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!

Some Walls Down Waddup

Hey guys! This is the toughest “waddup” I’ve ever written. Several years ago God began to stir a desire for something new in my heart. After exploring it through prayer, long conversations with my bride, consultation with mentors and friends, and deep thought, I concluded that God was calling us to start a church.

We left behind wonderful friends, a great church, a secure income, a nice home, and a secure future to prepare for this next phase of our lives.

We packed up and moved to Cumming, GA to be “church planting residents” at Mountain Lake Church in conjunction with churchplanters.com. While we were there we learned from the best church planting minds in the country. Shawn Lovejoy, David Putman, and a host of others mentored us, answered our questions, and created an incedible learning experience.

While in Atlanta, God clearly called us to Cincinnati, OH, and He gave us a clear vision of what He wanted to accomplish. Throughout the year, we built a team, secured funding, developed a strategy, and laid the groundwork for Walls Down Church.

In July of 2008, we moved to Cincinnati. We got right to work on our plan. We met people, marketed the church, worked on systems, hosted picnics, secured a facility, started meeting weekly with anyone who would come (and some did), continued learning from local church planters, and on and on and on…

We were told by several church planters, “You guys are the best prepared church plant we’ve ever seen.” We, of course, felt good about that and continued to work our plan. Along the way we had to make some adjustments but we worked the plan with diligence and determination.

The bottom line is that our plan didn’t work. Even though we did many “right things”, our best efforts simply were not enough. One of our coaches actually said to us, “I don’t know what else to tell you guys to do.”

So, about six weeks ago I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I determined, after fasting, prayer, tons of conversations with mentors and peers, long talks with my bride and my team, and plenty of walks by the river, that the right thing to do was to conclude our church planting effort. The fact is that we will not be planting Walls Down Church in Cincinnati.

We are disappointed with this outcome. We thought we’d roll into Cincinnati, start the church, and then write the book on how to do it in the north. Apparently God had other plans. We thought we were coming to plant a church. It appears that God called us here to break us. Job well done God.

This has been a fairly visible experience and consequently provided us with ample opportunity for humility. We were endorsed by some prestigious church planting organizations: churchplanters.com, Association of Related Churches, and even the Free Methodist Church partnered with us. We had individual churches partnering with us ranging from Southern Baptist to Nazarene and a host of wonderful individuals committed money, prayer, encouragement, and love on the journey. A lot of people were invested in and watching this process.

Someone asked me the other day, “How do you feel?” Well, I feel like you would feel if you gave your life, time,  energy, passion, money, and even family to chasing a dream, starting a new business, a new ministry, a new relationship, etc. and it didn’t work out. It feels terrible. That’s how I feel. God has broken me, and yet in the midst of hurt and disappointment there is confidence, passion, and determination. We know that the vision God has put in our hearts is a right one. We also know that church planting is a tool. A strategy. We will not stop pursuing this vision. We will simply pick up a new tool… embrace a new strategy.

Many have asked, “What’s next?” We are committed to the vision of helping people find and live the life Jesus promised. We are exploring various ministry opportunities, but at this point we are not certain exactly what our next step will be, though we are certain there will be one!

There are many questions I’ve left unanswered for now. We’ll get around to answering them in due time. For now we are living in humility and confidence – humility when it comes to how we view ourselves, and confidence when it comes to how we view our Father and His power that works in and through those who trust in Him!

Ohhh… I have so much more to say, but for now it is enough to say that our best plans have not worked, and yet His best plan is at work deep in our hearts and lives.

On a related note, many of you have asked, “How is Rindy doing?” She answers this question over on her blog.

Thanks to all of you who have traveled this journey with us and let me assure you, the journey is not over; it has just begun!

Some Walls Down waddup

What’s going on? Thanks for asking!

  • The three big issues on my plate right now are: building the team (staff and core); raising funds; and keeping the vision fresh and communicated clearly.
  • Last week we had our first LIFE group in our home. It’s great when you meet people for the first time… in your own house!
  • We are preparing for our second monthly service on Feb. 8th, so we’re lining up musicians and working on the logistics.
  • Building the ministry staff means meeting a lot of new people and building a lot of new relationships. Today I met with another worship leader. I’m currently in conversation with several different potential ministry team leaders. This adventure is exciting!
  • Next week Rindy and I will be attending a local church planter’s training session. Dino Senesi, among others, will be leading this training. In preparation for this we have to read Reggie McNeal’s book, Present Future: Six Tough Questions For the Church. Reggie is asking a lot of the right questions… at least three of them (that’s how far I’ve gotten so far). I’m looking forward to the Sunday night dinner they are hosting for Senior Pastor’s and their wives.
  • We are spending a lot of time building relationships in our community. This is quite a venture and we are being very intentional about how we go about it. Rindy has written a phenomenal blog post about how we’re going about it. Go over to her blog and read it.

Until later… peace.

What a Christian looks like

Last night we had the first LIFE group in the life of Walls Down Church.

The driving passion of my life is to help people discover the life Jesus has called us to and promised.

As I look through the Scriptures, it seems to me that a big picture view of the Christian life can accurately be summed up with four descriptive phrases:

  • Loving God and others and being loved by God and others.
  • Investing yourself in something bigger than yourself.
  • Focused, Biblical priorities.
  • Expanding spiritual influence, both locally and globally.

I am excited about the developing community of people who are discovering and will discover life.

Together we are going to do much to tear down the walls that separate people from God.

A review of the preview (part 2)

Hey guys!

Several of you have asked how many people showed up on Sunday. There were 25 people at the Preview Service.

So what happens now?

During the weekend everyone filled out a “Communication Card.” We will follow up with each person who filled out a card. During the conversation we will ask them if they are ready to join the team that will help start Walls Down Church. If they are then we invite them to join us on our weekend trips to other church plants and become an engaged part of the team (more on that later). If they are not then we thank them for joining us and wish them well.

We will hold another Preview service on February 8th. Until that point we will be visiting other church plants in the area and “huddling” afterwards to debrief what we saw, and document lessons learned. We will also continue to connect with our “Start Team” through weekly e-mails and regular contact. We will be prayerfully working towards creating another Preview Service that models what we expect Walls Down to be, and will be inviting everyone we can to attend this service in February.

We had three goals for this past weekend. We wanted people to:

  1. See the vision
  2. Love the vision (of course we don’t expect everyone to love the vision, but we wanted it to be clear enough that you either love it or don’t want to be part of it. We accomplished this.)
  3. Join the team that makes the vision happen

We walked away from this weekend having met our goal. As we continue to recruit people through one-on-one conversations and preview services we will build the team that helps us start Walls Down church!

And the Walls Down journey continues…

A review of the preview

Before I even get started I want to give a shout out to God and Shaun King! Shaun has been working hard in Atlanta to start a church that will “Love God, love people, and prove it!” Yesterday was their “Launch Day” (i.e. their starting point). They had over 600 people in attendance! Way to go God! Way to go Shaun! Courageous Church is going to be instrumental in leading a lot of people to Jesus and doing great kingdom work in Atlanta and beyond!

OK, now on to reviewing what happened at Walls Down Church yesterday.

  • We had a “Preview Service” yesterday. A preview service simply allows people to get a glimpse of what Walls Down will be like. We have several preview services scheduled in the coming months. Each of these gathering times gives us the opportunity to share the gospel, outline our vision, and invite people to join the team that makes the vision come alive! (In case you missed it, we were originally scheduled to officially start on this date, but decided to adjust our plan and postpone our start date. You can read about it in this blog post).
  • Yesterday we showed up at the YMCA Express to begin setting up and getting ready for the morning and no one was there to let us in! We had the band and volunteers ready to roll but no employee to unlock the door! I was thinking about all of the other places we could meet (from the school down the road to my house around the corner) while I was calling everyone I could think of! Finally I connected with the manager of the Y and he came and opened up for us! Whew!
  • Holly Spears and her band did a great job of leading worship! She is an amazingly talented, passionate, authentic, and genuinely caring worship leader. It was great to serve with her and the band.
  • Our volunteers did a great job of setting up… even though we got a late start! You guys pulled it off without a hitch!
  • I’m particularly proud of Matt Walton! This guy is 16 years old and carrying the weight of all things technology at Walls Down Church. I watched you yesterday Matt when things kind of hit the wall! You didn’t stop thinking and working until you figured out a way to tear down those walls baby! I’m proud of you!
  • Every time we gather together like this, we add some new players to the team… and that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen!

Our plan over the next several months is to do at least three more preview services (February, March, and April). During the weeks between Walls Down services, we will be visiting other church plants to give our team a sense of what it looks like to be a “portable church.” It’s different doing church in an environment where you have to set up before service and tear down afterwards, and we want for our team to observe and learn some best practices!

I am learning many lessons along the way as we start a new church, but perhaps the most important lesson is to genuinely be comfortable with this fact… before I am anything (e.g. pastor, etc.) I am a child of God… and that is good.

Some Walls Down waddup

Starting a new church is an experience in emotional diversity! Excitement, disappointment, Courage, fear, Strategy, adjustments, etc.

It’s blazing these days around here so let me give you some of the best “waddup”.

  • Tuesday night we had a meeting at my house to share the vision of Walls Down and prepare for this weekend. It’s cool to host people you never met before but who are interested in being a part of the team that God uses to start a new church! The people in our living room were so diverse it was ridiculous! From a former Buddhist to an ex-con… from single moms to a lady who had been divorced from her husband but is now remarried to him… it was a menagerie of grace!
  • This Sunday is our first “Preview Service.” This service will give people a chance to see what Walls Down is going to be like! Pray for this one guys!
  • Getting ready for this weekend we’ve had a marketing disaster! To make a long story short, it has been announced that we are holding our first service at the Columbia Elementary School. It has also been announced that we are holding our first service at the YMCA Express. So, on Sunday morning we will have people showing up at two different locations. Nice. The ray of hope here is that these two facilities are literally two minutes apart! We will have a team on the ground at Columbia pointing people back to the YMCA Express. So, for the record, we are meeting at the YMCA Express in Maineville.
  • I had a band lined up for this weekend. Yesterday (Wednesday) I got word that they weren’t going to do it. AHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I spent several hours on the phone and lined up a band from Crossroads Church to help us out! Thanks guys!
  • I am currently in conversation with several people about the possibility of joining the Walls Down Team. These are exciting conversations! It’s amazing to pull back the curtain and see how God has been working in the stories of our lives!
  • I am really excited about two church plants beginning within the next two weeks. Both of these guys are my friends, and both of them are going to help a lot of people find Jesus:
    • Shaun King launches Courageous Church in Atlanta this weekend! Shaun has the best tagline for a church I’ve ever seen: “Love God! Love People! Prove It!” These guys prove it like no one I’ve ever seen! Shaun, we’re praying for you and your team!
    • Jeff Murphy, launches mychurch in Columbus, Georgia next weekend! Jeff and I spent a year together at Mountain Lake Church doing a church planting residency. I love this guy and can’t wait to see how God uses him!

Peace!