Recently, I had a conversation with a church planter that reminded me of the most critical decision most church plants will ever make. You’ve raised initial support and launched successfully. You’ve been in your initial location doing the portable church thing for a while. People are serving and a sense of community has begun to permeate the fellowship of the people who are calling the church home. The church has established momentum and has grown. In fact, it has grown so much the church now has to start thinking about a new home. Maybe even a permanent home.
I know it is hard to say any one decision is more critical than another. However, from my perspective, after a church is launched and becomes viable, no decision is more critical than this one – the decision to move from temporary space to a permanent home. Let me explain.
Space affects momentum. Make no mistake about it. The very reason you would even consider moving is because, if you stay where you are too long, it will affect momentum. The scary thing about this decision is that you have to make it before your capacity reaches the point of actually needing it. Waiting too long to make the call to move can be costly.
Yogi Berra gets credited with a lot of sayings that seem like they don’t make sense. But one of them, I completely understand. He said it about a restaurant in St. Louis, but he could have said it about a church. He said, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.” It sounds like a contradiction but it’s absolutely true. Once people decide your church is too crowded, momentum will stall. Nobody (new) goes there any more – it’s too crowded.
As a church planter, you didn’t get this far only to let that happen.
As I have watched planters and their leadership teams wrestle with this issue, I see three common mistakes – too small, too big, too late.
- Too small: Not many church plants make this mistake, but when they do, it becomes evident almost immediately. Generally, this occurs because the church moves too soon and does not have the critical mass it needs to be able to afford the right space. The church becomes impatient with the temporary location and doing portable church. The result is a rushed decision to move to a permanent home followed by the reality that the church cannot afford what it really needs. The space is too small, the momentum of the church stalls and a whole new set of challenges sets in.
- Too big: This is the one that far too many church plants stumble on. Growth is intoxicating. It is too easy to think that the growth rate the church is experiencing will continue for a while to come. Church leaders get carried away with having enough space and, in the process, inadvertently overestimate the financial capacity of the church. Too much mortgage and too much building. The need to feed the “building monster” begins to drive way too many discussions and decisions in the life of the church. At a time when the church has plenty of space and needs to grow, financial decisions restrict ministry. It doesn’t take long before this becomes a drag on the momentum of the church.
- Too late: This is the one that catches a lot of church plants by surprise. The church has been in temporary space for quite a while. They see the growth and momentum of the church, but fail to take into account how long it will be before they need more space. All of a sudden, it is time to make a move to permanent space. Not just time, but past time. The church has used up all its weekend options and there is still not enough space. It won’t take long before momentum stalls – right at the moment the church has anticipated for so long.
Three common mistakes that are all too easy to make. That’s why I believe that moving to a permanent home is the most critical decision a church plant will make after it becomes viable. It affects the church in many ways and for many years. Get this one right and your church plant will have a huge ministry impact for a long time to come!