Churches make disciples, and disciples make churches. This was made clear to me from the time that I was saved in a tiny church in rural Florida. My pastor and the church lived out the Great Commission by planting churches all around the region where I lived, and I soon too became passionate about church planting, to the point of giving my life to it. Through planting churches myself, and working with church planters all across the world, I’ve developed a series of 10 thresholds that every church planter needs to accomplish in order to plant a biblical, faithful, sustainable church. You can find them below.
10 Thresholds of Church Planting
1. Confirm your calling.
There are three components that go into calling: aspiration, adequacy, and affirmation.
Aspiration simply means that you’re reaching for something outside of your grasp. Both the words aspire and desire in 1 Timothy 3:1 have a sexual connotation to them, suggesting that your desire for ministry should be similar to that of lusting after it.
Affirmation means that those around you think that you are qualified for pastoral ministry. You should ask those around you if you are qualified, but be careful in how you ask. If you ask your mom if she thinks that you are qualified, she is going to say yes. To get a more honest and transparent answer to your question, ask something along the lines of “If I were to become disqualified from pastoral ministry, what would be the cause of it?” The answers that you receive to that type of question will reveal your weak spots and show where you need to grow.
Finally, adequacy asks the question “Do I meet the 26 qualifications for pastoral ministry listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 1?” It is important to recognize that 25 of those 26 qualifications concern character, with the ability to teach being the only one that has to do with competency.
I think it’s important to take note that calling is three-fold. I have found that when discussions take place around calling, people only stay in the aspiration component, and do not take the other two components into consideration. Aspiration is necessary but is nothing with affirmation and adequacy.
2. Prepare yourself and your family.
When it comes to preparing yourself, pay attention to your inner life. Your public life and your inner life should be consistent. When you speak to a pastor’s kid who has walked away from the faith, they almost always say that their dad was a different person at church than he was at home. For pastor’s kids who have a vibrant faith, the opposite was said. You do not have to be perfect all the time but strive for consistent character both privately and in the public sphere. If you feel that is in check – and only you can truly tell if it is in check – you need to make sure that your family (mostly your spouse) is prepared.
Pastoral ministry is life-encompassing. Most of pastoring is being with people, and most people work a 9-5 job. That means that you are going to end up having a lot of meetings in the evenings. Make sure that your spouse understands this well. It will be no use to make it seem like a pretty picture upfront to your spouse, only for the realities of ministry to hit them hard early on. Prepare them for the sacrifices that they will have to make.
3. Recruit a mentor and a partner.
Your partner is your equal in authority but will have a different role than you will. It’s important that you find a partner who has giftings that complement yours, and can run in lanes that you wouldn’t do well running in. Not only does this benefit the entire church by allowing both of you to use your giftings in the best manner possible, but it helps to ensure that neither of you makes yourself out to be the central authority figure of the church, and sets your church up for eldership down the road.
A mentor is different – they’re a person that you voluntarily submit yourself to, because their intuition is more trustworthy than yours. This may be because of age, experience, expertise, knowledge, wisdom, etc. Whatever the particular reason is, it should be somebody who is a few steps ahead of you in church planting work, whose opinion you respect.
4. Plan out the new church.
Write a document that is a written version of everything that you plan to do at a high level in the church. This will serve as a basic playbook from which you do everything as a church. What do you want your church to do? How do you want your church to do it? What does leadership look like? What will each leader do? How will you raise up leaders? What is your budget? Write all of this down, then boil each section down to its most basic components.
I didn’t do this when I first planted my church, but I wish that I had. If I had, I would have written it out of our motto: “We are a church that exists to know Jesus, and make him known.” Our leadership would have been formed around that, how we do ministry would have been formed around that, the budget would have been formed around that, etc.
5. Gather necessary resources.
That document will not only help you know what you are doing as a church, but can also serve as a prospectus that you can give to churches who are interested in supporting you. You’ve written out your budget, your methodology, and what you need to plant a church. Mobilize your planting partner and core team to use the prospectus as a tool for obtaining the resources that you need to plant your church. You can use the prospectus to make a video, website, etc. to raise money as needed. This is why the plan comes before the resources. Now you, your planting partner, and your core team are on the same page, and can give an organized plan to anybody who could potentially support you. It’s a springboard to getting what you need.
6. Assemble a missionary team.
Part of the resources that you need to gather are human resources – you need people. Now that you’ve written out your plan for how to plant your church, you need to staff it. What ministries in that plan need people to head them up? Which of those people will be paid, and which will be volunteers? These positions should be included in the written plan, with a job description, and if they will be paid or not. If they will be paid, you need to write out how they will be paid – stipend, hourly, or otherwise – and how much they will be paid. Your priorities will determine who is paid, and who is not. This is not your Launch Team (everyone planning on being a member of the church on Launch Sunday), but is made up of all of your leaders within your church. Use a prospectus for this. You can’t pay everybody. Write out who you absolutely need to start the church. You should also write out a job description for paid staff.
7. Befriend your community.
You’re going to a community that absolutely does not want a new church. Nobody is begging for a new church. Churches don’t pay taxes, are often seen as a civic nuisance, and don’t contribute monetarily in ways that a business does. You have to assume that your new community will see zero value in you.
As a result, you don’t need to go in with your church planter badge on. Instead, go in as a friend. Much in the same way that middle schoolers strategize how to make the cool kid like them, you need to strategize ways to make your community like you. Go to the community leaders, the educational leaders, the non-profits, etc. and find out how to be a help and an ally to them. This makes you a valuable resource, so that when you make your mission and allegiance to Jesus clear, your community finds more value in what you have to say. Do not go in thinking that everyone will see you as God’s gift to the community. Show them that you love them, and then tell them that God loves them.
8. Begin public worship services.
This is the fun part, and what most church planters think about when they set out to plant. This is not the only component to church, but is probably the most important component of your church. Your church is essentially a small missions agency that is made of people who have been on mission throughout the week. This is your moment to gather them all together each week and reinvigorate/re-energize your people using the Word of God. Encourage them in their work, show them God’s grace to them, help them savor Jesus, help them enjoy one another, and embolden them to go out into the world for another week on mission for God.
9. Order the church biblically (i.e., put infrastructure into place).
This is not about your intuitions about how to lead the church, but about what the Word of God says about how to lead and order the church. Write down everything that you believe about leadership, membership, and doctrine, all coming from the Word of God. Include processes for changing any of this as well, as there will come a time when a group of members will think that something in it needs to be changed. Write all of it down in an orderly fashion, and structure your church around it. All of this may seem monotonous at the beginning, but you’ll be begging for it if opposition arises. You don’t want to be worrying about how to go about church discipline when you discover one of your members is in habitual sin, and you have to take them through church discipline.
When you’re in the middle of building an IKEA desk, and you get lost and frustrated halfway through, you go back to the instructions, and find out how to finish building it (hopefully – sometimes there’s no going back with IKEA). Much in the same way, when you’re in the middle of a mess, you go back to the written statement on leadership, membership, and doctrine, and you go through the processes already set forth at the beginning of the church.
10. Repeat the process by training new leaders.
You’re not aiming at an apple; you’re aiming at an orchard. So, now that you have gone through the process yourself, systemize what happened with you, so that you can repeat it over and over with people within your church. Create a pipeline for leadership development that can be expanded deeper and deeper into each part of the church.
For instance, we started training future church planters in a residency. After we saw this process was going smoothly, we started a Missional Leader Cohort, where we started taking people throughout the church through theological training, and leadership development. This has served as the beginning stages of many people realizing that God is calling them to ministry. We want to continue to expand this out so that every ministry of the church is creating new ministry leaders within those categories.
When I first went to plant a church, I had no idea what I was doing. I was nervous about what lay ahead, but confident that the Lord would work. Maybe you’re in the same boat. If that’s the case, I pray that this serves you well. If you’re interested in church planting, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to at least point you in the right direction, and help you get started in planting a church.
Note: Clint Clifton is the author of Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel-Centered Church Planting Guide, where he provides more thought on the basics of church planting.
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