Beginners Guide to Church Planting

by | Updated December 15th, 2023

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.

Church Planting Prerequisites

  1. You must first be sure you’re called of God. The calling of God is essential! If you’re not called you can do more damage to the kingdom and to your own spiritual life. “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God (Hebrews 5:4). 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 process and build something that will display God’s glory in the region and beyond. Even when called, your faith will be tested like never before and you may even begin to doubt your calling. However, you must set your face like flint to the task that’s before. You must “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

  2. Cultivate 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 worshiping without it being only motivated only by ministry. Spend ample time with God and in His Word, seated at the feat of the Master.

    Luke 10:38-42 – “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His Word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

  3. Bathe your endeavor in prayer. No great work for God has ever be accomplished without much 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.

    Be assured the devil will do everything he can to hinder the work of God from going forth. You must engage in spiritual warfare. This must be done prior to your launch date in preparation and it must continue throughout your entire ministry. Satan never lets up and you must not either. You will need spiritual warriors to lock arms with you in the spiritual realm. Jesus knew this very well which is why He sought the face of God first.

    Mark 1:35 – “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”

    Mark 3:27 – “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.”

    2 Corinthians 10:3-5 – “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”

    Matthew 18:18-20 – “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”

  4. You must have, exercise, and speak 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. If you work hard and persevere, God will help you birth a glorious church through His grace. You’re bringing into existence something that currently does not exist.
  5. Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    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.”

  6. Having a support system is essential. 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 weekly for prayer helped sustain me through the difficult birthing stages of the church and times of personal struggle and doubt.

  7. 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. Be open to something new!

    Proverbs 9:8-9 – “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.”

    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. You must seek counsel and ideas from others and be open to the Holy Spirit as to how He may lead you. He may very well direct you to do things in an entirely different way than others have done.

  8. Take your pastoral calling serious. God has given you a grave responsibility of caring for His flock. You’re responsible making sure they are well fed. This will take a lot of time in diligent study and preparation. The pastor’s study is an essential place where you must spend a great deal of time. I’m convinced expository preaching and teaching is the best way to accomplish this.

    2 Timothy 2:15 – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    You are also responsible for guarding your flock against wolves in sheep’s clothing. This can come from without as well as from within. There will be those who will attempt to draw your people away into doctrinal error and from the vision God has given you of which they are apart of. You cannot shy away from warning them and fighting of those who would lead them astray and away from your care.

    Acts 20:27-30 – “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

    1 Peter 5:1-4 – “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

  9. Engage in spiritual warfare. You’re in a spiritual battle. The devil sure doesn’t want another church established that will win people to Jesus and feed the flock of God. You must actively engage in warring against the powers of darkness if your church plant is to be successful. You are attempting to arrest the strong man and spoil his house. He is the god of this world and you are coming against him.

    Ephesians 6:12 – “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

    Mark 3:27 – “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.”

Church Planting Basics

Much of this is applicable to the United States. If you live outside the U.S. you will need to do some research and apply it accordingly to where you reside. We’re confident the Lord will give you wisdom and prosper your endeavors.

  1. 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 can also host, build, and manage your church website if you don’t have the technical skills to do it yourself.

  2. 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 or your ministerial fellowship or denomination. 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.”

  3. 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.
  4. Incorporate as a non-profit. 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.

    Articles of incorporation, are necessary for your church to be established in the eyes of the government. The process for obtaining this document varies from state to state, so you’ll want to do some research to find the most efficient way to file in your state. Be sure to file as a nonprofit.

    This is usually done through the Secretary of State. You can fill out the articles of incorporation or to make it as easy as possible I usually included with it our by-laws and for the articles say “see attached constitution and by-laws.” Articles of Incorporation are required before applying for your 501(3)c.

  5. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). An EIN is used by the IRS for tax purposes and will be vital for a variety of establishing steps and documents, including getting a bank account. Applying for an EIN is simple. All you have to do is fill out Form SS-4 and turn it in to the IRS. Form SS-4 asks for basic information about your church such as your name, address, and type of entity.

    For the type of entity, be sure to select “church.” You can submit your application online, by mail, fax, or even turn it in at a local IRS office. You may think you don’t need an EIN until you have paid staff but this is not true! The EIN serves the same role as a social security number does for an individual but for your business or nonprofit.

  6. Get your state sales tax number. It’s suggested you get on the state website where your church will be located or go to your state department of revenue office in your city. This is simple and does not take much time. Your state sales tax number will exempt you from paying sales tax for what you purchase for the church.
  7. Open a bank account in the name of the church. This is where your EIN is used in place of the social security number. All donations must be deposited in your church bank account. All expenditures should be done through this account. It’s wise, if possible, to have either your treasurer or administrative assistance to be in charge of this as a safeguard to the pastor. The pastor should, however, oversee this and all ministries of the church.
  8. Apply for 501(c)3 status or letter of exemption. 501(c)3 status exempts your church from federal income tax and gives your supporters tax credit for their donations. The 501(c)3 status is more difficult to obtain and requires a fairly extensive application and relatively expensive fee. Before you can apply for federal exemption, you will have to prove your church exists. You may want get an attorney to help but it can be done on your own.

    There is some debate over whether a church should obtain tax exempt status or their 501(3)c letter of exemption. Churches are automatically exempt as a religious charitable nonprofit organization. This is stated on the front page of the application. Obtaining this, however, does give your congregation and contributors more security and confidence in the church. We personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Each church must decide if 501(c)3 status is right for them.

    How to Apply

    This might seem like a daunting process, there are plenty of online resources to help you along as you apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, including this 501(c)(3) Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations. Start by figuring out which form to file. You’ll use either Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ.

    Form 1023-EZ works primarily for smaller churches, but there are reasons you may want to use the longer form: If you want to apply for grants it’s usually expected you to have used the longer form for application. This is because the longer form requires you to submit some of your organizational documents, including your by-laws, another step toward transparency. If your church grows and has a larger income, you may need to submit more information to the IRS, so submitting the longer form at the outset saves you more time in the long run.

    Once your application is approved, the IRS will send you a letter of determination informing you of any annual filing requirements and confirming your eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions. Churches are usually not required to file an annual report (Form 990). Be prepared, they will often request more information or additional documentation a time or two before approving your status. Once you have your official status in hand, you can accept tax-deductible contributions worry-free. This will give people confidence in both you and the church.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.
  11. 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 off to 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. Be sure to link your church PayPal account to your bank account. Mobile giving is also very popular today. Anyway you can make it easy for people to give is good. There are many other online tools you can use but this gives you a starting place.

  12. 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.

    If you have a large church you’re going out of this can be extremely beneficial. I have a pastor friend who was on staff at a large church. When he felt led to plant a church in the area, about twenty miles away, the pastor was very supportive. In fact, the pastor told his congregation what my friend was planing. He then told them that if anyone wanted to go with him and help they were welcome to do so. My friend had around one hundred people at his first service.

    I, however, have never had that luxury. I always had to start completely from scratch. I did as much advertising and promotion I could, phone calls, contacting anyone and everyone I could think of inviting them to our first service. After which I hoped and prayed some people would show up. Even if it’s only you and your family at first, 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. Remember, you’re created something out of nothing by faith. Believe God and work hard!

    Romans 4:17-21 – “As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, before Him whom he believed, even God, Who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”

  13. Recruit ministry leaders and church workers. If at all possible arrange to have ushers, greeters, worship leaders, 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.
  14. 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.

    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!

  15. 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.
  16. 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.

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.

SEE: Prosperous Pastoring

For additional insights see How to Start a Church

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