Is Your Heart Broken for Your Community?

Before you set out to plant a church, your heart must be broken for the community. It may seem obvious and you’re most likely nodding your head in the affirmative. But you must be sure.

There are going to be set-backs and disappointments in your church planting. There will be times when the only thing that holds you to the cause is your love for the people in your community.

And if your heart isn’t broken don’t even bother planting. If you do, it’s really about you then. And that’s a sin.

You can’t just tell us your heart is broken. I’d recommend you spend some time really thinking/praying through this.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re heart really is broken for the place where you will plant.

  1. If this is the only place you’ll ever plant a church will you be content?
  2. Do you see the suffering? It’s there. Does it move you in a significant way.
  3. Do you see/understand the assets of the community?
  4. Do you have a holy discontent for the community?
  5. What evidence do you have that God is at work in this place? Is it clear how He’s calling you to participate.
  6. Do you find it easy to connect with people?
  7. Do you have an extra dose of patience for people?
  8. Do you understand how people in the community live, work and play? Do you respect it?
  9. Do you see the people of the community through God’s eyes? What evidence do you have?
  10. Do you find that you are genuinely interested in all people/groups you encounter in the community.

What about you? What are some ways you can be sure you’re heart is broken for the community?

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Start a Fight!

I was talking to a church planter the other day and he told me he likes to start fights. Thinking that he might challenge me to a fight after services, I asked him to explain. That’s when he told me that he’d been trying to start a few fights during his staff meetings. See, he suspected that ‘arrival’ had set in. fighting

“The fact is,” he said, “if we aren’t really debating things and arguing from time to time, it’s a sign that we arrived.”

We both agreed that arrival means death to a reproducing church culture. (I’ve written about the danger of arrival here.)

To combat arrival, my friend told me how he’d spent some time re-evaluating and re-assessing his team dynamic. In the process, he realized that indeed, they’d gotten a little stagnant. That’s when he decided to re-train and re-tool the team…and start a few fights.

He chose some key topics and initiatives and tossed them on the table for debate. He invited his team to lean and really own the outcome. This inevitably led to conflict and that has led to stronger team.

I thought their idea of starting fights to combat arrival was genius. And I really appreciated his honest assessment of his team. Talk about leadership.

So what about you?

Do you have a sense that your team has arrived? If so, when was the last time you started a fight on your team? When was the last time you let your team debate something critical to your culture?

The fact is, we have a bias toward arrival. One way to combat that is to start a few fights.

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Learn to Count the Yeses

When it comes to church planting, so many of us dwell on the NO votes. When rolling out something new, challenging people to the next level, or trying to get something done, you will find detractors. These will be the NO votes. And we count them. Boy, do we count them.

  • No votes are the people who don’t show up.
  • No votes are the people who won’t get involved
  • No votes are the people who tell you that you can’t, or shouldn’t, or they won’t…

The fact is that in church planting you’re going to take a lot of risks. You’re going to push. And that means your bound to get lots of NO votes. And the NO votes can stop you from living out your Kingdom potential.

We need to learn to stop counting the NO votes. Instead, we must learn to count the yes votes. Yes

  • Yes votes are the people who show up.
  • Yes votes are the people who get involved.
  • Yes votes are the people who tell you they’re in.

The yes votes are the ones that should drive our strategy and tactics. The YES votes build the Kingdom.

The no votes are entitled to their vote–just not any influence.

What about you? Do you tend to count the NO votes? What’s it gonna take for you to start counting the YESES?

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How to Help a Businessman Plant a Church

It shouldn’t be a surprise when a businessman expresses an interest in church planting. If you’ve built a serious reproducing culture then people should be asking you how they can start something new for the Kingdom.Nextsteps

Not long ago a friend of mine invited me to breakfast and told me he was really interested in church planting. My friend is a family man and a business professional and the notion that God would call him to plant a church was unnerving and exciting at the same time.

While he has never been on staff, he contributes in his local NewThing church and has apprenticed as a leader in several ministries.

During our conversation I answered his questions as honestly as I could. He asked great questions and I enjoyed our time together. I encouraged him to keep dreaming and then we prayed.

I wasn’t sure if our conversation inspired him or discouraged him? And then several weeks later he contacted me and said he was ready for another conversation. This time he wanted help discerning whether God was really calling him to plant.

Since our second conversation I’ve been praying for my friend. I am not sure where God is leading him but I am convinced that unless we (and I mean the church planting community) encourage him to learn and explore the Kingdom will miss out. For him to even consider church planting is a HUGE win for the Kingdom.

So here are several next steps I gave him. He’s not ready for formal assessment or residency but he does want to do something.

You might say these are next steps for someone who is interested in church planting but has little to no vocational ministry experience…

  • Pray! I told my friend to pray and make his prayer-time a priority. I also suggested he take a prayer retreat for a day and really try to hear from God.
  • Interview church planters. I suggested he talk to as many church planters as would meet with him.
  • Read books and blogs authored by church planters. I provided him several lists of essential books and blogs on planting and encouraged him to take his time reading them carefully.
  • Lead where you are! In many ways, this is the most important next step. I encouraged my friend to lead strong where God’s got him. It would be a series mistake to want to lead a church without ever having some serious leadership experience. I encouraged him to lead wherever and whenever he has opportunity (That’s why apprenticeship is so important!)
  • Attend a church planting conference like Exponential. This would be a great opportunity to hear from planters, thinkers and practitioners as well as network.
  • Be patient. I encouraged him to be patient with God, himself and the people around him as he tried to discern his next steps. Planting a church is a long process.
  • Talk to his spouse. I reminded him that God calls both spouses to church planting. My coaching was that he spend lots of time talking through his dreams with his spouse and give her space to process it all.

What about you? What advice would you provide a businessman who is interested in planting a church? 

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Exponential Blog Tour – Interview with Eric Marsh

This week, Exponential is on a blog tour featuring several of the leaders speaking at the upcoming Exponential West conference (Oct. 7-10)—where they’ll be talking about the vital need for planting and growing multi-ethnic churches that can make disciples who reach an ever-changing multicultural world. Expo West banner horizontal

NewThing will be in full force at Exponential West, (Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson and Matt Larson will be leading the Pre-Conference Intensive “Reproducing at All Levels” and NewThing leaders will be teaching a number of workshops. If you haven’t already registered for the conference, I encourage you to come. There’s really no other conference experience like it. If you’re thinking about going, register today before Sept. 30 when the price goes up.

Today, Eric Marsh visits my blog and we will post the same interview on the NewThing blog. Eric is the leader of PlantLB in Long Beach, Calif., an association of local pastors, business leaders and community leaders who are preparing the soil for planters who come to Long Beach to advance the Gospel in the city.It’s really exciting to see other networks’ around the country, but especially in the West, coming alongside planters with a passion to reach people far from God. In this guest interview, Eric talks about PlantLB’s vision and shares some great stories coming out of PlantLB. I think you’ll be inspired by their work.

Eric Marsh
Eric Marsh

Over a period of 10 years, from 2000 to 2010, Long Beach welcomed about 25 church plants to our city. Church planting had become a very cool thing to do, and Long Beach became the coolest of the cool places to plant a church. After a while, one of the things we realized is that most of these planters were 35-year-old ex-youth pastors whose Midwest-based denominations were looking for a city on the West coast to plant a church. Long Beach is a unique bird because unlike LA, you can get your arms around it. About a half a million people live here. A lot of these denomination heads had some good ideas about coming here.

What we chuckle about now is that they were all having this idea at the same time. So we had this deluge of really good planters. Most of them, though, didn’t look like who our city was becoming—a key phrase we like to talk about. Realizing this, a church planter friend and I decided to create a common conversation for the common good to serve the church planters who were coming to our city. We called it “30 Under 40,” and we brought in all these planters, young senior pastors, leaders from the community, business people, etc., and met eight times over two years. In that time, we just really fell in love with one other. For our seventh meeting, I brought in a professional demographer to tell us who our city was. In that gathering, we were really kind of shocked because the poverty numbers came to light, and we could really see the disparity between the rich and the poor. Long Beach is very much like LA and NY, in that there are the “haves” and the “have nots.”

In that meeting, we just realized we needed more churches that look different from the ones we’re planting and the ones we have. We realized we needed to focus on Latino second generation and put additional muscle towards diversifying the planters we welcome.

That was the beginning of PlantLB. Really the things that generated PlantLB were these friendships over 10 years and that demographics report. We all trusted one another, and we all wanted the same thing theologically for our city.

Can you share some specifics of who PlantLB is?

PlantLB is really our board, which looks like our city. Half of the board is church planters. We have all the major cultural groups and age groups (millennials to 60-plus) represented by local planters, business leaders, pastors, etc. We have extraordinary leaders on our board: Josh Chavez who planted Seventh Street Church, a reboot by the biggest church in the city; Larry Walkemeyer who has planted 15 churches in the last 10 years; Wayne Chaney, one of the top young African-American pastors in the state. John Teter, pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church and church planting team leader for the Evangelical Covenant Church. I put the board together and they said, “Eric, we want you to run it.” We’re calling PlantLB an association of leaders helping to prepare the soil for planters. We ourselves are not going to multiply. We believe it’s our job to support those who are coming as missionaries to our city.

What is PlantLB’s vision and initiatives?

Our vision is to see a lot more churches that represent who our city is becoming—young, multi-ethnic and Latino–making and releasing disciples.

We kicked off to plant 50 churches in the greater Long Beach area. We set the goal at 50 because we wanted to do something that would scare us and make us rethink the way we would go from addition to multiplication.

We had to rethink everything we assumed about church planting. By setting 50 as our goal, we knew we had to work together, we had to work with denominations, with local leaders. We couldn’t do it all on our own.

Our mission is to encourage the multiplication of new church plants for the good of the city. We equip pastors by assessing, training and coaching them. We have some financial support we give to some churches. We assist with pastoral care for planters to get planters past what I call “the sexy years.” For example, we’re setting up a fund with local Christian counselors where planters can go individually or with their spouses and get eight to 10 counseling sessions. We work hard on that. We have a monthly roundtable where we bring in someone to talk about a topic, about 15-17 minutes of content. Before that, we hear from a planter for five minutes. So it’s both a training ground and a watering hole for planters.

Additionally, we’re starting a yearlong intensive cohort, meeting once a month to talk about the practicalities of planting a church. We’ll meet once in September, and our second meeting will be the week of Exponential LA. We’re really grateful the Exponential conference is coming to the West, so we’re definitely utilizing the conference as a way of training our pastors. And we have pastoral gatherings of four to six pastors that we’re starting this fall.

It seems like you’re focusing on planting healthy churches as well as growing healthy leaders. Were the churches planted during the boom unhealthy?

Not a lot of those churches have made it. I would certainly say they were not unhealthy.

I just think it’s a terribly daunting and very discouraging process to plant a church. So we’re trying to set up more success factors for them to thrive.

And I’m the first to say that we’re fumbling our way forward, trying to figure it out as we go. But we’re finding that there are a few consistent things we hear from planters who say, “having this would have been helpful.” The failure rate is well documented. When a church fails—if it fails—it makes it more difficult for us to work the soil for the people who stay. For those who kind of start more small, organic churches built from a cell group, the devastation is not as great if those don’t work out. But if a planter starts with a big attractional model, giving away TVs and cars, and then it fails, the devastation upon followers of Jesus or people investigating Jesus just makes a mess for us.

Share with us some stories of churches that are coming out of PlantLB.

Our first plant we started financially is Chapel of Change. At age 17, the pastor, Brian Warth, became the youngest person in California history to receive a life sentence. He was saved in prison and has been well-discipled. On Oct. 7 2012, he launched Chapel of Change at the junction of Paramount, Long Beach and Compton. Brian is obviously a huge success story for us.

City Church is multi-ethnic and part of the Reformed Church in America. It was planted by Bill White and Jason Brown. City Church is on the west side of Long Beach, which is not the destination everyone’s looking to go to, but it is so emblematic of what Christ would do if He was coming to Long Beach. Six months ago, Bill and Jason sat in my office looking at a map of the city asking, “Where is the Gospel needed?” We picked this one neighborhood in West Long Beach, and they said, “OK, we’ll go buy houses there.” So they went to go buy houses in West Long Beach because that’s where the Gospel was needed. And they started an Alpha course and had 42 people come. They had 45 people come on their launch team retreat, two of which came to Christ on the retreat. They’re not planting because of PlantLB, but they have told me over and over again that the welcome mat we’ve shown them was the kicker to get them to come to our city. We want to help other people be successful.

Would you say PlantLB is scalable for other cities wanting to prepare the soil for planters?

I think it is. I don’t think any of us on the board of PlantLB have visions of scaling.  That’s not our intent. We would love to be helpful. It’s been hard not to have associations like this that are farther ahead of us. I wish there were more people we could learn from. So if we can help people learn from what we’re doing, we will.

I have been told that there is no multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-denominational city-centric church planting group in the world like this. So it’s not easy. We have different assumptions about everything—money, the role of women in ministry, how the Holy Spirit is working in our context. But it’s not a loose ecumenical group by any stretch. These leaders care desperately about our city and about the Gospel going forth. It is a reflection, even on our board, of what I would hope the Gospel would look like when we’re with Jesus.

How many church plants has PlantLB been involved in and how many will you welcome in the next few years?

We were part of planting four churches last year. This year, we’re planting three or four. The year after, we’re projecting five or six.

We’re trying to help congregations understand what does is it mean–and I love this Bob Roberts phrase—“to become factories and not produce one car at a time,” but rather to create systems in which they can release lots and lots of leaders.

When Rick Warren came to speak at the Vision 360 kickoff, he insulted us. He stood up and said that 50 churches is not a vision at all; 1,000 churches is a vision. I love what he had to say. He said as he looks forward into what church planting is going to look like especially in a place like LA where property is so expensive, you’re going to have rabbits, tigers and elephants. I think a lot of leaders come in thinking, often not wanting to say it aloud, that they are going to start a movement and plant an elephant. And the reality is most pastors are going to plant rabbits or tigers.

So our goal is to make the soil ready for these leaders when they come in. One of the best ways to make the soil ready is to have receiving churches that can both release the people who have been discipled in their midst and/or receive planters. Long Beach is the proudest city I’ve ever been part of. It is the only city in the world where half the residents proudly own a piece of clothing that says Long Beach on it. People love this city, but it’s a hard city. There’s a lot of ground to be tilled.

Eric, what is the need, both spiritually among the people of Long Beach, and for planters who will serve them?

The majority of the city is in need of the Gospel. The numbers change quickly because urban environments change quickly. We think there’s a good 50 percent of the population that have not heard the Gospel in a way that they can culturally understand. About six to eight percent of the population still lives in the Christendom paradigm. There are a lot of really good churches in Long Beach. I don’t want to make it seem like there aren’t. But there’s a great need for more churches that look like who our city is becoming. As people have that disruptive experience of coming to a city, I think they’re primed for the Gospel. That’s what we’re trying to help increase—to give them a chance to hear the Gospel, to become followers of Jesus, to become disciples of Jesus. We think we have room for 100 more churches.

To see what workshops Eric will be leading at Exponential West, visit the conference’s mobile site. Find more information about Exponential West here.

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