5 Mistakes Church Planters Make

Ok, ok, so I can’t speak for all church planters, but allow me to share my top 5 mistakes in hopes they may help others avoid the same fate.

1. Placed people in leadership positions too soon

In an effort to multiply our staff and look and feel larger than what we were I took some dangerous short cuts with leadership that ended up hurting more than they helped. While it is always possible, even with seasoned leadership, to have failures it is important to do everything in your power to minimize the possibilities.

Each church planter should be careful about giving too much authority away to the early responders to your ministry. Ask yourself, “Why do they want to be involved? What are their motivations?”  It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that our vision, and our charismatic personality is what is drawing potential new leaders. But the reality is they may just be disgruntled with where they are and are hoping to find greener pastures at your new church.

When placing people in upper level leadership remember the admonition of Paul concerning church leaders, “He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil.” 1 Timothy 3:6

Looking back my big regret was not just what placing people in leadership too soon did to our church but what it did to them and their family as well.

2. I didn’t trust the Bible enough

If I could have a do over I would have spent more time expositionaly preaching through the Bible. Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I didn’t preach the Bible – I just don’t think I trusted the power of the Word of God enough. My desire to be the new, cool, hip church in town was more important than it should have been.

Certainly packaging and presentation are important components to the communication process and time and energy needs to be applied to this. However, the true power for life change rests in the Word of God.

Paul the greatest church planter ever said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel- not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” 1 Corinthians 1:17

3. I wasn’t a good enough steward of my time

When you land on the field to plant a church there is very little structure. If you were accustomed to the traditional structure that an office in an established church brings then good luck.

I initially struggled with trying to office out of my home. (You can’t believe what a temptation ESPN is in that environment) I later moved from coffee shop to coffee shop. (You can become a coffee expert as a church planter) The point is there was a constant struggle trying to figure out where to work and being accountable with my time.

If I had it to do over again I would have begged one of our local sponsor churches to take me under their wing and let me work out of their space. I would have put some structure in place to be more accountable for my time.

Later on I found my groove in this area but it took entirely too long and cost way too many hours of possible productivity.

4. I attempted to get into permanent space too fast

Set-up and tear-down is a major drag. We did it on a fairly large scale for four years. The attrition level for volunteer set-up teams is high. Let’s face it – there is nothing fun about set-up and tear-down.

As a result we worked hard to find options that would get us into our own building. In the end this pursuit cost us.

The expense of the building soon began to limit what we were initially known for in our target area – our killer outreach and community events. In our first years we were able to do park events and cater in food for over 500 people, sponsor basketball clinics with NBA players and coaches, offer free hot-air balloon rides for those who showed up for our launch, and tons of other creative outreach events.

When the building came we paid the light bill, the mortgage, and the up-keep. Not nearly as exciting as the buzz we were able to create with our initial events.

The lesson for me is – while a building is great it is not the ultimate answer. If I had it to do over again I would have freed up a little cash to hire set-up teams and kept the DNA of our church as an outreach model intact. I would have pushed the building back till we could have better afforded it so it would have not affected our ability to do outreach.

There is something about being mobile that is an advantage that we don’t always appreciate. For us doing church in a school kept us in the community. It caused us to strategize in such a way that kept us in constant outreach mode.

My suggestion is that no matter if you are in temporary space or you have your own space is to continue to think like you are in temporary space. Continue to think about how you can infiltrate your community and not fall into the trap of isolating yourself in your building.

5. I didn’t share the vision enough

Actually if I had to list some of our strengths one of them would be sharing the vision. The point is that no matter how much you share the vision of your church you can always share it more.

The best visual I can give you is to imagine you are constantly preaching to a parade. There are always a line of new people coming that will need to hear the God story of the new church. They will need to hear the vision of you the leader. This vision will become a badge of courage for you and your people. So share the vision and just when you think you have shared it enough then share it again!

Church Plants: Making it Hard for People to Go to Hell

One of my most vivid memories about our time of planting Discovery Pointe Church was the first time a person died in our neighborhood.

The Hood

Our neighborhood was brand new. Soon 20,000 plus would live there but just a few years before it was nothing but desert. We were among the first residents to arrive and when we did there were no gas stations, no grocery store, no nothing.

There was ,however, tons of kids and one particular pre-teen boy that knocked on our door to talk to my pre-teen daughter quite a bit.

The News

It was my daughter who told me that said pre-teen boys dad was killed in a car wreck while coming home from work. Being the only Pastor in our new town I went to visit the grieving family in the wake of their unexpected lost.

The Realization

On my way back home from visiting the family I had the dawning realization that by every indication this man was the first person to die in our community and even more disturbing he was most likely the first person to die and enter hell from our new zip code. Somehow, our young church had failed this family. We had not gotten the Gospel there in time. As a result this man died without ever meeting Jesus.

HERE’S THE DEAL – when we plant new churches the goal ought to be that we are making it extra hard for people to die and go to hell. Every church plant ought to be planted with the thought in mind that we are going to greatly reduce the number of people that die and go to hell from our target area.

No we will never be completely successful. People will die under our watch without Christ, but the goal should be to reduce the number.

It’s said of John the Baptist as he was ministering and pointing people to Jesus that, “In that place many believed in Jesus.” John 10:42

May it be our continual prayer that as a result of our presence in communities that many would believe in Jesus, thus greatly reducing the chances of people dying and going to hell from our place of service.

Bill Agee’s Big Three Laws of Church Planting

For a short time I had the opportunity to work with Bill Agee (Church Planting Guru for Woodstock Baptist Church). I remember very clearly Bill’s three laws for planting a healthy church. Let me share those three and elaborate on each of them a bit.

1. Right Location – like in real estate it is many times location, location, location. Recently much has been made about the importance of church planting in the un-churched urban areas of our country. While this does not exclude the need for rural church plants the fact of the matter is that the largest amount of un-reached people are in the urban areas. Interestingly enough it turns out a large number of prospects is key to church growth – go figure.

2. Right Leader – it does rise and fall on leadership. Perhaps more important than the right location is the right leader. While we have known this for a while only recently has serious efforts been made to qualify a leader prior to placing him on the field. My good friend Monty Patton, Send City Coordinator for Phoenix, tells me they are now using a tool from Launch Strong to help them assess all potential planters. Check out their stuff at http://www.launchstrong.com. Remember until we are willing to say no to a potential planter based on our assessment tools then we don’t really have an assessment process.

3. Right Timing – with God time means nothing but timing is everything. Much prayer and study needs to be given to the exact time of the launch. I’m convinced that for every church plant there is a “fullness of time” moment.

Tim Keller’s Classic Piece on the Importance of Church Planting

Tim Keller
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Feb. 2002
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1)
the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal
and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs,
para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church
renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This
is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even
The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:
A. ‘We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new
people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new
B. ‘Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The
churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’. A new church here will just take people from
churches already hurting and weaken everyone.’
C. ‘Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we
have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more
These statements appear to be ‘common sense’ to many people, but they rest on several wrong
assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask ‘Why is church planting so
crucially important?’ Because–
A. We want to be true to THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
1. Jesus’ essential call was to plant churches. Virtually all the great evangelistic
challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the
faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to
‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a
worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way
to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the
number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ.
Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in
changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the
beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new
birth’, but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the
context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming
home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C.Peter Wagner can say,
“Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”1
2. Paul’s whole strategy was to plant urban churches. The greatest missionary in
history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of
the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5-

C.Peter Wagner, Strategies for Growth (Glendale: Regal, 1987), p. 168.
Used by Permission 1″appoint elders in every town”). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had ‘fully
preached’ the gospel in a region and that he had ‘no more work’ to do there (cf. Romans
15:19,23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: a) that the way to most
permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and b) the way to most
permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a
city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.
Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘that was in the beginning. Now the country (at least our
country) is filled with churches. Why is church planting important now?” We also plant churches
B. We want to be true to THE GREAT COMMISSION. Some facts–
1. New churches best reach a) new generations, b) new residents, and c) new
people groups. First (a) younger adults have always been disproportionately found in newer
congregations. Long-established congregations develop traditions (such as time of worship,
length of service, emotional responsiveness, sermon topics, leadership-style, emotional
atmosphere, and thousands of other tiny customs and mores), which reflect the sensibilities of
long-time leaders from the older generations who have the influence and money to control the
church life. This does not reach younger generations. Second, (b) new residents are almost
always reached better by new congregations. In older congregations, it may require tenure of 10
years before you are allowed into places of leadership and influence, but in a new church, new
residents tend to have equal power with long-time area residents.
Last, (c) new socio-cultural groups in a community are always reached better by new
congregations. For example, if new white-collar commuters move into an area where the older
residents were farmers, it is likely that a new church will be more receptive to the myriad of
needs of the new residents, while the older churches will continue to be oriented to the original
social group. And new racial groups in a community are best reached by a new church that is
intentionally multi-ethnic from the start. For example: if an all-Anglo neighborhood becomes
33% Hispanic, a new, deliberately bi-racial church will be far more likely to create ‘cultural
space’ for newcomers than will an older church in town. Finally, brand new immigrant groups
nearly always can only be reached by churches ministering in their own language. If we wait
until a new group is assimilated into American culture enough to come to our church, we will
wait for years without reaching out to them.
[Note: Often, a new congregation for a new people-group can be planted within the overall
structure of an existing church. It may be a new Sunday service at another time, or a new
network of house churches that are connected to a larger, already existing congregation.
Nevertheless, though it may technically not be a new independent congregation, it serves the
same function.]
In summary, new congregations empower new people and new peoples much more quickly and
readily than can older churches. Thus they always have and always will reach them with
greater facility than long-established bodies. This means, of course, that church planting is not
only for ‘frontier regions’ or ‘pagan’ countries that we are trying to see become Christian.
Christian countries will have to maintain vigorous, extensive church planting simply to stay
2. New churches best reach the unchurched–period. Dozens of denominational
studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%)
from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-
Used by Permission 215 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.2
means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of
the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.
So though established congregations provide many things that newer churches often cannot,
older churches in general will never be able to match the effectiveness of new bodies in
reaching people for the kingdom. Why would this be? As a congregation ages, powerful internal
institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns
of its members and constituents, rather than toward those outside its walls. This is natural
and to a great degree desirable. Older congregations therefore have a stability and steadiness
that many people thrive on and need. This does not mean that established churches cannot
win new people. In fact, many non-Christians will only be reached by churches with long roots
in the community and the trappings of stability and respectability.
However, new congregations, in general, are forced to focus on the needs of its non-members,
simply in order to get off the ground. So many of its leaders have come very recently from the
ranks of the un-churched, that the congregation is far more sensitive to the concerns of the
non-believer. Also, in the first two years of our Christian walk, we have far more close, face-toface relationships with non-Christians than we do later. Thus a congregation filled with people
fresh from the ranks of the un-churched will have the power to invite and attract many more
non-believers into the events and life of the church than will the members of the typical
established body.
What does this mean practically? If we want to reach our city–should we try to renew older
congregations to make them more evangelistic, or should we plant lots of new churches? But
that question is surely a false either-or dichotomy. We should do both! Nevertheless, all we
have been saying proves that, despite the occasional exceptions, the only widescale way to
bring in lots of new Christians to the Body of Christ in a permanent way is to plant new
To throw this into relief, imagine Town-A and Town-B and Town-C are the same size, and they
each have 100 churches of 100 persons each. But in Town-A, all the churches are over 15
years old, and then the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be
shrinking, even if four or five of the churches get very ‘hot’ and double in attendance. In TownB, 5 of the churches are under 15 years old, and they along with several older congregations
are winning new people to Christ, but this only offsets the normal declines of the older
churches. Thus the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be staying
the same. Finally, in Town-C, 30 of the churches are under 15 years old. In this town, the
overall number of active Christian churchgoers will be on a path to grow 50% in a generation.3
Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘what about all the existing churches that need help? You
seem to be ignoring them.’ Not at all. We also plant churches because–
C. We want to continually RENEW THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST.
It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church
renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best

Lyle Schaller, quoted in D.McGavran and G.Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies that Work (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1980), p. 100. See C.Kirk Hadaway, New Churches and Church Growth in the Southern Baptist
Convention (Nashville: Broadman, 1987).
See Lyle Schaller, 44 Questions for Church Planters (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), p.12. Schaller talks
about ‘The 1% Rule’. Each year any association of churches should plant new congregations at the rate
of 1% of their existing total–otherwise, that association will be in decline. That is just ‘maintenance’. If
an association wants to grow 50%+, it must plant 2-3% per year.
Used by Permission 3ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole Body of Christ.
1. First, the new churches bring new ideas to the whole Body. There is plenty of
resistance to the idea that we need to plant new churches to reach the constant stream of ‘new’
groups and generations and residents. Many congregations insist that all available resources
should be used to find ways of helping existing churches reach them. However, there is no
better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people
groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be
innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole Body in
the city. Often the older congregations were too timid to try a particular approach or were
absolutely sure it would ‘not work here’. But when the new church in town succeeds wildly
with some new method, the other churches eventually take notice and get the courage to try it
2. Second, new churches are one of the best ways to surface creative, strong
leaders for the whole Body. In older congregations, leaders emphasize tradition, tenure,
routine, and kinship ties. New congregations, on the other hand, attract a higher percentage of
venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these
men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the
appearance of these new bodies. Often older churches ‘box out’ many people with strong
leadership skills who cannot work in more traditional settings. New churches thus attract and
harness many people in the city whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized in the work of the
Body. These new leaders benefit the whole city-Body eventually.
3. Third, the new churches challenge other churches to self-examination. The
“success” of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate
themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older
churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity. Often the growth of the
new congregation gives the older churches hope that ‘it can be done’, and may even bring
about humility and repentance for defeatist and pessimistic attitudes. Sometimes, new
congregations can partner with older churches to mount ministries that neither could do by
4. Fourth, the new church may be an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for a whole
community. The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for
a variety of reasons. Sometimes the new church is very exciting and outward facing but is also
very unstable or immature in its leadership. Thus some converts cannot stand the tumultuous
changes that regularly come through the new church and they move to an existing church.
Sometimes the new church reaches a person for Christ, but the new convert quickly discovers
that he or she does not ‘fit’ the socio-economic make up of the new congregation, and
gravitates to an established congregation where the customs and culture feels more familiar.
Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the
older bodies as well.
Sum: Vigorous church planting is one of the best ways to renew the existing churches of a city,
as well as the best single way to grow the whole Body of Christ in a city.
There is one more reason why it is good for the existing churches of the region to initiate or at
least support the planting of churches in a given area. We plant churches—
Used by Permission 4D. As an exercise in KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS
All in all, church planting helps an existing church the best when the new congregation is
voluntarily ‘birthed’ by an older ‘mother’ congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders
and new ministries and additional members and income ‘washes back’ into the mother church
in various ways and strengthens and renews it. Though there is some pain in seeing good
friends and some leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually
experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new enthusiastic leaders and
However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue–the
issue of ‘kingdom-mindedness’. New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new
members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some
people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a
sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80%–the new people that
the kingdom has gained through this new church, or are we going to bemoan and resent the
three families we lost to it?” In other words, our attitude to new church development is a test
of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf, or to the overall health and
prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.
Any church that is more upset by their own small losses rather than the kingdoms large gains
is betraying its narrow interests. Yet, as we have seen, the benefits of new church planting to
older congregations is very great, even if that may not be obvious initially.
If we briefly glance at the objections to church planting in the introduction, we can now see the
false premises beneath the statements. A. Assumes that older congregations can reach
newcomers as well as new congregations. But to reach new generations and people groups will
require both renewed older churches and lots of new churches. B. Assumes that new
congregations will only reach current active churchgoers. But new churches do far better at
reaching the unchurched, and thus they are the only way to increase the ‘churchgoing pie’. C.
Assumes that new church planting will only discourage older churches. There is a prospect of
this, but new churches for a variety of ways, are one of the best ways to renew and revitalize
older churches. D. Assumes that new churches only work where the population is growing.
Actually, they reach people wherever the population is changing. If new people are coming in to
replace former residents, or new groups of people are coming in–even though the net pop
figure is stagnant–new churches are needed.
New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number
of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole Body of Christ. The evidence
for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of
kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that.
Used by Permission 5

Becoming a Church Planting Church

I am super excited that Immanuel has been and is a church planting church. Churches planting other churches is without a doubt the N.T. model. So continue to pray for our church plant in Arizona and others that are being planted around the world today by sacrificial church planters who are literally risking it all to promote the Kingdom.

Recently I came across the following advice to churches who are thinking about becoming a church planting church…


  • Get convinced about the importance of church planting. It all starts here. Reading this article (PDF) by Tim Keller pretty well wrecked me, and I’ve never looked back.
  • Begin to share a vision for church planting. This will take some time. Your people may think that your church is too small, or that planting isn’t important. You can begin to influence the way that your people think.
  • Fund church plants. Start really small. The beauty of helping to fund a church plant is that it’s very temporary. Take up a special offering for a church plant in the area for 3-5 years, or add a small amount to your budget for a local church plant. When that church is established, keep the funds and invest them in a new church plant. After twenty years, you’ll be able to look back at four to six churches you’ve had a hand in planting, not to mention their daughter churches as well.

10 Commandments for Choosing a Church

One of the hardest things to do is to find a church home. However one of the most important things for you and your family is to find a church home where you and your family can connect, grow and serve. Let me offer the following advice on finding the right church.

1. Thou shalt find a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught

A God-glorifying church is built on God’s word. Make sure that you find a church that basis all that it does on the Word of God.

2. Thou shalt find a church where doctrine matters

Acts 2:42

Doctrine is what the bible teaches about any subject. Doctrine in our day and time is neglected and attacked. Paul told us in the New Testatment that doctrine will always be under attack – 2 Timothy 4:3-4

So look for a church that clearly knows and defines what it believes – a place where the statement of faith actually makes a difference. You should never join a church where you cannot agree with their statement of faith. No matter how hip and cool their worship set is – make sure you can sign off on their doctrinal statement.

3. Thou shalt find a church where the Gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed

Gospel is the good news. It is really the only relevant news the church has. Therefore it must be proclaimed.

Spurgeon, “Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; those things will neither fill anybody’s stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul, and go often.”

4. Thou shalt find a church that is committed to reaching the lost

Matt. 28:18-20

Adrian Rogers said years ago that, “A church that is not evangelistic is not merely failing – but is guilty of high treason against heavens king.”

5. Thou shalt find a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity

The most effective leaders view themselves as servants. The most effective leaders are men of integrity.

Let me give you a great definition of integrity – it is doing the right thing the right way. So find a church where leaders are not looking for shortcuts to growing the church God’s way.

6. Thou shalt find a church where the people strive to live by God’s Word -James 1:22

The scripture should be your new churches sole basis of faith and practice. So make sure the people in the pews are committed to walking together in the principles of the Word.

7. Thou shalt find a church where you can find and cultivate godly relationships

We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement, accountability, and care.

This means that the local church you choose should be local! Its impossible to build relationships with people that you don’t live near. So choose a church near where you work and live. A church that you can be involved in the lives of others in.

8. Thou shalt find a church where members are challenged to serve

Ephesians 4:12

Too many people come to church to sit, soak, sour, instead find a church where you can serve.

Look for a place that will not just serve your needs but a place that will challenge you to care deeply about the needs of others.

9. Thou shalt find a church that is willing to kick you out

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Find a church that cares about God and you enough to do whatever it takes to protect God’s reputation from harm and your life from sin.

10. Thou shalt find a church that you are willing to join “as is”

Find a church that you can be excited about. In other words don’t find a church that is a fixer upper.

Find a church where you can leave your grips and complaints at the door and become a positive productive member.

Note: Excerpts borrowed from “Why Church Matters” by Joshua Harris

New Churches in Strategic Locations

This site is dedicated to those that have a passion to see new healthy churches started in strategic locations. I’ve had the privilege of being both a church planter, church planting strategist, and lead pastor of several sending churches. From every angle I can tell you that healthy churches are planted by healthy churches. Churches planting churches is the N.T. model!