News Articles

Achievement of ‘milestones,’ not calendar, should frame timelin

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP)–A simple observation by Lyle Schaller three years ago was revolutionary for David Putman, a church planter who had recently joined the staff of what was then the Home Mission Board.
“Dave, you Baptists are driven too much by the calendar,” the nationally known church-growth expert told Putman, with launch dates for new churches scheduled far ahead of time, often on Easter or the week after Labor Day. “Instead of being driven by the calendar, you need to be driven by milestones,” Schaller said.
“In one moment he just turned my world upside down,” said Putman, now a recruitment development associate for the North American Mission Board’s church-planting group. All of the pressure that he had faced in trying to meet self-imposed deadlines disappeared, he said, and that system became the basis for the way he trains church planters. The process should proceed to the next level only after the preceding “milestone” has been achieved, not because the calendar said it was time.
Putman led a workshop on “Critical Milestones that Make or Break a Church Plant,” during REACH ‘99, a NAMB-sponsored evangelism and church planting conference Aug. 30-Sept 3 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Although the details may vary with individual circumstances, Putman identified 10 primary milestones that should be a part of any strategy for a new church plant.
1) Determine your leadership/planting readiness. This includes assessing whether: the planter has the unique gifts for the demanding role; his family is fully on board with the effort; appropriate training accompanied by coaching/peer networks are in place; personal support issues have been settled; and partnerships with churches and denominational agencies are in place.
2) Build an intercessory prayer team. Individuals should be enlisted who are committed to the effort spiritually, often from among people with longtime personal relationships. Among the qualifications: the ability to pass the “3 a.m. test” — someone who would be honored for the planter to call them at 3 a.m. and ask them to pray for him.
3) Identify and understand the church-planting location and people group. “The more you can align the startup group with the community itself and who you are, the more likely you are to move along at a faster pace,” Putman said.
4) Arrange and raise financial support. The cost of starting a church depends on such factors as the size of the vision, the model for the new church and the method for launching the church. But some way must be found to “attract” the resources required. “If you want to do a seeker-sensitive church and not talk about money, sooner or later you’re going to have to address that issue,” Putman said.
5) Develop the planting team and core group. Core groups can be enlisted through partnering churches, the community, or networking through others. The group can further develop and coalesce through small-group meetings, special informational sessions and fellowship events. Putman also suggested that church planters not always think they have to go it alone, possibly enlisting laymen they know to move with them to the new-work area to be a leadership partner. “Anytime you can fortify yourself relationally to accomplish your vision, do it,” he said.
6) Develop a church-planting strategy. “I do not believe we come up with a vision,” Putman said. “I believe we discover it. … I believe we need to get God’s heart, and sense his revelation for what he wants us to do.” He noted NAMB’s “Basic Training” program for church planters allows concentrated, uninterrupted time to work through the process for discovering that vision.
7) Establish a community presence and evangelistic penetration. This involves: determining what it takes to reach people in the chosen community with the gospel, building a positive image and credibility, penetrating social and relational networks, developing a system that facilitates evangelism, and involving others in building disciples. “Design your church so it all leads to the same point — where people are having opportunities to receive Christ.”
8) Preview and launch weekly worship celebration. Because of the stresses of planning weekly worship services early on, Putman suggested a monthly “preview” service that allows the church to grow while allowing leadership time to fine-tune the process and not neglect follow-up efforts.
9) Develop and implement an assimilation process. Fellowship events, small groups, assigned tasks and responsibilities, participation in ministry, and newcomer orientation are all ways of drawing individuals into the church family.
10) Mobilize and multiply the body. At every level, an emphasis should be made on the principle of multiplication. Pastors should train others to do ministry; Sunday school teachers can birth new teachers and new classes; and individuals should disciple new Christians who in turn later disciple others. Ultimately, the church should be founded on the principle of reproducing itself through new church plants as quickly as possible. “Develop structures that naturally multiply,” Putman said.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson