Church planters make mistakes. Every one of us could share a long list of things we’d do differently if we could go back and start over. Like waiting six weeks after your first vision night before holding your next event. Or having to push back your launch date because you thought it would be easier to find a meeting space so you didn’t start looking early enough. Or playing in a recreational softball league that caused you to have to leave within 15 minutes of the end of service for the first month and a half after launching.
While my own list of personal mistakes could go on, there are common mistakes that plague many of us at some point in our ministries. Knowing these easy pitfalls helps us to avoid them. Pastors, as we begin this new year thinking of all the things we want to do, let’s be equally intentional about not doing the things we don’t want to do. Here are four common mistakes church planters make, and suggestions for avoiding them.
1. HOLDING PLANS TOO TIGHTLY
Vision casting is important in planting healthy churches. However, so much can change in the early stages of a church plant. If we cling too tightly to our plans, we can cause confusion among our people when things don’t follow the script. For example, in an effort to show our desire to be biblically faithful, we can attach Bible verses to each of our strategies, plans, and values. But what if things outside our control force us to move in a different direction? What if our values shift as we get to know our communities better?
Adaptability is essential in church planting. Our mission doesn’t change, but our models may. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to make plans in pencil. Don’t let what you think should be happening get in the way of what God is doing.
2. LACKING CLARITY ABOUT FINANCES
Assumptions kill clarity. One of the biggest traps planters fall into is assuming their church members know all the needs of the church. This is especially true concerning finances. All planters know how important fundraising is in the early stages of planting. And we often assume everyone else understands that, too. This can keep us from being forthcoming about our financial needs because we think everyone already knows.
Remember, your people want to help, but they can’t if they don’t know what you need. If fundraising for your church plant isn’t going well, ask yourself if everyone knows exactly where your church is financially, and where you’re hoping it will be.
3. HESITANCY IN MAKING DECISIONS
For many planters, becoming a lead pastor is the first time we’re the point leader for an organization. This means final decisions that carry big implications will fall on us in ways we haven’t experienced before. While it’s true that having humility and seeking wise counsel can’t be overstated, a lack of confidence in making decisions can lead to a lack of buy-in from those we’re leading.
Here’s a secret: leading a church will always involve making decisions without knowing exactly what you should do. The good news is that people aren’t looking for someone with all the answers, but they are looking for someone to lead. You won’t always get it right, but no one expects you to. People do, however, need someone to make decisions amid the unknown. Be that someone.
4. UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
In making plans for what we want to do in the future, we often miss what we can be doing in the present. For example, when we try to emulate churches we admire while being in a different context and without the resources they have, the result can be an awkward imitation that leaves everyone wondering what’s going on.
A church of 75 people can’t operate like a church with 1000 members. You won’t be able to do what other churches can. But there are likewise things your church can do that other churches cannot. So don’t miss those things trying to be a different church. It’s good to have dreams and goals for the future, but don’t let those desires hinder you from what God is equipping you to do today.
Church planter, you’re going to make mistakes just like the rest of us. Thankfully, the goal is not perfection, but faithfulness. When we do mess up, there’s grace from the Savior who is for you and loves you. So learn from your mistakes, try to avoid them, and use them to grow in grace for the good of your church and to the glory of God.