Several months ago, we launched our first church planter cohort. Seven church planters sat around tables, each one sharing his vision for launching a new church. As each planter shared his background and story, I began to hear a common theme around these church planters. Out of the seven, five had already planted a church, but the church was unable to sustain and flourish. Each story was filled with pain, frustration and helplessness.
One planter was given orders from his senior pastor to plant a church in two weeks. He could ask anyone in the two week time frame and was given a two months salary to launch a church. Another planter left a large mega-church where he served on staff as the youth and college ministry pastor. After expressing his desire to plant a church, the senior pastor let him go without support or help. The next planter shared the story of starting off at a local college campus, where they started reaching the campus, but they soon realized that without a financial base of families, the church began to shrink and resources ran dry. The fourth planter shared how he had departed from an immigrant church with a co-planter and began to wander aimlessly for six years with a core of 30 people. There was little outreach and all the core members lived 20 miles away.
Finally, the most heart-breaking story came from the last planter, who shared his vision of planting in one of the most difficult parts of the city. For several years, he lived, worked and struggled to reach the people of the city with very little tangible results. During one vulnerable moment, this planter fell into serious depression and had thoughts of ending his life.
As these stories were shared, pain was felt by all in the room. Tears of brokenness streamed down the faces of these men who all began with a great passion and vision to start a new church, yet felt abandoned and alone in this journey.
It was out of this pain that I began to see one underlying pattern. It wasn’t their lack of giftedness that held them back. Each was assessed with high marks for church planting. They had a passion for evangelism and discipleship. They had a heart for the city. But one common thread through them all was that they were all alone. Even though some of them had been a part of a denomination, or other church planting networks, each one felt lost among a sea of church planters, under-resourced and, more importantly, under-served.
The question that popped into my head was, “How do we do a better job of helping these front line soldiers to plant churches in the city?” We decided to develop a different concept in supporting these planters.
A positive trend in recent years have been church planting residency programs, where inexperienced planters can learn to develop their skills before launching out. I also wrote my doctoral thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on this topic. More and more churches have been implementing this as part of their strategy.
However, we decided to take this one step further. We decided to use our church as a Church Planting Incubator. Incubation is a term that is commonly used in the world of startups to help facilitate the healthy process of developing an organization to accelerate the growth and success of companies.
Next week, I will share how we adopted this concept to help the planters accomplish the mission of kingdom expansion and at the same time, strengthen our church as well.
 ReGenerant Network for Multiethnic Church Planters (www.regenerant.org)
 “Developing a Church-Based Model for Training Church Planters” (DMin Thesis TEDS, 2008)