhelming proportions, and to share the positives and the negatives honestly so that they will not be blindsided should things turn out poorly.

At the end of the day Morningstar Church did not make it past the eighteen-month mark. I know God blessed our work and we saw some amazing things happen in the lives of the people who went on this journey with me. No matter what, I have learned a set of valuable lessons that will follow me in ministry for the rest of my life. Do you have any lessons from past mistakes you'd like to share? You could be the person who keeps another planter out of trouble. Share your words of wisdom here.