Anticipation about what God is going to do.
Anticipation about how the church is going to grow.
Anticipation about what that first service will be like when the launch preparations finally come into fruition.
Anticipation about the lives that will be impacted by the gospel and the love of the people in this new church.
Anticipation is powerful.
But churches that don’t build a proper launch team never get to experience the benefits of anticipation.
Here are two common mistakes church planters make:
1. Launch with a handful of people in a living room. If that worked for Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, it’ll work for me.
Truth: Nope. It most likely won’t. Hybels and Warren are outliers from a past generation. Decades of evidence and research consistently shows that churches with a launch team of under fifty people will struggle to ever gain viability, sustainability, and momentum. Could your church be successful launching with a couple of families? Absolutely. But why risk it when the benefits of building a launch team extend beyond viability, sustainability, and momentum?
2. Build a decent launch team but rely on advertising to bring in launch day guests.
Truth: Far too many dollars have been wasted on direct mailers and billboards by new church plants. I won’t waste your time trying to discourage you from using these means. If you believe they work, I can’t stop you. What I can tell you is that they’re extremely expensive, and when it comes to church planting, every dollar counts. A person who visits based on a direct mailer is less likely to return than a person invited by a launch team member. Your launch day stats are almost irrelevant. The return rate at weeks two and three are going to be the biggest predictors about the growth, retention, and viability of your church plant in the first two years. Invest time and money in something far more worthwhile: a red-hot launch team.
Building a launch team is the second-hardest part of bringing a new church plant into existence. I believe fundraising is the hardest–unless you luck out with awesome organizational or denominational funds (lucky ducks!). But the quality of your launch team has a deeper, more long-term impact on the viability of your church than fundraising. So it’s critical to get it right.
So how do you do it?
Here’s how to build a launch team–the basics in ten steps:
- Start meeting immediately.
As soon as you have a name and a place to meet, you should start holding regular launch team meetings. At my last church, we met weekly for nine months. Weekly at the beginning may have been too frequently. It worked out really well, but by month seven or eight, we were risking losing momentum. Define what “regularly” means to you and stick to it. Perhaps it’s a monthly meeting for the first three months and then weekly the last six months. You decide, but then do it.
- Start fundraising immediately.
People are more likely to stick around in something they’re invested in. Start collecting an offering from your launch team from the very beginning. Don’t beat it over the heads of launch team folks. Don’t shame them if they’re not ready to invest. But encourage it, and give them ample opportunity to be partners in the new ministry from Day 1.
- Start inviting immediately.
The beauty of a launch team meeting is its authenticity. These meetings have rough edges, less formal structure, and a highly relational feel. Encourage attenders to begin inviting people to check out your new church by inviting them to a launch team meeting. They don’t need to wait until the launch to bring a new believer or unbeliever or disaffected Christian. This “behind the scenes” look at how a church is built from the ground-up is inspiring to many people. Invite launch team members to invite. Anyone and everyone should be welcome.
- Start training immediately.
The volunteer–and maybe even some staff–leadership positions in your church are likely to all come from your launch team. It doesn’t serve you or your church plant well by waiting until a month before your launch to start identifying and training leaders. From the very beginning start looking for people who you think might be potential leaders. Take them to coffee. Learn their story. Assess their readiness and ability. Then, if they seem like potentially good leadership candidates, begin to train them immediately.
- Start delegating immediately.
Church planting is ridiculously hard. Depending on how many staff you have to start with, the work load can be overwhelming. From fundraising, to setting up bank accounts, to filing legal paperwork, to training leaders, to launching social media and websites, to assessing facilities, to purchasing equipment, to hiring staff… there are literally hundreds of pre-launch tasks. Whenever you encounter a talented and trustworthy launch team member who is ready and willing to take a task, delegate it. Be smart about what you delegate. But delegate. You’ll drown if you don’t, and you’re not serving your new church well by being unwilling to relinquish control.
- Start mobilizing immediately.
Launch team members need to begin to see themselves as a community, and not just individuals who are checking out a new church. Form initial small groups, perhaps focused geographically or by affinity. Have them meet outside of the launch team meeting setting, and ask them to collectively begin the process of campaigning for the new church. Encourage them to host block parties, invite friends and co-workers, canvass a neighborhood with fliers, etc.
- Start ministering immediately.
A launch team member is the closest thing you have to a new church member. From their first week, treat them as part of your flock. Minister to them. Hear them. Meet with them. Eat with them. Help them. Begin your role of serving them, instead of finding ways to use them as the means to the end of launching your new church. They are your new church.
- Start leading immediately.
Church plants are magnets for toxic people. Often times, people are interested in joining a church plant because they couldn’t push their personal agenda at the last church they were attending. These types of toxic people will seize control and manipulate any church planter who will let them. So be weary. Certainly minister to all new people, and delegate, and train. But be careful not to be manipulated by toxic people. You may have to stand up to some people, or even ask some people to leave. This sounds harsh, but as a shepherd, you have a solemn responsibility to protect your upstart flock from predators.
- Start planning immediately.
A huge mistake many church planters make is that they invest so much time and effort into the launch and launch day service itself that they’re unprepared for week two, three, four, etc. From the very beginning be more focused on post-launch than launch. In particular, obsess over having a solid assimilation plan. How will you contact and care for all of those launch day guests? What’s your discipleship plan? What’s your leadership pipeline? What ministries need to be healthy and running before launch? Plan. Plan. Plan.
- Start praying immediately.
The primary focus of launch team meetings must be one thing: prayer. Pray for the city. Pray for the church. Pray for the leaders. Pray for God’s hand to be seen. Pray. But even more than this, have a list of launch team members. Pastor, take time to pray through this list weekly. The enemy will look for a way to stir up disunity from the very beginning. Pray for the hearts, minds, and souls of the people in your launch team. Prayer is powerful; do not neglect it.
I served on the executive leadership team of a church that had a launch team of 75 people in 2011. By 2015 when we moved into our first permanent facility, we hosted 800 people on Easter Sunday.
The biggest investment that we made pre-launch was in that team. Our funding wasn’t great, and on our first Sunday we were 96% self-supporting with three full-time staff. It was risky. But we believed that we’d be more than okay because God had called us into the work we were doing, and because we believed in our launch team.
Typically, up to 50% of a launch team will leave a church within the first year–for a variety of reasons. While we did witness our fair share of attrition, I’m happy to say that we saw far less than 50% loss. I don’t believe there was anything unique about our launch team than couldn’t be true for yours. Build it the right way with the right priorities, and I believe God will honor your effort.