If you are starting a new church and want it to succeed, select the right lead planter.
A study of church plants shows that leaders who possess particular characteristics, giftedness and determination make an exponentially greater impact within the new church environment than pastors who do not possess such traits. In recent years, Stadia and other church planting organizations have begun placing high value on rigorous selection processes. The resulting church plants have seen an increasingly higher survival/sustainability rate.
What makes a leader equipped to plant a new church?
1. Essential Characteristics
Researchers like Charles Ridley have identified a list of essential characteristics for successful church planters. While these characteristics can be developed or even shared with relative strength among members on a church planting team, a lead pastor who possess and/or values the majority of these traits enters the new role with a significant advantage.
2. Spiritual Gifts
The Apostle Paul makes a detailed explanation of the gifts God gives and uses in leading the church. A balance of all gifts well deployed ultimately builds a strong congregation. In Paul’s words, God does this “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” But to start a church, some gifts are more urgent than others—particularly a strong sense of vision (apostle) and evangelism. Most new churches also require a gifted teacher while shepherds and prophets may come along later in the church’s development.
3. Personal Emotional/Psychological Maturity
Life experiences shape and limit us. A new church that values authenticity and purpose needs a leader who has used these experiences to gain self-awareness and has adjusted to the realities of his family of origin. Spiritual experiences and current circumstances are critical to effective leadership. Healthy people make healthy leaders. Healthy leaders establish healthy new churches.
4. Healthy Marital Adjustment
A new church body resembles, in many ways, the spouse of the church planter. The reasoning goes, if a particular person was attracted enough to a specific leader to commit to marriage, other people with similar preferences will also be drawn to that leader and likely to follow him/her in a church context. We believe God calls not one but two in every church planting scenario. This does not mean that both spouses will share visibility or maintain any particular role—but the high calling to plant a church is not a solo enterprise! (That is of course, unless the planter is single.) How two people order their marriage relationship … nurturing it, protecting it, developing it … is a strong indicator for the health of that relationship. The health of the church planter’s marriage is also a strong indicator of leadership effectiveness. Single church planters must also have a high view and committed approach to relationship development.
5. Financial Stability and Sound Judgment
God entrusts us with the management of His resources and the level of skill and discipline demonstrated by a potential church planter is an important factor in the success of a new church. Taken among other factors, the level of debt, credit rating, and a track record of responsibility on the part of the church planter all indicate the prowess that will serve a new church well or poorly. Although Stadia provides systems and services that address this important factor, the leader’s decisions regarding fund raising and the expenditure of resources can set up a new congregation for struggle or success.
Few there be…
Having been around church planters for two decades, I am more convinced than ever that a valuable piece of wisdom I learned from an African American pastor in the deep south is pertinent to this discussion. When observing various characters he had met in his many years of ministry, he told me “some is called, some is sent, and some just went!” What that lacks in grammar, it makes up for in truth!
We truly need leaders who are called by God and equipped to plant. We need the corporate discipline to refuse to send someone into the battle ill prepared. And we certainly need the humility to listen to wise counsel if we’re considering the challenge of planting a new church.
The calling to plant a new church is far too important for us to be passive in our selection process. Simply waiting for those who are looking for a job or who are unhappy in their current role to become church planters does Jesus and His body, the Church a great disservice.
Failing to carefully assess a leader’s gifts, experiences and preparedness almost certainly leads us to many tragedies of church starts that do not survive, let alone thrive. We have to be discerning enough to evaluate a well-qualified planter and tough enough to say “no” to those who are not right for this role. And if a potential planter hears “you’re not ready,” we should be humble enough to wait and allow God to develop us toward the role he has prepared.
The mission matters too much.