Church planting has increased over the last decade. So have studies assessing why some plants succeed where others fail. These reports corroborate our experience at NETS. NETS minimizes the risks of failure by strengthening the planter and his church in the areas they are most likely to be vulnerable: leadership, funding, family and faith.
In 2011, Todd Wilson, director of Exponential, and Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, released a report on top issues church planters face based on a poll of planters and national leaders with over 500 years of cumulative experience. The #1 challenge facing church planters is leadership. This includes identifying, training, developing and reproducing leaders. Closely related are the next four challenges – recruiting and mobilizing a core, creating a healthy infrastructure, avoiding mission drift, and effective evangelism and discipleship.
Church planters must be humble servant-leaders who love people. They need exceptional relational skills. They need to navigate conflict deftly. They must choose and develop leaders with discernment, and train them to disciple others with gospel wisdom and care. Potential landmines abound: Friends seem all-in, but leave when the going gets rough; planters assume vision clarity, until a strong leader runs in a different direction; a core couple presents an idea that doesn’t fit the vision, then can’t understand why the planter rejects it.
That’s why NETS develops a church planter’s character and competencies. Our Leadership & Management Track is not just about business, it’s about people, because church planting is about people. And when the skills developed in the Residency Program are tested in the field, NETS is right there, giving real-time feedback, coaching through potentially volatile situations, advising the planter and helping him strategize as he goes from recruiting through launch to cruising altitude.
According to that same 2011 report, the #2 challenge church planters face is money. This includes managing church and personal finances, internal giving, and external fundraising in order to achieve financial self-sufficiency and viability.
Money was also the #1 issue for church planters’ wives. In a 2007 NAMB study, 63% of planters’ wives worked, 53% outside the home. Of those working outside the home, 97% said finances played a role in that decision. Bi-vocational planting, often the only alternative, puts additional stress on the family. These pressures can wreak havoc on the stability of a marriage, and of a church.
Most planters come to the uncertainty of church planting from a steady paycheck. They’ve never created a church budget. They’ve never raised money. Managing finances is frustrating and just no fun, so it gets put on the back burner. Or it’s so overwhelming, it monopolizes their time.
That’s why NETS is comprehensive in our support. As part of the Leadership & Management Track, planters heading into the field develop a realistic four-year budget and start raising funds to reach it, with the help of NETS staff. In addition, NETS contributes approximately half of the four-year start-up costs. An average church takes at least three years to become self-sustaining. NETS makes a four-year commitment, and stays in the game until a church plant is established, showing every sign of long-term viability.
Issues surrounding leadership and funding create a heavy burden for the planter and his family. The spiritual, physical and emotional health of the planter and his family is the #7 challenge facing church planters, but may be the most significant and most neglected. “So many other issues seem to fall in place when your overall health is a priority,” noted Brian Bloye of Westridge Church in Dallas, Georgia. “I don’t hear a lot of people talking about this.”
The weight of responsibility is tremendous. Planters struggle with pride, isolation, joylessness and fatigue. Wives report feeling lonely, overwhelmed and unsupported. Couples may draw apart. Failed marriages and moral failure are prime contributors to failed churches.
And church planters are often unprepared for the harsh realities of church planting, especially in New England. A 2007 Leadership Network report found that if the church planter had unrealistic expectations of church planting, the chance of survivability decreased by over 400%. It’s all too easy for planters and their families to lose heart.
That’s why NETS makes a long-term investment in the church planter and his family. Our Personal & Family Track addresses spiritual maturity, emotional resilience, financial stability, and solid communication. In the field, NETS mentors come alongside the couple, checking in on their marriage, offering counsel drawn from years of experience, and providing a safe haven to work through issues before they threaten to destroy either the marriage or the church.
Perhaps the #1 reason church plants fail is that they fail to faithfully proclaim the gospel. This is the lesson of church history. It’s the story behind the decline of the liberal churches and the demise of the church growth movement and the emergent church. These churches have lost or diluted the gospel. They may seem strong in the short run, but will eventually fall. Because even a secular organization can offer self-help messages, good morals and good works. Without the gospel message, the church has nothing unique to offer.
That’s why NETS is focused on the gospel. The Preaching & Ministry, Hermeneutics & Theology, and Worship & Music tracks all work to ensure that gospel clarity and gospel proclamation characterize each church plant. The Personal & Family Track helps keep the gospel at the core of each planter’s life and marriage, and the Leadership & Management Track helps develop servant-leaders with gospel priorities.
At the conclusion of their 2011 report, Wilson and Stetzer issue “a call for solid planter support systems.” Here’s what they say:
From the need for greater accessibility to assessment strategies to one-on-one mentoring and networks focusing more on planters’ health and spousal support, these challenges must be addressed. ... It’s critical that every church planter have a pastor, a mentor or an accountability team in their weekly life to help them navigate through some of these pitfalls... . Tom Nebel, director of church planting for Converge Worldwide, sums it up: “No one should plant a church alone.”
Since 2000, NETS has been that solid planter support system.
NETS offers personal, comprehensive training and care for the church planter, his family, and his church. From residency through launch and beyond, we’re with you and for you. We’re making sure your funding is good. We’re looking out for your marriage. We’re watching for signs of discouragement and resentment. We’re praying for you. We’re helping you stay true to the gospel. We’re poking and prodding, assessing wounds, facilitating healing, helping you survive and thrive.
So far God has blessed our efforts, and we pray that he will continue. Our goal is that every NETS church succeed and multiply, bearing gospel fruit for generations to come.