Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Best Practices for New Church Strategy Development

Best Practices for Strategy Development
Strategy Development Cycle: Six P's

Do you have a viable, biblical, long-term church planting and multiplication strategy?

Another way to ask that question is: "Is the end product indigenous, self-supporting, health and reproducing churches?" Occasionally God plants a church with little or no planning. God can act as He chooses. We must also be aware that there are many tragic failures in church planting that could be avoided.

  • One author calls church planting in the modern world "getting a church started in the face of insurmountable obstacles with limited resources in unlikely circumstances".
  • Ramon Carmona of Colombia claims that the greatest obstacles to effective church planting are 1) the lack of a clear call, 2) the inability to work on a team and 3) the lack of an adequate strategy.
  • John Worcester "Purpose Driven Church Planting" claims that 80% of church plants die within 5 years. The same percentage as business start-ups that fail (Klippenes 2001).
  • Many church plants miss the target. They gather believers instead of reaching non-believers.
  • Many church plants plateau at 65 people. They may never overcome the "100 people hurdle".
  • Church plants that succeed and grow often do not multiply.

    Robert Logan says that in his opinion 80% of the problems in church planting come from problems of conception (Logan 1992).

These facts demonstrate that we can't rely on strategy but we must take it seriously. In Proverbs 24: 3-4 we read: "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." If it takes wisdom to build our physical homes, how much more to build the house of God! Please take time to respond to the Best Practices suggested below. Let us know what you think! We can learn together.

Starting at the starting point

A strategy that God will use and bless is built on God's mandate, the Great Commission, and Biblical principles and precedents. It is bathed in prayer and builds on what God is already doing and revealing. First seek God's counsel then the counsel of wise advisors. Understanding the demographic make-up, the worldview, and the cultural-religious traditions of the ministry focus groups is also critical. For this reason plans should not be made in haste but be bathed in prayer and study.

Key questions regarding the MACRO or "movement" dimension:

1. How has God been at work and how can we fit into what he is already doing?

2. What do we know about the terrain (lay out of the land, major arteries and communication)?

3. How is God preparing this target group (demographics, people group profile, and worldview)?

4. Who is God bringing together to be part of the church planting team?

5. Who will partner with us in this new faith venture?

Does the strategy focus on people?

The main goal of church-planting teams is the multiplication of reproducing disciples and spiritual communities. Building and programs become a way to provide the movement a roof and wheels when they are needed. "It is easier to plant a seed than to transplant a tree. This is especially true of trees that have no root system. In the same way, it is easier to plant the essence of the church than to transplant a certain cultural expression of the church. In nature, seeds grow into plants that produce new seeds, that in turn are to be planted. In the same way, the church is planted in culture so that it can produce seeds that will insure its reproduction. We fulfill the Great Commission as we arc faithful in planting seeds that are capable of growing into reproducing churches." (David Guiles, GBIM)

Who puts it together?

David Garrison has said that the best means of contextualization is indigenization (Garrison 2004) – that means it is necessary to empower local practitioners to design and implement their own strategies. Where there are local indigenous church planters, they will have special insights into the people to be reached, felt needs, evangelistic and helping ministries and relevant ways to shape the church and its ministry for greater impact. In a pioneer setting the missionary team would have to take the initiative in consultation with cultural insiders.

Leadership roles also come into play. The church planting leader coordinates the research and strategic planning, delegating to team members according to their skills and insight into the culture. Then together they will be able to evaluate their progress and make adjustments to the strategy as they go along.

What are some best practices for the church planting strategy design?

One suggestion would be to work from the unchanging to the changing, from the principles to local applications.

Unchanging Elements

  • Biblical Mandate
  • Biblical Principles
  • Biblical Precedents

Changing Elements

  • Church Planting Terrain
  • Church Planting Target (ministry focus group)
  • Church Planting Team

What does that look like? Here are some specific building blocks.

Going from Macro to Micro: (see chart 6 Ps of an Integrated CP Strategy at beginning of this post)

An effective, integrated church planting strategy will answer the following 6 P's:

1) Purpose - What is the church planting vision God has given (regional and local vision)?
2) Place - Where is he calling us to begin (geographic or ethnographic)?
3) Person - Who is God setting apart to lead this effort (apostolic, pastoral or catalytic)?
4) Players - Who will be on the team (support team and church planting team)?
5) Plan - What will the churches look like and how will they be planted (design and steps)?
6) Provision -What resources are needed and how will we find them (human and financial)?

What Process and Best Practices could be used?

We have already talked about prayer, faithfulness to biblical foundations, reliance on indigenous principles and engagement in solid research as some of the building blocks. Here are some other practical things to consider:

1. When is the best time to develop this strategy? It could be done too early before there is sufficient understanding of the people to be reached? Should you wait for local disciples to be involved?

2. What should be included in the plan? The vision, ministry focus group, core values, and church planting approach should unquestionably be chosen early on. But how about evangelistic, disciple-making and leadership training plans? What else should be included?

3. Who should be involved in the process besides the team? We mentioned the role cultural insiders have to play. But should this plan be reviewed by the immediate supervision, national church leaders, and/or a church planting coach?

4. How often should the execution of the strategy be evaluated and the plan itself be reviewed? Monthly? Quarterly? Yearly?

What best practices do you suggest? Please respond so others can benefit.


Gene Wilson

p.s. If you would like someone to review your church planting plans, I would be happy to do it or find someone better qualified to do it for you.

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Gene is serving as Church Planting Director for ReachGlobal and has been a church planter in Quebec and a church planting coach in Latin America.