When the Stakes are High, Strong Stakeholder Relationships are Essential

by New Church Starts

by Christie Latona, Path1  Coach and Consultant; founder of Greatness Unlimited

One of the first interviews I ever did with a new church start revealed a kairos-type of birth. In this instance the DS felt compelled to start a new church at the same time that a pastor at a 10-year-old church also was feeling compelled, at the same time that a husband and wife caught a vision for starting a new church nearby. Each of these people felt a strong connection in the project, yet they didn’t necessarily recognize that the others also had a “significant” stake in it.

New faith communities thrive when the stakes are understood and shared by all persons invested and involved in the project. So who are these stakeholders? Obviously, the planter and his or her planting team are participants. Depending upon the strategy of the start, there may be a partner church or churches invested. There may be a district committee or a new faith community committee that has approved an amount for the project. There may be a generous “landlord.” In the United Methodist system, there’s a district superintendent and cabinet who has assigned pastoral leadership for the project. Each of these persons has a “stake” in the new faith community. However, the nature of their involvement and their personal history with new church starts may determine how they see the “stakes.”

For example, if I’m on the district committee and we haven’t started a church in awhile and the last time it cost us a lot of money and never ended up growing into the church the district committee dreamed of, the “stakes” for me will tend to be about money. If I’m a DS who has had a new church start that “defected” from the denomination, the “stake” for me will involve the integrity of the planter. If I’m a lead pastor and have had an experience of starting a new church that didn’t end up aligned with my vision for the project, the “stake” for me will involve the model and vision of the next planting project.

Path 1 recommended coaches utilize their facilitation skills with planting teams and in stakeholder meetings. Group dynamics are created in part by the attitude and energy of the person facilitating the group. The rest of the dynamic is determined by how the facilitator guides the group to process personalities, history, and needs in the context of the group’s objective. The purpose of the stakeholder meetings is to continue to align people who have an investment in the project with the plant’s vision and mission.

To facilitate a stakeholders meeting, a coach must have an understanding of the dynamics at play with stakeholders and how decision-making happens within that Annual Conference. In our United Methodist system, the ultimate responsibility for new church starts lies with the Bishop and District Superintendents. Yet some annual conferences have strong church start committees that are a part of the process.

Every DS will understand the importance of the plant based upon their personal beliefs around starting new churches, the bishop’s bias, and the nature of their district. It is a rare DS that will prioritize a new church start in a district that isn’t growing like crazy or one where many churches face closure. If the new church start isn’t a priority for the DS, s/he may not engage fully in the meetings, may be quick to try and get it launched so that it no longer falls in the category of new church start, or may be quick to pull the funding plug.

Coaches have to manage expectations and dynamics so the objectives of the plant project are preserved and progress is clear. It is essential to understand the personality, needs, and history of all the stakeholders.

If you think learning facilitation skills might be important in your context or if you are considering becoming a Path 1 Recommended Coach, join me for the Facilitation Intensive on October 18 and discover strategies you can use to guide stakeholder expectations and decisions everywhere you go.