There is a certain learning curve to starting a new church. Among the pastoral work that most church starters desire to do, starting a new church requires executing on a bevy of tasks that may lie outside of the starter’s wheelhouse of skills. One of these tasks is developing a growing core team that can help bear the burden of ministry and grow the church into that big and crazy vision that God gives new church starters.
In my own experience in starting Forum Church, I have struggled with three key areas of core team development which I consider to be essential to building a healthy church. Let’s look at them one by one, examining the DOs and DON’Ts of each:
Discern the Committed from the Interested
The first and biggest mistake that I made in church starting was confusing those who were interested in starting a new church with those who were committed to starting a new church. I learned this lesson early and painfully. It was painful because if you can’t disseminate who is committed to the work of the ministry from folks who just want to go to a new or different church, you will inadvertently give the keys of your vision to men and women who have no idea where we are going, nor how to drive for that matter.
DO: Do call the team to step up and lead before ever giving them a title, ministry, program, or small group. Do encourage and shepherd your team to commit to the call of the gospel in their own life, but also the life of the church. If they cannot do either, they probably aren’t a good fit for the role. Do work with the team for the purpose of finding out where their gifts and talents lie.
DON’T: Don’t appoint leaders because of convenience. It is my humble opinion that church starts need to build ministry and program around the gifts and talents of the team, and not because the church starter believes every church needs program “x”. Don’t appoint leaders who don’t understand how their ministry plays into the mission and vision of the church.
Churches rarely get a second look, meaning the first impression a new church gives could be the last impression it gives. If the team is grumpy because God has called the new church starter to minister to grumpy people, it is vitally important that these folks serve in the church in other ministry areas until they have learned hospitality. In my context, my church ministered to the dechurched and other folks who felt they had been disenfranchised by the church, not exactly great candidates for Sunday morning greeters, but it literally was the make-up of our entire church, so guess what? Folks received bad first impressions. Often times, it took others to share vision with visitors of exactly the sort of church we wanted to be, but most folks won’t give you an opportunity for that at the door.
DO: Do teach hospitality, it’s biblical and has to be taught. Do teach the team how to lead by serving as Christ did. Do praise people publicly for showing generous and transformative hospitality.
DON’T: Don’t ignore team members who have been disgruntled in the past with Christian culture. They are part of the team and can serve in other avenues, but they may need to focus on themselves first before committing to serve others. Don’t let a spirit of pessimism (the number one spiritual gift of many millennials) overtake the joy of starting a new church and living Christ’s calling in your life.
Lead Others to Lead
There is some sort of Ultra-Family that every church seems to have one or two of. These families are committed to their marriages, their children, and the church. These types of families are core to having healthy ministry in the church because they simply love church and believe in it to the point that their joy is contagious, infecting everyone who serves alongside, under, or even above them. These families, however, are not just going to walk into your Sunday morning worship service, fill out a visitor card and join your new church start. Rather, these families have to be guided and led to lead others.
The single most important element of a growing core team is the team’s ability to grow and lead others to grow. If the church starter can’t capture and reproduce that, then the church will hit a wall. Much like if adults stopped having children, the world would cease to exist, so too is it true that if church starters don’t lead their team to lead others, the church will stagnate and momentum will be lost.
DO: Do make disciples who can make disciples. Jesus taught this in Matthew 27, and we do well to remember it. Do use every opportunity to teach and disciple. Do relinquish responsibility to new and up and coming leaders.
DON’T: Don’t pretend perfectly trained leaders are going to walk and wander into your church. Don’t give up on leaders who give their heart to the church. Don’t give up on the gospel.
I hope that I adequately highlighted these three key areas, and I hope that I stressed just how important a healthy core team really is to the whole new church process. Jesus changed the world with twelve fishermen, and even they were dysfunctional for the first three and a half years, so surely there is hope for us.