Church planters are too often driven by the calendar rather than milestones.
The Calendar Approach
We started Lake Hills Community Church in Castaic, California on November 4, 1990. If you were to ask me why that date, I would tell you that I looked at the calendar and chose a date in the fall. We were moving to Castaic at the end of July and I knew how much money we had to get started and I figured that in three months we’d be ready to start worship services.
Everything we did to launch LHCC was driven by that date on the calendar. We had one “dress rehearsal” the Sunday before. We scheduled a variety of activities in September and October to get the word out that we were opening. We had a picnic in the park for anyone that lived in the neighborhood surrounding the school. We knocked on a lot of doors. We sent out two mailings. We hung door knockers. We personally invited people to come.
We were consumed with getting ready for November 4, 1990. We tried to get as many people to show up as we possibly could. The week before at our “dress rehearsal” there were 18 people (children and adults). On November 4, we counted 202 people. Quite a crowd of people showed up. Thus we began the incredible challenge of turning a crowd into a community.
In many respects the warning of my mentor just a few weeks before we started public worship came true. He told me, “Dave, just be prepared to have a premature birth.”
We launched the church prematurely because we were driven by a date on the calendar that I had chosen six months before. That date (Nov 4) became the driving force for all of our pre-launch activities.
In retrospect, this was foolish. We didn’t have the systems in place to launch. Our visitor follow-up system was unbelievably unprepared. Our children’s ministry was inadequately prepared. Our worship ministry was non-existent for several months.
In addition, I was ill-prepared to start preaching weekly. And we didn’t have enough volunteers to be “doing church” weekly. We were seriously in over our heads.
The Milestone Approach
Now I train church planters to focus on milestones rather than the date on a calendar. My typical warning is this: Don’t start worship services until you’ve started making disciples.
Disciplemaking is an important milestone that must begin prior to launching worship services.
I often use the analogy of making cookies. Church planters need to be making cookies before they focus on cookie jars. You don’t need a cookie jar if you aren’t making any cookies.
My friend Neil Tibbott introduced me to a three phase approach to starting churches missionally: Submerge – Emerge – Converge
It’s helpful to identify specific missional activities and milestones for each of these phases.
First: Consider what needs to be done in the submerge phase before you start to emerge.
Next: Consider what needs to be done in the emerge phase before you start to converge.
Don’t be tempted to start small groups until you’ve actually engage with lost people in such a way that you can start meeting in their home.
Don’t start public worship until you’ve started at least five small groups!
These milestones will help you focus on the most effective activities in each phase (and will also prevent you from experiencing premature birth).
Potential Submerge Milestones:
- Over 50% of available time is spent with unbelievers.
- People profiles are written for primary subcultures in area.
- Persons of Peace are being sought.
- Disciplemaking process determined.
- New believers baptized.
- Missional Communities model clarified.
- Missional Team prayer/planning meetings initiated.
Potential Emerge Milestones:
- Persons of Peace are identified
- Disciplemaking is happening!
- Lives are being changed.
- Relationships are being formed and strengthened.
- New believers baptized.
- Surrounding community is blessed!
Too many churches launch into public worship phase prematurely. This results in neglecting important missional activities that need to happen first.
Identifying outcomes for each phase of the pre-launch development of a church plant that serve as outcomes prior to starting public worship gatherings will help a church planter and church planting team focus on those things that are critical to success.
3 Practical Steps to the Milestone Approach
1. Identify activities and outcomes for each phase: Submerge – Emerge – Converge
2. Establish clear milestones for each phase.
3. Don’t move to the next phase until those milestones are achieved.