First impressions are so important. Sometimes they’re so strong that they can’t be erased from the mind. Years ago Head and Shoulders shampoo advertised with the phrase “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s so true.
How will people view the entrance of your new church in their area? You have the opportunity of being received into the community in one of four ways: enemy, adversary, competitor, or partner. Which will it be?
On a mission’s trip in Central America, we came upon a forest where the technique of “Slash and Burn” had been practiced. I’d never seen it before and will never forget it. The trees had been cut and left on the ground where they had fallen. Then the farmers burned it all. The people simply planted in between the felled trees that remained after the fire. You don’t want your ministry planted among fallen trees.
So think carefully before you enter a new region. You need more than great proposals for what you plan to do. You need God’s wisdom to inoffensively fit in and understand the area. What are the people like? What are their customs? What is the makeup of the churches in the area? What is the general age of the area? Are the people mostly local or transplants? Are you presenting something different or are you just reproducing what 20 other new churches are doing? Do you have an adaptable temperament if change is required of you? These are questions you should ask.
One church was introduced to the community with a post card that said, “Finally a church with friendly people and great music.” What an offense to the rest of those who were laboring to reach the lost who had friendly people and great music. How do you think this Pastor was received?
We once moved from California to Chicago. We were coming from a mega church of 10,000. It was a great church on the cutting edge of everything. We were saved and trained there and saw it as the only model for a real church. What a surprise to find that God was also at work in Chicago!
In one of our church plants a member took my husband out to look at land for a possible church site. The land owner had a very strong Southern accent that Phil was having trouble understanding. As they looked around at the few houses scattered about, Phil asked, “I guess all these folks are on a well.” – there being no city water available in the area. The man had a shocked look on his face – hesitated, then finally answered, “Why no,” pointing to the nearby houses, “he’s a Methodist, he’s a Presbyterian, & he’s a Baptist.” He thought Phil said, “I guess all these people are going to Hell.” Apparently understanding accents goes both ways.
Among the 1000 or so churches we’ve helped start with Tellstart, we’ve seen some remarkable things. We’ve seen new churches flourish where the odds were against them, and we’ve seen some fail when it looked like a favorable outcome would be a sure thing.
I once heard John R.W. Stott say, “Wherever Paul went there was either a riot or a revival. Wherever I go they serve tea.” Wherever you go, pray that it will be the place that “God chooses to set his name.” (Deut 14:23)