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Why Church Plants Plateau
By: Bill Easum

Over the years, I’ve noticed something about church plants that might prove helpful to you. One of the most common things to happen to many semi-successful church planters is that the pastor loses focus on outreach and bringing more people to Christ and the church stalls out somewhere around 125-200 in worship.

Most church planters start out knowing that their No. 1 priority is to get people in the seats. So, everything they do revolves around meeting new people, strategizing how to create places and events where unchurched people come in contact with the new church. I would say the successful church planter on average spends upwards of 80 percent of their time reaching out to unchurched people. So, why does the church planter so often lose focus on outreach and evangelism and turn inward to the congregation?  Why is the 80 percent of a planter’s time focused on the congregation instead of the unchurched?

Over the years, I’ve coached dozens of church planters, and I’ve observed several reasons for this loss of focus on outreach and evangelism. I share them with you in the hope they help you keep your focus on what matters.

Several reasons cause church planters to lose focus on the main thing:

• The primary reason that overshadows all others is the clamor for pastoral care from the members becomes so loud that the pastor finds it harder and harder to say NO.  And, because the clamor comes from all directions, the pastor loses focus on what matters - bringing people to Christ.

• For mainline planters, denominational pressure to charter can be enormous. All chartering does is slow down the growth of the plant because of all the paperwork it takes. Chartering before a church reaches at least 300 in worship is a “penny wise, pound foolish” endeavor.

• Too many of the new people come from a churched background and think of the church as a building and organization. This is especially true for mainline churches that send out large direct mail pieces announcing the launch.

• The planter thinks he/she must be responsible for pastoral care instead of handing that off to some trained lay people. Although it is normal for pastors to care about people, pastoral care should not be high on a planter’s job description.

• The planter gets bogged down in discipleship classes. I know one planter who is teaching two Bible studies every week. Think of how many hours that takes away from reaching new people. There are just so many hours in a week, and planters need to focus 80 percent of their time on reaching new people.

• Churches around 200 in worship usually reach financial viability and the passion for outreach is easily replaced by the easier pastoral care model of ministry.

• People are basically sinful, which means what’s in it for them is important. The more new people the more likely undiscipled church people are going to feel abandoned.

So, what is a church planter to do?

• Filter out the clamor for organization and pastoral care and focus on bringing in new people - even if you lose some people in the process. Don’t focus on whom you might lose; focus on the potential in the community. They are the reason you planted the church, so don't ignore them.

• Build a case for not chartering till you reach at least 300 in worship. The same recommendation goes for any form of structure or organization. Meetings don't grow churches. Official church offices don't grow people. Policies don't grow churches. Consistent strategies and processes grow churches. 

• Renew your passion for transforming people and leave the care giving to someone else you’ve trained.

• Don't do generic discipleship classes or Bible studies. They don't grow churches. Instead focus your training on a hand full of potential leaders who will become voices in the community for the mission. The only small group you need early on is your launch team who are committed to spreading the word by telling and inviting their networks to the opening of the new church.

• Focus attention on reaching totally non-churched people who have little to no concept of what a church is. It’s easier to write on a blank slate than to deprogram an institutional churched person.

• Cast a vision so large that no amount of money is enough. If you do so, you will never reach a point of financial comfort. And while I’m on the subject of money, start talking about giving at the very beginning of the plant and don't wait till your funding runs out.

• Don't pander to people’s sinful need to be the focus of everything. Instead turn their focus on helping others. Once people feel the joy of leading someone to Christ, they are hooked on evangelism for life.

Being a church planter who grows a church from nothing to thousands takes a great deal of focus. Such growth doesn't just happen by accident. Losing one’s focus on outreach is one of the worst mistakes a planter can make - even if the church reaches thousands of people. As long as you breathe, outreach and evangelism should be your focus because that is what Jesus’ last will and testament asked us to do.

So in a word – focus. Keep your focus on what matters - bringing people to Christ, not just planting a church.

For more information, see The Most Common Mistakes Made by Church Starts by Bill Easum and Jim Griffith.

Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.

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