The marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent from the Battle of Marathon to Athens—26 miles away—to inform the Greeks that the Persians had been defeated. Legend has it that Pheidippides ran the entire 26 miles without stopping, and upon delivering his message, he collapsed and died.
Although there’s debate about the historicity of this occurring, the concept and practice of marathon is real. For instance, according to the 2014 Annual Marathon Report (yes, it’s a real report), 541,000 people were classified as “finishers.” In other words, 541,000 people who started a marathon actually completed it. Here’s a really simple principle when it comes to completing a marathon: anyone wishing to start and finish a marathon must have what it takes to stay the course.
Church planting is similar to running a marathon.
There is much practice and preparation done before the big launch day. For church planters, they cover a lot of groundwork prior to launching—building relationships, sharing the gospel, connecting with community leaders, creating communication pieces, and attempting to engrain themselves in the daily rhythms of the community.
All of their preparation helps prepare them for what is, for many, the official launching of their church.
Eventually, for those following the more typical model today, the big launch day comes. And with launch day comes a lot of potential distractions that can take your eyes off some key issues. Many planters find themselves swept up in the current created after launch day. They have to plan this service, order that, pay for this, meet with that person, counsel this couple, meet with those volunteers, fill out denominational/network reports, attend a coaching session, study for the sermon series, follow up with visitors, etc.
Being swept up in the current of the after effects of launch day isn’t necessarily bad, but what happens is the busyness of the church plant becomes detrimental to the planting of the gospel in more people. In short, the busyness and distractions of other important things takes the planter’s focus off one of the primary things—evangelism.
The question becomes: now that the marathon has officially begun (with the launching of the church), with all the potential distractions, how can planters stay the course (and lead the church to stay the course) of making disciples through evangelism?
Let me list three ways planters can stay the course in keeping evangelistically focused even after the launch.
1. Keep the Mission before the People.
Every time the church gathers together for corporate worship, you must remind them that gathering together is not the goal. The church doesn’t exist for itself, but for others. Thus, you must remind them that the church exists for mission. As one missiologist put it, “The church was created by mission and for mission.”
If the mission becomes the Sunday gathering, then you’ve created a religious organization—not a church, which is both gathered and scattered. To protect the new church from becoming a cool new religious organization, planters need to keep the mission before the people week in and week out.
To do so, you can create videos of people who have recently come to know the Lord, share personal testimony of members who have recently shared Christ with someone, make baptism a big celebratory deal, create opportunities for the church, corporately, to engage the community in an evangelistic way, and recite your mission statement and emphasize how the church doesn’t exist for itself but for God’s glory and others’ good.
2. Carve Out Time to Engage in Personal Evangelism
If personal evangelism isn’t a priority for the planter, it will not be a public priority for the church. In other words, the planter/pastor must set the tone for the church’s passion to engage others in evangelism. Therefore, planters must personally carve out time—on an ongoing basis—to engage in this endeavor.
I understand how busy planters are. However, carving out time requires discipline and intentionality. One of the ways I encourage church planters to discipline themselves to stay on top of personal evangelism is dividing their time into four blocks.
These four blocks work well for planters who are full time, which is working 50 hours a week. The first block sets aside 10–15 hours for administration; the second block sets aside 10–15 hours for ministry; the third block sets aside 10–15 hours for sermon prep (if you’re a lead pastor); and the fourth block sets aside 10–15 hours of relationship building, outreach, evangelism.
If you don’t purposely manage your time wisely—setting aside time to engage in outreach and evangelism—you may find yourself doing a lot of admin and ministry work, and neglecting other priorities.
Remember: you can’t lead what you don’t live.
3. Raise Up Leaders to Oversee the Church’s Outward Focus
Not only should you continue to talk mission in front of your people, and carve out time to personally engage in evangelism, but you should raise up a group of people in your church who will oversee the church’s outward focus. It is easy for a young church that was birthed by a passion for others to become a church for themselves. Thus, creating a structure that oversees a church and its continued outward focus goes a long way to ensuring that the church never loses sight to why it’s there in the first place.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11–12). In short, church oversight should be missional oversight—to ensure that the church continues the work of ministry in making disciples of all nations.
Church planting is similar to that of a marathon—and anyone wishing to start and finish well in planting and pastoring a church must have the ability to stay the course evangelistically. It’s been my experience that it’s easy for plants to become inwardly focused. My prayer is that planters will lead their respective churches to run the race of missional endurance as they stay the course of keeping themselves and their churches evangelistically focused.
You can find more about church planting, including the New Churches Podcast, at NewChurches.com.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.