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August 21, 2009Church Planting, Leadership

Equipping Church Planters for Success

I just received my copy of the Assemblies of God Enrichment Journal. It contains what must be the longest article I have ever written. ;-)

I've posted the introduction here. If that interests you, be sure to read the entire article right here and then share your comments at the blog. The Enrichment Journal is always a well done resource and I don't know any other denominational "journal" quite like it.


I have always been struck by the first few minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan.The Americans have landed on the beach. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) sees an opening for the men with protection on the other side. He says, "That's the route." Immediately, he sends six men through the gap and they are brutally killed.

The sergeant, who is more experienced, warns Miller with a stern look, "That's a ... shooting gallery, Captain."

Miller/Hanks responds, "That's the route." Miller commands another group of six -- "Go." They obey and are brutally cut down.

Miller turns to the next six and says, "It's the only way ... you're next." The third group of six loses several but finally breaks through the German lines. It is hard to watch. Many people close their eyes, unable to stomach the harsh realities of combat.

That is what church planting looked like when I started in the late '80s. Planters and their teams, unprepared for the challenges, quickly ran into harvest fields that soon became killing fields. They were excited for the task, but they were not ready to face the realities.

When I came to Buffalo, New York, to plant my first church, eight of us began with great enthusiasm. Now, 20 years later, only one of our churches remains. Four pastors are out of the ministry; three are out of their marriage and faith.

My interest in developing ways to change some of these brutal realities started in a conversation in St. Louis, Missouri. My denomination wanted to stop the carnage, so they brought our church-planting leadership together and asked, "What systems can we create to change the tide?" I was determined to be a part of the solution. I later wrote my Ph.D. dissertation focusing on how church-planter support systems impact church plants.

The past 20 years have produced radical changes in how churches are planted. Success rates are increasing. A 2007 North American Mission Board study assessing multidenominational church-plant survivability rates shows how 99 percent of church plants now survive their first year, 92 percent survive their second year, 81 percent survive their third, and 68 percent survive their fourth. These are encouraging statistics, especially in light of pessimistic reports that "80 percent of church plants fail in the first year."

We are doing many things better and much of this is due to the emergence and development of church-planting systems. This article will explore church-planting systems, their components, and the impact they currently have in church planting. I will address church-planting systems in three ways: who uses them, how effective they are, and what we have learned about them.

The rest of the article is here.

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