Beginners Guide to Church Planting
Starting a new church or ministry is one of the most rewarding things you can do to advance the gospel, but it can also be very challenging. After planting multiple churches and youth outreach centers, I can tell you from experience that you will need all the information and support you can get.
Although church buildings of all sizes sit on many street corners in the United States and beyond, there’s always a need for new places of worship. Whether a lofty cathedral or a dusty barn, each congregation reaches a unique group of people that existing ministries can’t. If you feel the Lord leading you to start a new church, there’s probably a need only you can meet.
If you’re launching out with no backing or financial support the process will be a lot more difficult. Your faith will be tested like never before and you may even begin to doubt your calling.
Acts 20:28 – “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
If you’re not called to plant a church it will be a devastating experience. If you are called, you will be able to withstand the difficult birthing stages and build something that will display God’s glory in the region and beyond.
Church Planting Prerequisites
- Have a strong relationship with God. Spend time developing your relationship with God. It’s easy to get so involved in ministry that we neglect our personal time with God. Sometimes read and study the Bible for the enjoyment of it, not just to find a message for Sunday morning. It’s important to spend time praying and worshipping without it being only motivated by ministry.
Luke 10:38-42 – “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
- Spend time in prayer. No great work for God will ever be accomplished without spending time in prayer. Jesus knew this truth and in the midst of many ministry opportunities He made time to pray. Getting others to join with you in corporate prayer will help even more. Great power is released when the church comes together to pray.
Mark 1:35 – “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Mark 3:27 – “No one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.”
2 Corinthians 10:4 – “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.”
Matthew 18:18-20 – “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
- Have faith. If you’ve been called to plant a church, you will be building something out of nothing. You may have services where you wonder if anyone will show up. This requires a great amount of faith and will determine if you have what it takes to be an effective church planter. That said, if you work hard and persevere, God will help you birth a glorious church through His grace.
There will also be times when you need encouragement and counsel from someone outside your family and congregation. Paul was sent out of the church at Antioch while they remained as his covering (Acts 13-14). It can be a pastor, local church or ministerial fellowship. It’s also a good idea to have a group of pastors you meet with regularly for prayer and fellowship. When starting a new church, my fellowship and a group of men I met with for prayer helped sustain me through the difficult birthing stages of the church and times of personal struggle and doubt.
Hebrews 11:3 – “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of the things that are visible.”
- Be willing to learn. Many church planters are strong-willed people who are not willing to learn new things. They tend to cling to a particular ministry model or idea taught to them by their mentor or other pastor. If that model happens to not work in their situation, they often become defensive and discouraged.
It’s important to learn from your mistakes, admit when you are wrong, and be willing to change. If you are stubborn, refuse to try new things, and believe it’s your way or the highway, your church planting venture will eventually fail.
Church Planting Basics
- Decide on a name. Ask the Lord to guide you when selecting a name for your church. It’s a good idea to incorporate your ministry focus into the name if possible. Try to avoid using names that are similar to ones used by other churches in your area.
Once you decide on a name, go ahead and register a domain name for future online ventures like a website, blog or staff email addresses. The domain name doesn’t have to be exactly the same as your church name, it can be something similar or geared toward a specific ministry focus. Domain registrars (like Godaddy) can also host, build and manage your church website if you don’t have the technical skills to do it yourself.
- Appoint board members. In the beginning, find people from outside your church to serve as board members. For example, you might start with a few local pastors you trust or leaders from an established church planting organization. Keep in mind authority is a lot easier to give than take back if you happen to pick the wrong person.
After your ministry has been in existence for six months to a year appoint people from within your local body to positions of leadership.
2 Timothy 2:2 – “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Titus 1:5 – “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.”
- Create your governing documents. Church constitution and by-laws are the governing documents for your ministry. You will need to prepare these right away and be sure to include a statement of faith. If possible, get a few samples from other churches or ministerial fellowships to use as a starting point.
- Apply for 501(c)3 status. If you decide to incorporate, you will need to obtain the correct forms from the Secretary of State where you are starting the church. Incorporation is not necessary, and there is some debate over whether a church should incorporate, but we personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Research the subject and decide if it’s right for your ministry.
501(c)3 status exempts your church from federal income tax and gives your supporters tax credit for their donations. Unlike federal ID and state exemption numbers, 501(c)3 status is more difficult to obtain and requires a fairly expensive application fee. Before you can apply for federal tax exemption, you will have to prove your church has been in existence for a period of time. It’s usually best to get an attorney to help with this if you can afford one.
If possible, have another church planting network, fellowship or non-profit organization cover your ministry for the first year or so while you use their exemption status. After you’ve been in existence for a few years, apply for your own letter of exemption. Once again, there is some debate over whether a church should obtain tax exempt status, but we personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Each church must decide if 501(c)3 status is right for them.
- Find a place to meet. If you don’t already know which city or area you want to start the church in, pray over a map and ask God where He wants you to go. He promises that if we acknowledge Him, He will, not might, direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6). We seldom know with absolute certainty which location to choose, but we must exercise faith. Paul, even after having a vision, “concluded” that God had called him to preach in Macedonia.
Acts 16:10 – “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Temporarily meeting in a house is an inexpensive way to put a core group together before committing to a permanent location. Another alternative is to rent a hotel room or banquet hall. Hotels will typically allow you pay by the week or service and will usually offer a discount if you meet every week. If you have the funds you can rent a retail, office or warehouse space.
- Set up a church office. In the beginning you will probably work from home. As soon as possible lease an office space until you find a permanent meeting place for the church. Try to set regular office hours so people will know where and when they can contact you. Buy or borrow a computer if you don’t already have one, then design your stationary, business cards, flyers and post cards for the opening service. Also, make sure you have a local phone number and a post office box.
- Raise funds and ask for support. Finances are typically limited when planting a new church. It’s sad to say, but the more money you have the better your chances of getting a good start. Unless you have a group of people who are willing to support the ministry financially, you will have to raise funds. Don’t be afraid to ask for both money and people!
Make a list of every church you are familiar with, along with every individual believer and couple you know. Once you’ve put together your mailing list, write the first draft of your support letter. Your support letter should be professional and personal. Let your potential supporters know you would appreciate any help they can offer, and that God will bless them for their generosity. Suggest they give a one time gift to help you get started, and/or a monthly commitment of support for six months.
Pray over the letter and mail it out. Call the people on your mailing list to let them know the letter is coming and also to explain your vision. Be bold! Remember, you are building something great for God. Also, don’t forget about online giving. A study of over 17,500 donors by Cygnus Applied Research found that more than half of donors who are 65 or older prefer to make donations online, along with even higher percentages of younger donors. Online payment portals like Paypal offer donation buttons and text links that can easily be added to websites, emails and other electronic communication.
- Develop a core group and launch team. If you’re planting a new church in an area you are familiar with, make a list of anyone you think might be interested in being part of your new ministry. Write, call and visit them. Share your vision with them and challenge them to get behind it. Be positive and excited! That said, be careful about soliciting people who are already committed to another church. Church planters should be more concerned about reaching the whole city than just building their own kingdom.
Philippians 2:2 – “Be of one mind, do nothing from selfish ambition.”
If you’re forming a temporary launch team, some churches may be open to letting you borrow members for a few months. Whether you should form a more permanent core group of leaders or a launch team depends upon your particular situation. Launch teams are easier to build (and dissolve), because the launch of the church gives the team a defined end date.
Once you have a few people who are interested, set up an organizational meeting. At the meeting pray, allow them to get to know one another, and discuss possibilities for your first service. Don’t be discouraged if no one seems to get behind your vision. Often God wants you to take leadership and just start, exercising your apostolic authority.
Even if it’s only you and your family, you can go on to build a strong work. It will take time, hard work, persistence, prayer, and determination. Regardless of who you have with you, proceed with faith that God will do what you are believing Him for.
Romans 4:18-21 – “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old) and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
- Develop a marketing and advertising plan. If you can afford it, buy newspaper, radio and/or television ads. Most people don’t have much money when starting a new church. If that’s the case, tap into any free publicity you can get. Most Christian radio and television stations offer free church news or public service announcements. Also, take advantage of free classified ad and bulletin board websites.
It’s also a good idea to purchase a mailing list for your area and send out flyers or post cards. Obtain a bulk mailing permit from the post office, which will greatly reduce the cost of your mailing. Give yourself plenty of time before you do the mailing to apply for your permit. There are also companies that will develop an outreach campaign for you, but it can be costly. Years ago we did a mailing by purchasing a list of addresses and printing 6,000 post cards on our personal printer. We saved money, but we put in many hours of hard labor!
- Recruit ministry leaders and church workers. If possible arrange to have ushers, greeters and children’s workers for your first service. Obviously, if you don’t have a core group of people it will be a little more difficult. You will also want to have some type of worship, but having a full worship team from the beginning isn’t always possible. Take advantage of free advertising options to solicit workers who might want to be involved in a new church plant.
- Plan special events and outings. Having special events is a great way to stir up interest and bless the congregation. Use guest speakers, musicians and other ministries that will encourage your people and the community. Blending diverse styles and ministry focus enables you to reach different age groups and types of people. Make sure the ministries are first class and can operate under the anointing. If you do, your church will build a reputation for bringing in anointed, talented ministries, teachers and music groups.
- Follow up on visitors and church members. Follow up is extremely important. Jesus taught it in Luke 15 and Ezekiel condemned the shepherds of his day for not doing it in Ezekiel 34. Follow up on everyone who visits your church. Send them a personalized letter or email right away. Call and schedule a visit in their home, meet them out for coffee, etc.
Also, if a member misses two or three weeks in a row someone should contact them. In Luke 15 Jesus states that people will fall away and we should go after them. You never know what people may be going through. They may be discouraged or under spiritual attack. Let’s put personal ministry back into the church.
Never give up!
Planting a church is not for the faint of heart, but it is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do to advance the kingdom. Even when it seems like you’re not making progress, don’t give up!
After you’ve done all that you can do to get people in the door, Jesus is ultimately the one who builds the church. He has called you to feed, lead and commission the people He brings your way.