When starting a church over twenty years ago, if I was told this one time, I was told it ten times:
“Those you start the church with are not those you will grow the church with.”
When I first heard it I immediately dismissed it.
Teichert’s + Phillipps’ + DeVries’ + Jones’ + Johnson’s… Key couples who joined us early in starting Lake Hills.
I thought to myself, “You don’t know the people that are part of our core team.”
I also thought, “We are different. We are unique. We are committed to this together!”
I am so grateful for the families who joined us in the early pre-launch phase of starting our church. We couldn’t have started without Karl and Jenny Teichert, Todd and Diane Brooks, Mike and Val Davis, Tom and Jeanette Sheehan, Steve and Christine Jones, Ellen Smith, and a bunch of college students.
Yet as I think back about the early years of our church, many of those families were there for less than two years. I expected them to stay much longer. A few moved out of the area. A few went back to the church where we had met them. And some of them stayed with us!
As I reflect back on the experience of these “core families” leaving, from a relational standpoint, I wish they would have stayed with us. And yet, from a ministry standpoint, I realize that it was best for some of them to move on.
In the early weeks and months of starting a church, it’s natural to invite Christian friends to join you in the adventure. Each of them comes with their own expectations of what the new church will be like. Those expectations are built over time based on their previous church experience.
There is no way that a new church will ever succeed in meeting all the expectations of core team families. You can’t do it. And frankly, you ought to give up trying.
Don’t plant the church everyone else wants planted – plant the church God is calling you to plant!
In retrospect, I’m still grateful for the contributions those families made as we started Lake Hills Church. I only regret that I didn’t fully understand (and accept) the truth of those who had gone before me when they said: Those you start the church with are not those you will grow the church with.
Trusting the insights of other church planters in this area may have saved me from holding on to people too long.
Also – don’t be surprised by issues of agenda disharmony. In fact the first church in Jerusalem experienced several issues of agenda disharmony in its early years of development. In Acts 6, the issue was clearly a result of the expectations of a number of church members.
As I work with church planters today, I strongly encourage them not to refer to those who are joining them in planting a church as their “core group.” Instead, refer to them as a Launch Team. Here’s three reasons I recommend this:
1. If a Launch Team member leaves, it’s less emotionally destabilizing. People don’t over-react to a “core” family leaving in the same way they react to a “launch team” member leaving.
2. It’s natural for people to move on. You can actually help people to anticipate this by explaining, “Our launch team is here to help us get launched. Many of them will likely move on at some time or another. Let’s be grateful to them for helping us get launched.”
3. A “core group” member may expect that they will continue in a position of leadership. Inviting them to join a Launch Team that is disbanded after launching disciplemaking groups or public worship will reduce this expectation. It will also allow you to select church leaders based on evidence of biblical qualifications rather than any sense of entitilement associated with being an early member of your team. (see Developing Elders in a Church Plant)
Whether starting a church or engaging in missional activity, trust the insights of those who have gone before you! Don’t expect everyone to stay with you!