One of the “feel good” stories of the recent Rio Olympics was how the Canadian silver medalist in the 200 meter track and field race was discovered. His name is Andre DeGrasse and he grew up playing basketball. In his Jr. year of High School, he decided at the last minute to run in a track meet. He didn’t know how to use the starting blocks so he simply stood sideways at the line and proceeded to defeat all competitors handily. It just so happened that a key track coach was present that day and immediately assessed the natural talent and became his track coach. Simply a few years later, DeGrasse showed the world his world-class sprinting talent. Even the most gifted, perhaps especially the most gifted, must be assessed.
The same is true in the church planting world. When it comes to church multiplication and development, a proper assessment process is necessary for people and projects. Improper assessments can have detrimental consequences, so skilled and strategic assessment is imperative. There are three key factors that must become evident in the planter through the assessment process.
1. Assess the calling.
Is the church planter called? Andre DeGrasse didn’t know he had a calling to be an Olympic sprinter until he was assessed by an experienced coach and evaluator of talent. Sometimes a potential planter feels they have a calling but the calling should be objectively evaluated through a rigorous interview and testing process that involves not only the planter but also the spouse. Most effective assessment processes consider spousal support a “knockout” category. No matter what the planter discerns regarding personal calling, if the spouse is not supportive, then the project should not move forward.
2. Assess the capacity.
Is this person capable of the various skills that are inherent in church planting? It is vital to evaluate the objective leadership and ministry capacity of the lead planter in a project. A key to evaluation of capacity is to gather as much data as possible about the life formation, past leadership experiences, and previous entrepreneurial pursuits of the potential planter. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If there is little or no demonstrable entrepreneurial capacity on the part of the candidate, it is best to redirect the person to another area of ministry or onto a church planting team that will not need entrepreneurial leadership. People do not typically become entrepreneurs—with a love for starting new projects and doggedly holding on to what they have started—overnight.
3. Assess the context.
Just like in biblical studies where we learn that “context is everything,” the same principle applies in church planter assessment. Context must be examined in multiple ways. The spiritual, social, physical and economic context of the location along with the contexts with which the candidate possesses familiarity must be taken into account. When you look at successful church planters, they are usually well suited with their context and do not have large cultural learning curves. Of course, God can accomplish great things through cross-cultural missionaries but there is usually a long process of adjustment for the missionary to become familiar and to assimilate into the local culture. A typical North American church planting project will always require cultural assimilation but viable projects typically require an assimilation process of one to two years.
Not every person who succeeds in sprinting becomes an Olympian. Not every Olympian becomes an Andre DeGrasse. If you are a church planter assessor, I am praying that you will find your “Andre DeGrasse” church planters, but that you will also find those who are truly called and capable who you can help to develop their skills under long term learning and development processes. Assess the best and the rest for maximum success!