Worry is one of the worst enemies anybody can have, especially church planters. Worry can keep us awake at night, stuck during the day, and paralyzed. It is often the circumstances outside our control, including those in the past, that cause us to worry. So what keeps a church planter up at night? As I’ve consulted with many church planters around the country, here are a few worries that resonate.
1. What if people don’t show up? In the months (and even years) leading up to the launch of a regular worship service, there have been numerous planning sessions, multiple evangelistic efforts, much relationship building, and dreaming. But what if people don’t show up? What if your goal is to have 200 people at the launch service, and you have 5, 50, or 150? God is a God of abundance, and yet expectations can go unmet.
2. What if people don’t come back? A high attrition rate after a launch service is to be expected. For example, if you have 200 people attend your launch service, the next Sunday you may only have 100. Also, Barna and other researchers who study the state of the Church in the West will tell you that a “regular attender” may only attend worship once a month (or less) and consider it regular.
3. What if people don’t keep coming back? This is a tough question, and one that ultimately points us to discipleship. Is there a clear “entry” into the life of the church? People who want to be engaged in the worshipping life will perhaps want to join a Bible study, small group, or some sort of discipleship class. The difficult part is to create a clear flow for people with a bit of method involved, which requires a person who is naturally passionate about discipleship but also skilled at implementing systems. The relationships people begin to develop outside a regular, one-hour weekly worship experience will determine the likelihood of them coming back.
So What’s The Solution?
In spite of these common worries, a recent survey about worry found the following: “[I]t turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.”
If you identify with one of the worries above, don’t lose heart. Here are a few tactics for dealing with worry.
1. Prepare well.
What do you worry about? Let your worries drive your preparation. For example, depending on your launch model, it’s important to not launch prematurely. If your group is smaller and your time frame is shorter, it is not going to guarantee critical mass. Critical mass is different for every planter and church depending on worship space and context. Don’t launch or go public until you are ready to do so. Once your church launches to the public it’s hard to go backwards and start over from scratch.
Many church planters work only toward their launch event and don’t think about the systems and structures that will help sustain growth after that initial date. Preview services are a perfect opportunity to not only work out kinks in a worship celebration but also to make sure all the pieces are in place such as hospitality, greeters, and children’s ministry.
2. Think ahead.
Worry can often alert us to unlikely, but possible, circumstances. As a result, let worry not only drive you to prepare well for what is going to happen, but to anticipate and develop protocol for what may happen. For example, a church planter can prepare well for a launch. After all, launching a new church is very event-oriented, with planning and preparing the public worship celebrations. But after the launch, other components are likely to suffer, such as poor follow-up and assimilation processes for newcomers. A clear strategy is needed before the church opens its doors, and the strategy needs to be revisited and reworked repeatedly. You will not have reason to worry if you have thought ahead for the proper protocols and procedures. A pathway to discipleship doesn’t have to be overly complex; simplicity is better for first time visitors so they will understand what their next steps are at your church.
3. Trust the Spirit’s work.
God’s Spirit is alive in the world and is drawing people to Himself through God’s prevenient grace. As you go about your day, remember that something we might consider an interruption could be a divine appointment (or what I call a divine interruption!). You will never know who you will meet as you go about your day or who will walk through the doors of your new church as you gather together. Know that God’s Spirit is at work and anticipate seeing Him work alongside you in all your tasks, large and small.
4. Surround yourself with truth tellers.
Truth tellers are your mentors and trusted confidants who love you enough to speak the truth to you. Of course, church planting can be lonely, and along with multiple other voices, the voice of fear and worry can hijack our thinking. Truth tellers can remind us of God’s call on our lives and talk us off the proverbial ledge when worry consumes us.
So after a church planter and their team have done all that they can, what’s next? Continue to pray. The fact is, you can have prepared well and thought ahead but worry may still persist. Pray. Prayer is one of the most underestimated activities new and old churches can do. A prayer team can allow people to pray for a given area through prayer walks and for the ongoing needs that arise in the church. You will find that true leaders are those who can be found on their knees ready to pray.
Expect worry. It is not a matter of if, but when it will come. Use worry. Let it drive you to plan, think, trust, commune with truth tellers, and pray. What other strategies do you have for worry?