Church planting is full of risks and challenges. My own experience in church planting illustrates a significant, and all too common, problem; a high rate of turnover in the core team creates instability that can severely retard growth, reduce momentum, and potentially shut-down a young church. Within the first year of planting, many groups report that on average 80% of the core team will leave a young church. While some dispute the actual percentage of turnover, experience among church planters supports the premise that the untimely dissolution of the core team leaves church planters without qualified second-generation leaders to perform necessary tasks.
I began building my first core team to help plant Reunion Church in Orting, Washington during the fall of 2006. This early core team was an eclectic group with a diversity of church backgrounds and varying degrees of spiritual maturity. The team members were loosely connected to one another, but their primary connection was a relationship to me and my family. At the time it was felt that these bonds of friendship would enable my core team to stand firm through the difficulties of planting and buck the trends of turnover so prevalent in other church plants. While the Reunion Church core team did last longer than some, within two years, I had lost 80% of the original core team. The core team members who left the church plant never passed on their leadership roles and as a consequence, Reunion Church was left floundering; trying to incorporate a second-generation “core team” to help the church move forward.
Core leadership abandonment in the nascent stage of church planting creates two significant problems. The first problem is the increased risk to future church plants. A church plant that does not adequately address the premature exodus of its leadership leaves the church at a higher risk of failure. Additionally, when a church plant fails to take root, it leaves discouraged church planters, emotionally abandoned members and mistrust in the community toward future church plants. A failure of a church plant can also create disillusioned partner churches, along with denominational leaders who are left to justify the financial investment in a failed venture.
The second problem created by early leadership abandonment of the church plant is the loss of future leaders. Equipping church planters to build strong teams who can draw in new members from the surrounding community is crucial for the future of the Church in North America. We cannot build core teams with the expectation that they will be there forever. For a variety of reasons, good and bad, a substantial part of the original core team will eventually leave the church. The solution is to build a core team that will reproduce a second-generation leadership.
My story is similar to thousands of other church planters around the country and the lessons I learned inspired me to do a better job of building core teams that reproduce second generation leaders for the church. In the midst of planting my church, I pursued my doctoral studies. In the past few years, I surveyed dozens of leaders across the country. I found eleven key components to building a core team that can in turn develop second-generation leaders.
Here is a brief summary of each component.
- Personal Faith in Jesus: The initial core-team needs to have an existing relationship with God.
- Teachable in Methods: Every church plant is unique, so members of the team must have an openness to learning new and different methods to achieve ministy goals.
- Demonstrates Maturing Faith: Not every member has to be a life-long follower of God, but they do need to show a history of maturity and a desire to grow stronger.
- Evangelistic Deeds: Team members must have a track record of taking action to reach the lost with the love of Jesus.
- Training Others in Ministry Teams: A willingness to work hard in the basic task of ministry and to train others in those tasks.
- Engagement with Non-Church Community: Each member of the core teams needs to have preexisting involvement/relationships outside the church.
- Empowered to Lead: Only core-team members who are empowered to lead will reproduce a second-generation leadership for the church.
- Complimentary Gifts/Diversity within Team: Every team member must know and be empowered to use their unique strengths.
- Evangelistic Words: Members of the team must demonstrate a history of inviting others to participate in the church.
- Teachable in Evangelism: Show an openness to learning new methods and approches for reaching out to the lost.
- Unity Around Vision: Members of the team must have a personal investment and passion for the vision of the church plant.
During my research of successful church planters, I found a strong correlation between the use of these eleven key components and the establishment of healthy teams for church planting. I am confident that any church planter who implements a training process incorporating these eleven key components will significantly increase the odds of successfully planting a church and building a generational leadership.
To fully engage the process of building healthy reproducing core teams, I would like to offer the following guidelines. First utilize a “train-as-you-go” approach. These eleven key components are not transferable in a “classroom-only” approach. Each components must be demonstrated and taught through the daily process of planting a church.
Second, a successful leader will learn to couple preparation with reproducible action. You must prepare the right materials and tools for training and then combine them with an intentional set of actions that reinforce the practice of each key component.
Third, each of the eleven key components outlined above are established best when core teams members are empowered to take action and there is a decentralized leadership. This means that church planters must learn to train people who, in turn, are given the freedom to train other people. A restrictive, centralized power structure will hinder the proper development of a core team.
Finally, the corollary to the previous conclusions is the right use of “Divine-Neglect.” That is, the church planter must build a core team and allow the Holy Spirit to be the teacher, sustainer, and builder of the church. At times, establishing these elven key components requires that a planter pull back and allow the team to succeed or fail without his or her direct intervention in the process.