To help guide you through the conversation, here’s John’s full list of 7 Things You Need to Know Before You Plant a Church:
Josh: The first thing you say to do is “Pray and discern your calling.” What does it mean to pray and discern your calling as a church planter?
John: Ultimately, it’s Christ who builds the church. We’re invited to participate, but this should never be about us. We are temporary stewards doing a task for His glory, and we want to be people who begin this process with prayer, not end this process with prayer. Planting a church is a very specific calling that God places upon the lives of certain people. It’s not something that He necessarily calls everyone to do.
So first of all, we need to seek the Lord’s guidance and try to discern- is that how He has shaped me? Are these passions and ideas that He’s placed in my mind? How long have I been thinking about this?
In my case, the first time I ever thought about planting a church, I was fifteen years old. However, when the opportunity became real and not just a theory, I really had to pray and discern if this was what God wanted for me. Was this an open door I was supposed to be walking through?
Josh: That leads me to another question- How do you discern your intentions in planting a church? Because I think a lot of churches have been planted out of a distaste for a certain style of church, to do things differently.
John: You’re right, a lot of churches have been planted for less than stellar reasons, but isn’t it interesting how the Lord uses things like that? He will build His church, even in what seems like the most awkward or unlikely way.
But if you’re trying to do it for the right reasons, I think a big part of that discerning process leads right to the second thing you should do before planting a church- you have to submit your plans to godly counsel.
When I was planting my church, I first submitted the idea to my wife- I knew that if God was calling our family to move, He would call us both. Then I asked my long-time mentor to see if he saw any red flags, and he didn’t. Finally, I asked one of my good friends- another pastor that I did a lot of ministry with, who I met for lunch every week- to pray about it. As my friend, he could have told me to stay for selfish reasons. However, after praying about it, he agreed that this was where God was calling me. So all three of those were huge confirmations for me.
Josh: That brings up another good point- how do you discern what advice to take?
John: Well, first of all, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit. But, like the book of Proverbs says, “Safety is found in the abundance of counselors.” So if you’re talking to a variety of people, and the majority of them are telling you that this is how the Lord has shaped you or are feeling in their own spirit that God is calling you to this, then that’s probably a good indication that you should go for it. And when there’s opposition, we need to trust the Holy Spirit to help us discern if advice is valid, or if there’s something clouding this other person’s judgment.
Josh: The third is “get your finances in order.” And I’m assuming this is referring to personal finances, yes?
John: Yes, and this is one that people don’t find exciting, but it’s so important. If you don’t start from a strong financial position, that’s going to be evident pretty quickly- not only in the added stress it will cause but also because of the pressure it will put on your ministry. I used to have a lot of “normal” debt, but I realized that it was keeping me up at night because I was just one surprise expense away from failure. And it’s interesting to me that lightbulb went off in my mind about a year before the Lord opened a door for me to plant our church. I spent the year prior to planting reexamining our financial health, and my philosophy on debt. Along the way, we’ve developed extra sources of income, things I call “tentmaking,” and we got rid of all our debt. It really frees up your mind and your ability to say “yes!” when the Lord tells you that He wants you to do this thing. You don’t have a financial tether holding you back from what God is calling you to do.
Josh: I love the idea of tentmaking strategies- I have a church planter friend who cuts hair, and he intentionally put his shop in the area where he wants to plant his church. It’s such a good and creative way to get into our communities and be where people are. And that idea relates to the next item on your list, which is, “Develop a strategic but flexible game plan that exegetes the culture.” Can you tell us what you mean by that?
John: When you go in to plant a church, you don’t just show up and say, “I wonder what I’m going to do here?” No, you go in with a game plan.
But I think we all know that we have to hold onto our strategic plans very loosely. That’s why I mentioned being flexible. When God gives you an open door, it’s time to walk through it and adjust your plan. Don’t idolize your plans over the leading of the Spirit.
The last part I had on there was this idea of “exegeting the culture.” That’s what a missionary does. When a missionary goes to a foreign land that they didn’t grow up in, they study the culture- they treat it like they’re exegeting a Biblical passage. They’re pulling things out of it, making connections between things, and thinking deeply about it. So when we planted a church, I did things like pull census data to see who lives in my area- and then I asked, who are they, really? What are their plans, dreams, and goals? Figure out who lives where you’re planting and what they care about.
Josh: Number 5 is, “Secure ongoing prayer and financial support (3 years)” Let’s talk about that.
John: This was one of the lessons I learned the hard way. We had support coming in, but once we started gaining traction, one of our primary supporters pulled out. They thought we were all set, and we quickly ran out of money, which meant that we didn’t have secure funding for ministry. Also, I personally didn’t have secure funding for my family because I couldn’t take a salary. God took care of us- when He calls you, He opens up doors- but that was definitely a faith-stretching experience. We had a consistent source of support that didn’t pull out after the first three years, which was a blessing, but more than that, I wish I had developed a prayer base of outside prayer warriors who committed to that 3-year project.
So I would encourage people to organize their prayer support and give thoughtful attention to it. Don’t treat it like something that will happen on its own. When you’re in that infancy stage as a church plant, you really need people committed to praying for you and backing you financially until you’re able to get fully on your feet.
Josh: The next one is, “Develop a plan for your spiritual nourishment and the nourishment of your family.” Why is this so important for church planters?
John: There’s a lot of depression that happens among church planters. That surprises people when they hear it, but it makes sense: church planters are setting out as pioneers and are enthusiastic about what they’re doing, but there are so many roadblocks and spiritual attacks that happen along the way. While Christ wants His church built, and He will succeed, Satan is going to try to oppose the work of God. You’ll be and feel discouraged, and you need a plan to combat that.
I knew one pastor who intentionally had a friend call him on Sunday afternoons because those were the times he felt most down. Figure out what works for you, because you have to have systems and practices in place for you and your family’s spiritual nourishment: people, resources, etc. Because if you’re serving and giving over a sustained period of time without anything in place for your own nourishment, that can lead to disastrous results.
Josh: Your last tip is, “Find a coach or a mentor that can walk through this with you.” How does this typically work, and what could it look like for them?
John: There is probably somebody somewhere in their life who put the bug in their ear about planting a church. It might be their pastor growing up, the author of a book they’ve read, or if they’re part of a denomination they might have people in that context who have inspired them and could guide them. There are also people whose full-time ministry is coaching church planters.
I would say, find somebody in one of those categories, not just somebody with theories, but somebody who’s actually been in the trenches. It’s so helpful to find someone that has walked down the road that you’re walking down. Sometimes, you won’t even need your coach to say anything- you’ll just know that you’re saying what you need to say to someone who totally gets it. When you’re a pastor, it’s easy to feel isolated- but it’s so helpful to remember that you’re not alone.
If you’d like to contact John, use the contact form on his website: https://desirejesus.com/johnstange