Settlers and Pioneers in a Church Plant

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O vindicate and plead my cause, O God, against the foe; Come rescue me from wicked men, a nation vile and low.

I once heard a metaphor about the old west that certainly applied to my church planting experiences.  During the expansion westward pioneers would take their families, endure the hardships and danger to build something from the ground up.  To look across a valley and see what others could not envision.  They would build farm houses and eventually towns that could service the budding community.  When the towns were ready the settlers would arrive.  Both groups were vital to the growth and health of the community.  Without pioneers there would be no expansion and without settlers there would be no strength of community.

I think some people are natural pioneers; they can catch the vision and see what does not yet exist.  They are excited about the possibilities and they do not mind the risk.  They endure the hardship of setting the church up each week and believe it is all worth the effort.  Once the congregation gains some momentum and some permanence the settlers begin to arrive.  They are less interested in what will be and more interested in what is available now.  They are looking for programs for the kids and maybe a way to get connected and make friends.

There is a tendency for church planters to love pioneers – because planters fit into that category.  However, settlers are the future of any church plant.  In fact, many pioneers will begin to look for a new adventure once the church gets settled.  That is just how they are wired.  Once the church gets settled it is important to give pioneers new projects and ministries to build.  But don’t take it personally if some of your pioneers begin to look elsewhere to build again.

In the end, both pioneers and settlers are vitally important to building a congregation.  Recognizing the difference and understanding what each group is looking for in a church can help you serve both groups.

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Jeff McDowell is the founding Pastor of The Harvest United Methodist Church in Missouri City, TX. He and his wife Paula have been married for 23 years and have two teenage children, Jackson and Tori. He is a graduate of Sam Houston State University (BBA), Asbury Seminary (M. Div) and Perkins School of Theology (D.Min – Evangelism). Jeff has a passion for partnering with the Spirit to help people reach their God given potential.

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