Why didn’t the church plant survive? (Part 1)

First of all, thanks to each of you who have connected with us since we announced that we would not be launching Walls Down Church. Your encouraging words, inspired prayers, and gracious offers have moved us deeply. We are blessed to have friends like you. Thank you.

Now to the issue at hand – why didn’t Walls Down Church ever take off?

Keep in mind that we are still close to the event so some of these answers may mature as time goes by. It is also possible that more “reasons” will become apparent with time and distance. At this point however, there are four reasons that I can point to that answer the question, “Why didn’t Walls Down take off?”

God had a different plan

We thought we were moving to Cincinnati to start a church. Looking back on it, it appears as if God moved us here to break us and develop us.  I wrote about what God was/is doing in our hearts in a post called, “Take it all away.”

In my last update to our board of directors, I wrote these words which summarize what I think God has done/is doing:

After months of working a good plan with minimal results, we have decided to conclude our church planting effort. This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but it is the right decision.

During this process God has done much in our hearts. We conclude this effort confident that the vision of helping people find the life Jesus promised not only should but can be accomplished, and humble enough to know that we cannot do it alone.

We came into this venture with solid leadership credentials, the best training (thank you churchplanters.com), a clear vision, a solid strategy, adequate financing, a small team, and a ton of passion and determination. We had every reason to believe that we would not only succeed but be a “benchmark for effective church planting principles.” As we exit this venture I realize this… God needed to break me. I was set up for success but experienced failure. This failure has resulted in one thing – a revolution in my heart, a recognition that who I am is more important than what I do. I walk away from this experience persuaded that I am accepted and loved by God… and that is enough.

The other day in my quiet time I wrote these words in my journal (from God to me), “Paul whether you are preaching to thousands on the weekend from a pulpit or serving steak to hundreds at a steakhouse is of no concern to me. What matters is that I love you and you love me. Out of this conviction will flow meaning and purpose for you and others.”

Men, I am more broken, humiliated, lonely, disappointed, and hurt than I have been at any point in my faith journey, and YET paradoxically, I am more confident, determined, passionate, and ready than at any point. In my hurt I trust my Father. I am confident of His love for me, my family, and all of those that we could have ministered to. I believe His intentions are good and wise and though I may never understand them, I am persuaded that they all flow from a heart of love with an eye both to present transformation and future good. I love Jesus more today than I did yesterday and I rest in the fact that He too loves me.

At the end of the day guys, no matter what else may or may not be true, I believe that God is the boss. I do not blame Him for my inadequacies or shortcomings, but rather, after having given our best efforts to a good plan that didn’t work, I trust Him.

What is God’s plan? I’m not sure yet, but we’ll know in time. Until and even then we will follow His leadership.

Staffing

David Putman (one of my church planting coaches) says that every church planting team should consist of three types of leaders:

  1. Visionary Communicator (Lead Pastor)
  2. Creative/Tech (Worship Pastor)
  3. Detail/Implementer (Connection Pastor)

When we started our church planting journey we had three people on the team: lead pastor, executive pastor, children’s pastor. Our sense was that we could, as others have, work with part-time worship leaders and just “make do” until we hired a full-time worship pastor.

When we moved into the area, our executive/administrative person felt God pulling them in a different direction. We worked diligently to build the team and fill those critical roles outlined by David Putman. After many conversations, lots of $ invested in travel, meals, phone calls, etc. we simply were not able to put together the right team.

Recently I did some figuring. I had 15 people say “No” to my”ask”, and I said “No” to four great people that I didn’t feel were ready to be on the team.

There were multiple times when a prospective team member would say “No” that I would say, “Okay” and feel a peace in my heart about the decision. However, there were several times when I heard “No” that I pushed back. In several different conversations I said something like, “I hear your ‘No’, and I respect it, but I don’t have the same peace with it that you do. Help me understand it.” Often the answer went something like this, “We loved the area, the vision, the plan, and even loved you guys. We’d love to be there, but for some reason, God is not giving us a green light on this one.” In several instances it made sense for the individual in question to make the move here, but at the end of the day, God didn’t give a “go” to the move. I didn’t understand then, but I trusted my Leader (Jesus). I think I’m getting a better grasp on it now (see point #1).

The biggest staffing shortfall for us was the lack of a worship leader. It’s really hard to generate and sustain excitment and energy without music. When we had core group meetings and Preview Services we tried showing some music videos = dorky. We tried not having music and acting like it was supposed to be that way = awkward. We tried recruiting musicians = unless you have money and momentum that’s an exercise in futility (of course there are some exceptions). This was a big hole for us that we were not able to fill.

As far as the “Detail/Implementer” role goes… Rindy Walton was incredible. She stepped up to the plate and learned a ton. She created timelines, spreadsheets, and inventories. She set up databases, secured insurance, created ministry descriptions, volunteer handbooks, and successfully navigated  through a TON of details. She implemented, executed, and carried on valiantly. She was a pleasure to work with.

At the end of the day, the practical church planting lesson is this: you really do need a team to start with. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but that’s the point… they’re exceptions. A team is more important in a new church than in an existing one because that’s all you’ve got! In an existing church there is some infrastructure that you can rely on as you move forward, but when you’re starting, the only thing you’ve got is the team!

(Don’t misunderstand me on this one. Team is ALWAYS important, but having been on both sides of the plate I can say that team is more critical when you’re first starting. One illustration will prove this: when you’re in an existing church and your worship leader doesn’t show up, you at least have a base to draw from. If you don’t like this illustration then plug in any of the following examples: secretary, children’s worker, facilities, etc.)

David Putman is right – “There are at lease three types of leaders every church plant would benefit greatly from when building a launch team.” (read his article here)

Core Group Development

What is a core group? The core group works harder, gives more, prays more, and feels the weight of the vision more than any other group in the church. (I wrote about it here).

Essentially the “core group” is the group of people that are in the building ready to serve, love, and lead when unchurched/new people walk through the door. They’re the ones who make up “critical mass.” When they’re there, there’s energy. When they’re not there, you hear things like “Is this it?” (one man actually said this to me when he came to one of our preview services!). Their presence generates excitement and momentum… a sense of “something’s happening here.”  While we had some wonderful people join our effort, at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough to move us into the critical mass level.

We spent a ton of time, energy, and money working to build a core group. We had picnics, small groups, core group services, one-on-one meals, and vision casting meetings. We marketed through fliers, door hangers, road signs, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, website, business cards, and word of mouth. We developed a plan to meet people, build relationships, and when appropriate invite them to join us. (Rindy wrote about it here.)

The bottom line is, we underestimated what it would take to build a core group. A key lesson learned from this:

  • At least in our area, it’s hard to “market in” a core group. You really need a pre-existing relational network to begin with. This often happens when there’s a “mother church” who gives relational funding to the new church (e.g. they send 10, 20, 30 families to help the new church start). I’m also aware of several church plants in this area who’s relational network was the result of the pastor having lived/ministered in the area and consequently developing relational credibility. We didn’t have that. We thought we could build it quickly and market the rest in. We were wrong.

Finances

Finances by itself is not a deal-breaker for a church plant. However, when it is in conjunction with no staff, and no core group it is the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” No people + no money = no Walls Down.

I’m convinced that had we been able to build the team and core group, money would have been no issue.

We invested money into marketing (e.g. signs, website, FREE Re-Think money conference for churches and community) and developing relationships (e.g. coffee meetings, small groups, core group meetings), but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.

Please don’t misunderstand me on this point. I’m not saying that Walls Down didn’t work because of inadequate funding. I’m saying that insufficient funds IN ADDITION to insufficient human resources IN ADDITION to what God was up to resulted in the decision to conclude our church planting effort.

In summary, I had to make a decision regarding Walls Down Church: Does our position require a new strategy, renewed effort and additional funding? If so, we press on. On the other hand, have we simply reached the end? Is our position one that increased effort and funding will only prolong the inevitable? I was inspired by a Seth Godin quote (from his book, The Dip), “Successful people quit all the time. They just quit the right things.” I determined, after much prayer, conversation with my bride, teammates, mentors, and peers that the right thing to do was to conclude our effort.

Several of you have asked specific questions regarding our decision. In the days/weeks to come, I will be answering those. In the meantime, thanks for traveling with us!

7 thoughts on “Why didn’t the church plant survive? (Part 1)

  1. You are a wonderful, Godly man. You have always been an inspiration to me in my walk with God but after you left I felt myself sort of “slipping.” After reading this post, I realize that my pride is a big stumbling block in that walk. Even in your sorrow, I am able to learn from you and use that knowledge to grow. I thank God for putting you in my life.

  2. Paul, you and Sherri are such an inspiration–I know what you mean by just pressing on in life–sometimes things in life are just not what we thought they would be but if we press on and seek God ‘s will we will be blessed. You have learned a lot and we have learned with you through your blogs. We love you all so much and I know God has great things planned for you and your family.Just keep your eyes upward and know that he has a great plan for your life whatever it be. Just remember many are praying for you. If we get a chance we may take a road trip this summer to see you guys…We love you all….

  3. Hi Paul,

    I am up early because my I couldn’t sleep. We have been planting anew church and in need of momentum. I am reading your posts and I know how hard your decision must have been. Stay strong and stay in love with God.
    I am glad that you and your spouse are remaining strong together.
    I pray you continue in GOD’S grace more than ever.
    Ministry is not about us. It is about God and others.
    Moses.

  4. In my church planting work in Mongolia (There’s a Sheep in my Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement), and my 11 years of coaching and training CPers all over the globe, I have come to believe that there are only two main obstacles to the growth and reproduction that are the Church’s DNA.
    1.) What we are doing is too complicated. We need to RADICALLY simplify what we call Church and strip it down to the bare NT essentials. A new wineskin for the wine the Father is pouring out. Hence, I don’t think lack of a worship leader was the problem you felt that it was.
    2.) We fail to trust the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters, thus we end up with trying to run and manage and administrate HIS Church and failing to release new believers into significant ministry (or rarely releasing anyone into anything). We end up trading the Organism for an Organization.

    Just my thoughts. I wasn’t there and don’t have your vantage point. Just something to consider. (However, I have yet to find a CP problem or failure that one or both of these obstacles was the the cause of.

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