When it comes to church planting, how do I know when to go?
Discerning a call to plant a church presents a great challenge. I have been blessed to network with church planters and coach them through discerning their call. The conversation inevitably arrives at a question very similar to this: “I've got this vision that I know God has given me, but I keep asking ‘How do I know when it is time to go?’"
Here's the thing: having a vision does not substantiate a call to move forward.
So what does?
I think there are five components that prove essential toward discernment in moving toward one's vision. Five components form a decision matrix that will aid discernment. These components are not a substitute for faith, but they can strengthen faith. Faith always feels risky because following Jesus begins with full denial of self. Faith presses you into Jesus to move vision forward into mission. But these components serve to guide you along the path of discernment.
How do you know when it is time to go plant a church?
1. You Have a Developed Vision
Vision needs to take shape on paper. You do not have what you think until you can write it down. Francis Bacon captured this when he stated, “Reading makes a full man and dialogue makes a ready man, but writing makes an exact man.” Many have read a book or heard a sermon and been full of a vision for the church. That no more makes a man a church planter than eating a big steak makes him a rancher. Writing the vision forces a head full of ideas to form a picture that people can behold, beginning with the planter.
Putting the vision on paper shows you have processed what you see, that you've thought about it from multiple angles, and that -- as one determined to coalesce workers around this vision -- you are able to communicate the vision in a clear, compelling way. A single, succinct statement must capture the vision. This vision statement provides a snapshot into the whole vision. The snapshot exposes the vision without highlighting every detail. As a general rule, until the vision is written in a succinct, comprehensive manner that people can read and understand, the planter is not ready to cast the vision. You must write it before you plant it so you know what will grow.
2. You Have Family Unity
God never calls men to follow a vision that leads them to forsake their family. Sacrifice is inevitable but vision should never place your family on the altar. A wife that only agrees to go along for the ride will disappear at the first pit stop. She must be committed to the vision and ready to make sacrifices. An immature man will try to move forward believing that his wife will be fine once everything gets going. This is unwise and destructive, but most of all, it is sinful. The marriage must be united before the vision should be pursued.
When a man forsakes his family to plant a church the only thing he may grow is a church full of forsaken families. Waiting on God and praying for unity provides valuable time to strengthen a marriage. This period often reveals issues that need reconciliation but lie buried. There is no exception. You must unite before you plant.
3. You Have the Financial Resources
You need money to resource the mission. Just as money constantly threatens to master any Christian, so it threatens to master a church plant as well. Many costs in planting cannot be calculated, but anything that money can buy should be represented in a projected budget. Faithful stewardship demands financial planning.
A financial plan shows how faithful stewardship resources vision into mission. The plan will provide several key benefits. It will show the vision’s focus to be as broad and diverse as necessary to reach as far and as many as possible. It will cover a period of time that allows for the church to become established and self-sustaining. It will reveal how priorities develop along with the church plant. It will have a “finish line” that gives completeness to the investment. It will provide a picture of the church planted once the original investment is complete. A financial plan enables a planter to establish priorities, set goals and timelines and measure effectiveness throughout the planting process. It also guards the planter from beginning what he has not calculated to completion. Raising money forms the third component of discernment because it shows that the planter has counted the cost of faithful stewardship.
4. You Have a Timeline
A timeline reveals how vision develops through goals reached just as a financial plan shows how a church will be planted through resources invested. Like a ruler measures length, a timeline measures visional development. A timeline provides an engineered plan to plant a church.
Developing a timeline means plotting the vision on a calendar. Goals set with deadlines assigned form a strategy to carry the vision into full operation. “What needs to be accomplished by when?” sets a goal. “Who and what are required to meet that goal?” births a strategy. Every necessary action step gets included to show how a strategy engages people, invests resources and accomplishes tasks to reach an established goal. A timeline demands specific, tangible and measureable markers.
Of course, not everything will be accomplished per the timeline. But a planter will know where the plant stands, what needs remain and where weaknesses exist when measured against the timeline. A timeline serves as an evaluation tool to pace the planter, help him stay focused and provide evaluation of the planting work.
5. You Have People
A church is not fundamentally an organization or an enterprise -- it is people. This seems very simple but so many miss it. Church planting means making disciples that mature as followers of Christ. People provide the greatest investment that shapes vision. A church planter must focus on equipping people. Disciples are made as disciples are matured. Leadership depends on people who follow.
A leader must master in his mind how many people he needs, what kind of people he needs, who these people are and what roles people must fill now and in the future. People serve as the focus of and vital resource for the vision. A planter must be able to engage, equip, encourage and empower people. People who follow a planter form a component of discernment because without them a church cannot be planted. God builds his church by building the church.
Speaking of this, it is wise also to have a people who are confirming your vision as senders or affirmers/supporters. Having the wisdom and support of an already-established people for your people is crucial. So make sure your church plant is well-connected to other churches, especially one or two churches who may confirm your capability and competency and vision and who may act as official commisioners of your work.
Planting a church demands that all vital components be included to make the decision to move forward. When these components help you discern that it is time, don’t look back. Smile, trust, and go.