A couple weeks ago, one of CMM’s key partners for Gospel Coach training, Dave Whitehead, challenged us with an article about the reasons to support urban church planters. Dave is the Coaching Catalyst for Redeemer City to City, New York. He was kind enough to contribute again this week. Here are his thoughts about how Gospel Coaching works in his context:
“As we saw in the first article the reasons to support urban church planters is great. Today we will address how we approach coaching church planters in urban areas.
The density and diversity of the urban landscape is exciting from an outside view, but for those who live in the urban environment, it is challenging. One of the first things a coach to urban church planters has to understand is who they are addressing and what context that leader is serving with their church plant.
As an example: I live in New York City, of which the writer E.B. White wrote,
‘There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.’
This is true of most urban environments and the planter has to be keenly aware of their own story and to whom will they actually connect with. A coach has to be aware and trained to help the planter understand the complexities of the neighborhood they are trying to reach. This kind of cultural awareness is vital to coaching a church planter in urban areas.
The next thing is the competitive nature of urban areas. An urban coach needs to know how to keep the planter rooted in the gospel as he is bombarded with activities and events that will distract his congregation from spiritual growth. An thriving urban area has something going on that is exciting (and exhausting) every day of the week.
Lastly, the urban coach needs to keep the planter focused on working with the high level of turnover that occurs in urban areas. Few people see themselves in the city for the long haul. As a result, many urban churches experience up to 40% turnover in their leadership team every two years! This can be a brutal experience that makes a leadership development track essential if they expect to survive more than 4 years.
The issues addressed here are also in suburban churches, but the urban environment exacerbates these challenges in ways that planters are often not prepared for. As a result, we train our coaches to be ready to walk alongside the urban leader in ways that will help the church plant and the leader flourish in the fast pace of the city.
Remember: You don’t have to face the challenges of your ministry alone. A Gospel Coach will help encourage and equip you every step along the way. He’s been there and done hard things. He cares about you, your wife, and your family and can speak truth.
Click here to learn more about Coaching for Church Planters, Pastors, and Ministry Leaders today!
Team ministry has been written about a lot. Whether in the business community, medical community, start-up companies, large corporations, military or education, teams are the way to go. But it has not always been so in the church. Today, more and more churches see the value of forming ministry teams who work together toward a common outcome. Search for “Team Ministry books” at Amazon.com and you will find over 300 titles. You can find practical help for doing ministry as a team or working with teams in the church through a variety of sources.
Since many of you have been raised in an educational system that thrives on learning groups or work groups, from elementary education on up, you might have experienced a close relative of teams. Work groups are similar, but not the same as teams. You most likely have been part of a small group that studies together. Again, it is similar but not the same.
Most of what is in the marketplace about team ministry is utilitarian in nature. It is as if the whole purpose of team ministry is to get some job done in the best, most efficient way.
The Bible makes it clear that teams did not originate with a business guru, but first in the Trinity. God himself exists and functions as a team (Gen. 1:26). He is The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. God is love because God is a Trinity (team). The Triune God worked together in Creation and it is the Triune God (team) that worked in bringing salvation and renewal. God is generous, creative, serving, and saving because He is a Trinity. We were created to exist and function as a team (Gen. 1:27, 28). Your family is a team.
We also discover that teams are the basic building blocks for the church (Mk. 3:14; Acts 1:15,26). Teams bring together a diversity of gifts and are the best place for disciple-making. Teams were put together for mission in church planting (Acts 13). In the local church, team members should be committed to one another’s relational, personal, missional, and spiritual growth and health. They must see themselves as mutually responsible and accountable for one another.
Teams have the potential to be one of the most powerful drivers of planting and growing a healthy reproducing church. However, teams simply don’t just happen. They take time to mature. They require proper leadership.
Click here to download your FREE ebook "The Trinity Teaches Teamwork" and consider the 3 keys for developing teamwork in your new church.
A Church Planter Story -- Jim had started Redeemer’s House about six years prior to calling me. He spoke about his passion, his vision, and all that had transpired the last five years of worship. The church was averaging 200 people in regular worship. He had a couple part time staff guys and one full time assistant. In many respects, it had been a good ride but he was tired. He wasn’t sure about the future of the church. Then he said one of the most common beliefs I hear from planters in the 5th to 7th year of their plant: “I think I might have taken this church as far as I can. Maybe I need to leave and let the next guy take it to the next level.”
Have you ever had that thought? If you are in (or have been in) the critical 5-7 years post launch of your church I suspect you have. If you have just started or in your first years you might as well get prepared. Unless the church takes off like a rocket — and the average church plant after 4 years is 100 people — you will probably think just as Jim did.
I completely understand the why for thinking this way. In fact, there may be many reasons. Some Planters experience discouragement. The church you now lead is not the one you envisioned six years ago. You had hoped for people to be more engaged, committed and generous. You thought there would be more conversions to Christ. People you loved and helped have left.
For other Planters it is just plain tiredness. Let’s face it. Starting a church is hard work. For some it’s the new challenges of managing people and things that have to get done. Maybe you are better at vision and ideas and managing people is boring and difficult for you.
I suspect that you are probably in the weekly grind of sermon and services prep—the relentless return of the Sabbath—and there’s little margin for thinking and visioning. You grab ideas here and there from podcasts or articles in Church Planter Magazine but you don’t have time for thinking and praying.
Plenty of Church Planters have other valid reasons for thinking about letting the next guy work on the new church. For Jim, the main reason was not having a facility to use every day of the week. The people were worn out from setting up and breaking down each Sunday in the middle school cafeteria. However there was a deeper, internal stress that, “Well, being totally honest,” he admitted. “I thought we would be at a thousand people by now. All my experience has been in a very large church.”
Apart from the early launching of first services (even if you started as a Missional community for several years, at some point you “went public” and invited people to worship God with others) in the story of your plant, this 5 to 7 year period may be the most critical time in the life cycle of the work. My experience has shown me that when a founding pastor leaves, the church will lose between 25 to 30% of its people. Sometimes the church loses 50% (depending on the guy that follows the founding pastor). That is a hardship hardly anyone can overcome.
Longevity of the founding planter is a key component—not a guarantee—but a key nevertheless in a church with sustained health, reproduction and growth. Thom Rainer pointed out, “Long pastoral tenure was not the single most answer to struggling American churches….long tenure is one of the key requisites for churches to move from goodness to greatness.”
So what can a Planter do?
Your health and the health and thriveability of your family is most important. No magic wands can be waved to make that happen. A church planting Gospel Coach can help a lot. If you don’t have one, don’t delay. No matter how great a planter you’ve been so far, a Gospel Coach can help with the health and sustainability you need. I’m not talking about a life coach or a buddy that’s planted before. Even the best golfers in the world have a golf coach. You need a church planting coach that is able to bring the gospel to bear on all aspects of your life — Relational, Personal, Missional and Spiritual.
I like what Chris Wright wrote about the mission of the church—“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission (The Mission of God, 62).”
One of the essential ingredients in you seeing health and reproduction is to review and renew the mission God has for your city and what place your church has in that mission. This happens with times of prayer and renewal, first with you and then with your leaders. I suspect they are not sure what the core of the mission is that you are on now. As you seek the Lord together you will get shared ownership of the missio dei. If you need help, that is available as well.
Don’t leave. When I ask the planter who is thinking about leaving, “What do you think the next guy will have to do to grow and become a reproducing church?” The majority have listed several things they know need to be done. Well, why not do them yourself with the leveraged leadership you’ve earned? Most Planters leave before they get a return on their relational investment is realized. You won’t begin to get the return on those investments — married couples, counseled people through bondage and addiction, buried loved ones, baptized and discipled — until after the seventh year. If you leave at year 5, 6 or 7, you lose the return.
Have a health assessment done for you, the leaders, and the church. Like going to a physician for a check up, this can get the true reading on where you are as a church and help bring renewal and hope for the present and future ministry in the city God has planted you. You can learn more about church health assessment at www.churchleaderinventory.com.
God’s calling is God’s enabling. As I’ve written elsewhere, you are perfectly righteous in Jesus so you have nothing to prove. You are eternally loved so you have nothing to fear. You are completely forgiven so you have nothing to hide.
Remember, you don’t have to plant a church alone. Never before have there been more resources for training as there are now. If you want to have a Gospel-centered church, it’s important to have a gospel-centered coach. Church Planter Coaching is an intentional Gospel conversation with focused discussions about the planter’s relational, personal, missional and spiritual life. Click here to learn about CMM's Next 5 to 7 ministry for church planting pastors today!
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!