I decided I would write an article about my experience in church planting to help others out there who may be praying about doing the same. Experience is valuable, and I want to share what I know to help.
My family and I left Houston and moved to Broken Arrow Oklahoma to plant a new Calvary Chapel in 2004. It was very exciting and I was burning with faith! We packed up everything and left Houston in July. We had our first service for the new church on October 3. The video above was shot on October 17th.
Broken Arrow Community Church was able to hold services for seven Sundays until November 14. After that, we ran out of money and unable to continue. I had planned to start again later, but I didn’t because of some issues with Calvary Chapel affiliation. Ultimately the issues led to my ordination removal by my home church over theological differences (though misunderstandings would better describe it). I’ve written about that in previous articles. Further, there were some personal issues that hindered the effort (again, lessons learned).
So I thought I’d put together 10 points of advice for church planters. Yes, I failed in my efforts, but failure brings out an understanding of mistakes. If we can learn from each other’s mistakes then we have a better opportunity for success. One day if the Lord makes it possible, I will plant again.
1) Your relationship and trust in God is the most important component in stepping out to plant a church. Stay walking close with Him in every aspect. Continue to trust in Him with an undieing fervancy. Never doubt His love for you. Never let yourself get drawn away from Him by distractions or sin. Fight to be at His feet every moment. He is our strength and sustanance. Never forget He is the vine and you are the branch. You can do all things through Him.
2) When you go out, it is you and God alone. He is the only one that truly goes with you in your journey and effort. He is the only one to rely on and trust for He is the only one who will not fail you. He is your source, so stay plugged into Him.
Many people made promises to me before we left Houston about how they were going to be part of the work with us. They promised prayer and financial support. No one who made promises ever called or sent financial help to support the new church plant. I don’t know if they prayed for us.
All the broken promises were morale killers, and even though I tried to not let it upset me… it had an impact.
God did send an unexpected boost to my morale when a brother and his family from Houston came up to help us on our first Sunday. That was a joyous time, and I thanked God for their help and encouragement. It meant a lot, and I wish they could have stayed there with us.
3) Financials… a topic that is part of any church plant. I disliked money even before we left, and I came to hate money by the end when we had to shut down. Sadly, in our society, to be able to do anything requires financial support.
When we started up we saved up a small amount to start including pulling my Texas teacher retirement. I never thought I’d end back up in Texas, so there was no need to keep the funds in the system.
I made the mistake of buying too much equipment up front, and in reality I shouldn’t have bought anything to start outside of signs. I wanted to be functional as you can see in the vid. I spent some on advertisement, which was not needed (but I thought it would help). I should have used all of it to pay for the school we were meeting in thinking long term.
But… the school district was very anti-church. There had been a church who had met at one of the schools previously for a few years, and they were really terrible about paying. As a result the school district placed a 6 month limit on churches meeting in their facilities. The man who had control over it was angry about it, plus he was generally angry at churches in general. That is another article. So in a way I thought spending for advertisement would be okay.
I thought for sure those who attended would help, and I thought those who had made so many promises would follow through.
Our weekly bills were around $300 a week. Doesn’t sound like a lot perhaps, but it was for us. I don’t come from a wealthy family, nor do I have any kind of personal wealth.
4) That brings me to my next point. Before you start the new church plant, get a job first and be able to support yourself. With our savings we would be able to survive for a little while, and I was looking for a job everyday. I was burning with faith, and I decided to move forward before I secured a job. I wasn’t able to get a job until December. Thankfully, my wife was able to get one by the end of August.
I had been a teacher in Texas, but when I moved to Oklahoma I was not certified to teach. I should have started working at Walmart as soon as I got there or something. My point is to get a job doing something to bring in some money. You can always keep looking and move into a position to match your career later when God opens the door. My first job was a job, and it wasn’t until April that I moved into a position that matched my skill set. By then it was too late.
I know after the fact that having a job, the church might have survived at least a little longer.
5) The first people who come to the new church are not necessarily the nicest, godly people. We had several people come on and off. Everyone thought they knew more than we did, and their attitudes showed it. I’m not saying we knew everything as we obviously didn’t, but some of the comments that were made to my wife and I were really surprising.
One guy was mean to me. He had even attended a Calvary Chapel previously. Everytime he was there, right after service, he would come up to me and make a snide remark about something he thought I was doing wrong. He really didn’t like the fact that we used technology (I was able to run everything with remotes including the worship slides). He seemed to hate that I used video to record the messages (which had a remote too).
You have to have a very thick skin, and be able to love the people even when they abuse you in some way. All pastors and people in ministry know about how people are abusive toward us, but it is part of the calling to take care of God’s saved sinners so expect it.
6) Ministry is about hard work. I understood that going into the plant, and I come from a long line of people who have worked extremely hard throughout our lives. I don’t mind hard work and there is nothing better than a long day of hard work in the service of the Lord. But many people don’t realize how much work is actually involved in a church plant. You have to do everything from beginning to end, so expect it and thrive in the work that God has given you. Preparing the Bible message is only one small part.
Don’t expect anyone to help because they will come to service and then leave. Accept it up front and don’t let it upset you. There will be people who do help at some point God willing.
7) If you are married, your wife is the most important person to take care of and nurture. This is true especially during a church plant. Your wife is your best friend, your closest ally, and your sole ministry partner. She needs you and is your first support, so pray for and help her all the time. Hopefully she is a source of encouragement and strength for you.
8) Your children come next. My son was only two when we stepped out to plant a church. In all honesty, I would recommend waiting to plant a church until your child is at least 5-7 years old. The older the better. I know many people would probably disagree with that, but looking back at it, I believe it would have been better. Sundays were a very long work day, and by the end of it he was extremely exhausted by all the activity. Plus, my wife and I were helping with the church and taking care of a child at the same time, which was very exhausting.
9) Get to know the area you move to really well before starting the church. Then after prayer and consideration pick a place you feel would be the best starting point. After I had lived in Broken Arrow for some time, I realized that I should have started in a different location.
10) Get to know the locals, and if you can get to know some other Christians in the area that will be extremely helpful. You can get a sense of the local community and how things are going before starting out. Perhaps you can find other Christians (who don’t have a church) who are available to help the new plant out of the gate.
Overall, I’d recommend getting settled with jobs and stable, spend 6 months to a year getting to know the people and area, and then get started.
I know this list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it helps others out there who may be going out to start a church.
A note to Calvary Chapel. I know the organization believes that if you are meant to plant a church God will provide. I believe that is true as well, but I also think there is a reason that 50% of Calvary Chapel church plants fail. God provides to the churches so they can help other churches in need. We see that clearly in the Bible. Our plant failed because of finances, and in reality we didn’t have to fail because of a lack of money.
If other Calvary Chapels would have committed to help the new church our first year, it would have been different. Every single pastor in Texas and Oklahoma knew we were starting a new plant because I spoke at two regional Calvary Chapel conferences before we launched. I wasn’t going to solicit funds because God would provide as I had been taught.
Broken Arrow and Tulsa is very hard ground because as has been said it is a center for false doctrine (prosperity doctrine etc), and the school district is anti-church (6 month limit). There was no where to hold services that didn’t cost a lot of funds. So frustrating.
A note to other church organizations. I looked at getting support from other organizations, but every single one required that you have 20-50 people regularly attending as members before they would help out. That is so frustrating because we never got the chance to really make an impact due to financial requirements.
Truly, the only person I blame for the failed church plant is myself. I made mistakes, and I hope this list makes that clear.
A note to my fellow brothers who have stepped out in faith to plant a church and was not successful. I want you to pay close attention to what I am going to write. You are not a failure. You are not a loser. Sure, perhaps you made some mistakes, but your life, calling, and ministry to our Lord Jesus is not over. As long as you have breath in your body, you should continue working to accomplish the vision He has put into your heart. The only time a person becomes a quiter is when the person actually quits. Don’t quit, keep moving forward, and keep serving the Lord.
Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach you a few things through your experience in failing to plant a church. Imagine what you may accomplish with that knowledge and experience if you continue to work in God’s fields. It may not be in the exact way you thought, but you are still useful to the Lord and He will use you to build His kingdom wherever He takes you. Be faithful to the call, keep the faith, and keep serving Him. I love you all, and our God is bigger than our mistakes and failed attempts.
I really hope that my mistakes and experiences are helpful to others out there who are considering a plant. May God bless your work and efforts to build His kingdom.