Earlier this year, while at a denominational church planter training, I picked Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch (Regal Books, 2007) out of a stack of other books sheerly on the quality of cover design. It didn’t disappoint. Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas have written a great book on the physical task of beginning new communities of faith. In a sea of other book on the subject I think Launch clearly stands out. I want to take just a few moments to summarize this book for you.
Beginning a new church is scary work. The Journey (planted by Searcy and Thomas) was a “parachute drop” church plant. It was started by two outsiders in a strange city. It takes a combination of deep intentionality and awareness of the Holy Spirit do accomplish this. Just weeks after 9/11, The Journey was started in Manhattan.
Part of the discernment process of starting a new church means serious prayer and thoughts about motives. Do you have a negative reason for wanting to plant? Is your spouse completely onboard? Are you willing to do anything to make this happen? Are you able to ask total strangers for an investment?
The authors do a great job talking about the practicality of all this. Searcy tells his story of discernment while also leading the reader towards understanding their own path of prayer and thought. What skills do you need to have that you might not currently? What skills are essential to have?
Sooner or later you have to do it. You have to actually begin the formal groundwork for beginning a new church. The previous work done in the foundation phases begins to formally pay off here.
The formation phase or preview phase is the most important few months of your new church. During this time you build up a launch team, hire key staff, hold preview services. You are incubating this new church. There are things you should and shouldn’t do. Intentionality and strategic planning are the two primary places you should be placing your energy.
The preview phase of a church plant is essential in building systems and staffing. New churches must go about this differently and explain exactly what they need and how people need to do it. This is also a time of creativity as you find different problems unique to your situation and specific ways of addressing those. Searcy and Nelson do a great job explaining how to utilize $50 a week staff members, key volunteers that are so essential they are paid a small amount to ensure their energy as well as tie them to the specific vision even more.
You have done it. The preview phase is now over. Systems have been built and implemented. People have name tags and volunteer areas. At this time all of the work you have been spending sleepless nights and tiring days is over with. The church has been “launched.” But with that, an entirely new season is upon the planter.
One of the hardest parts of planting a church is this transition from new to established. At this point in time long term plans need to be implemented. You might have a list of ministries you see as essential (such as small groups, youth, global missions, etc). The task is to accurately gauge if your new community can sustainably make these part of the fabric of your new church. One of the biggest failures in new churches is starting too much too soon.
At this point in time you also need to redirect energy from starting and making church “happen” to growing outward focused disciples who seek to draw new unchurched people into the community.
Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas present a very practical and easy to read primer to beginning new churches. They also have many resources available at http://www.
Launch is a fantastic tool for those praying over starting new church, those assisting church planters or church leaders looking to get ideas from new church theory.