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Planting To Fail ::

Why do so many church plants fail to thrive? Craig Tucker offers some answers
Source: Perspective Vo7 No2 © Perspective 1999

Planning to Plant – Getting the Order Right

The way we usually think about church planting is upside down. As denominational leaders, often we feel we can’t approach a church planter until we have something concrete in the way of a core group and funding to offer. It sounds right – after all, it’s guaranteeing a certain level of “security.” But this way of doing things is actually doing the church planter no favours at all, and may be the very thing that will doom the project before it even begins.
Let me propose that we should work in this order:

Church Planter first.
Nothing is more crucial than finding a prospective church planter appropriate in his gifts and godliness. The PCAmerica reduced the number of church plants that failed from 40% to 10% by improving the way they selected church planters. (“Success” in this context is not measured by faithfulness, but by whether a church plant is financial after 3 years and remains financial for another 2 years.)

Core Group Second.
PCAmerica and PCNSW experience would suggest that church planters should recruit their own core groups.

When a core group is formed and then a church planter imposed/appointed, potential exists for significant problems. When the church planter comes into a pre-existing group, he must “wrestle” the leadership off whoever already has it (the person who had the vision and initiative to start the group), and establish his own leadership style and agenda over the top of the group’s already existing expectations.

The current experience of the PCAmerica is that lack of core group cohesion is the main reason church plants fail. They have become very cautious of pre-existing core groups, in many instances prefer to plant from scratch. Allen Thompson from PCAmerica believes that often the wrong people are attracted to core groups, the main three kinds being:

1. People disaffected with their current churches. They have serious relational problems, and/or have a “problem with leaders”. They infect the core group with their resentments and problems. They distract the group from its task. They eventually leave the core group for the same reasons they left their original church.

2. People who are power hungry. In their current churches they are small fish in a big pond, or have simply been passed over. They see the core group as a place to have greater personal power and influence. They either take control, split the group and take a faction with them, or leave to find another small group to destroy.

3. “Small is beautiful” people. They find their current church large and impersonal. They are attracted to the new, small, cohesive core group. However, they resist and resent growth. As the church plant grows, they eventually leave for the same reasons they left their original church.

NB Existing churches should never give away to church plants these kind of people. Neither should they give away “dead wood” who are not currently involved in key ministries and therefore will not be missed too much. We should consider giving our best, most gifted, most involved and indispensable people!!

If a church planter can’t raise his own core group, he shouldn’t be a church planter. By starting from scratch, he can gather around him people who are comfortable with his leadership style. They have come, first and foremost because of the church planter and consequently have a high level of commitment to his agenda. The church planter can recruit people from other places, willing to join his team, and will attract people in the church plant area willing to be part of things. Experience suggests that having a period of 6 months before the church plant actually begins to “talk up” the prospective church plant has the effect of bringing people “out of the woodwork” to join the core group.

And the funding will follow. Once you have the right church planter and a cohesive core group, funding will never be a problem. If the church planter can attract a core group of ten givers, half the job of funding is accomplished already. Once the project is being “talked up”, the other half (outside funding for the first three years) will then materialise. Churches and individuals are much more likely to give to a concrete imminent project, led by someone they can have confidence in; than they are to give to a vague, head office, church planting slush fund with no specific plans. If we wait for the funds to materialise, as the first step rather than the last step, then nothing will ever happen.

Implications… (to mention just a few)

1. Lets stop shrugging our shoulders and saying: There is no core group in this area so we should put off church planting.
2. Lets stop shrugging our shoulders and saying: There is no funding from head office, so there is no point thinking about church planting.
3. Lets pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise up workers specifically gifted as church planters.
4. Lets ask ourselves, and start challenging each other, to consider whether we are suited to leave the security of an established parish and be church planters.

Craig Tucker – June 1999

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