What You Don’t Need to Know to Start a Church

My first church planting experience was 32 years ago on an Apache reservation in Arizona. I was a few months old as a Christian, and on my second mission trip. The Apache pastor prayed about starting a church in an area of the reservation where there were no churches, and I questioned why we weren’t just doing it. After all, we had people, bibles, pens, and pencils, so what else did we need? The pastor decided that we would go ahead and start the church, and he said that I was in charge. We began with a children’s Bible Club. I had no idea what I didn’t know, but clearly I didn’t know that new Christians should not get involved in church starting.

As a two-year-old Christian, I went to seminary. I asked my pastor what to do for church when I got there, and he told me to get involved with a church that started churches. New Christian usually do what their pastors tell them, so I moved to Texas, and the first Sunday, joined a church that started house churches. By the next Sunday I was signed up to work as part of a church planting team, and within a few months we had knocked on enough doors and distributed enough hand drawn flyers that there were enough people to start a church. We didn’t know that people don’t respond to cold turkey evangelism, and don’t like strangers knocking on their doors, so we just did it.

During my last year of seminary, still knocking on doors, I met a new refugee family from Cambodia. They invited me in to talk and drink tea. A week later, I visited another local church and was amazed to see that Cambodian family, along with fifty other Cambodians visiting that same church. The pastor saw me talking to the refugees and asked who I was. When he discovered I was a seminary student, he told me that the group wanted help in starting a new church. Without knowing me, he asked me to direct the church planting effort, which I did. I didn’t know that I was not supposed to start a church without learning the language and culture of the people, but somehow, God was gracious, and we planted a church anyhow.

When I graduated from seminary, I was called back home to help my church to become a church planting church. A family from the Cambodian church sent their seventeen-year old daughter with me to start a Cambodian church in California. We discovered a refugee apartment complex, brought the manager a box of donated food to give away, and asked him if we could start Bible clubs there. When he said yes, we collected an assortment of older adults and some children to help. Too many people showed up for that event, so we counted paper cups we used instead of heads. I knew nothing about training church planting teams back then, so we were not trained to deal with the crowd. Still, God used it, and a church was born a few months later.

The last church I tried planting in that city actually became a ministry, but is not yet a church. Some new Africans moved to my street, but they kept avoiding my attempts to interact with them.  One day I saw three young women scurrying by my home. I ran to meet them, and they ran away. I chased them down the street, and they were able to run inside and slam their front door seconds before I caught up with them. I knocked on the door, and some fierce looking men answered it. A quick glance inside showed me that there was a large group of people with no furniture. “Hi! I’m Linda. I live down the street and my church would like to give you furniture.” I discovered that they were Muslims from Somalia, and that their country was around one tenth of one percent Christian. That day we began a ministry that we still hope will become a church. I didn’t know that chasing people down the street was not the best missionary approach.

Eventually (though I am not sure when) I learned how to plant churches the proper way…. or maybe not. I know a lot about church planting now, and I even teach others what to do. This blog is all about what not to do. Or maybe it is about what to do. Or not. Just do it, OK?