3 Keys to Church Planting Impact

I recently had a young man call me and ask me about my experience as a church planter. I realized that I have gained some interesting insights. As this Vertical Church journey continues, there have been some learnings that I have gained that are necessary for new churches to have impact. It is my hope that people who are considering becoming a part of this evangelical effort to start churches, look to these words for wisdom. I have discovered that there are some best practices that will provide guidance for all those who are headed toward this kind of apostolic work.

It is important to note that not all churches or church planters are the same. Everyone faces different challenges regardless if in an urban setting or a rural one. Impact is the main word I want to focus on. What I have discovered is that there are 3 keys to becoming achieving significant impact in any context.

The first key seems simple, but it is critical, Vision with Holes. Vision is one of the first things someone will ask you in Christian circles. Everyone wants to know your vision, or what is God showing you that He wants you to accomplish. The mistake is that we can often too quickly try to fill in gaps or holes that God has not yet given us insights on. We can fall prey to the thought that as a pastor we must have all the answers. The truth is, one of the most spiritual things a new pastor can say is, “I don’t know”. Holes in a vision allows for God’s continued guidance, wisdom, people, etc. It keeps us dependent on what God is doing right now. Things shift based on spiritual attack, a leaders health, team dynamics, and so on. Vision with holes allows for the things that God doesn’t tell us up front. Believe me, there are things that God doesn’t tell us up front!

The second key can more easily be overlooked and that is the planter’s Unique Gifting and Abilities. God calls us to do works that we are wired to do. When God created the church planter, He knew the work ahead. When God brought the planter and his wife together He knew what they could accomplish together. I love how scripture says, “God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 God knows not only every hair on our heads, but He also knows the special abilities He has empowered us with. It is nearly impossible to lead a church for which you’re not suited. If a pastor has a bent toward music, leadership, or even something seemingly unspiritual like athletics, God will mostly use how He has created them to give them a specific way to function in ministry.

The last key is the Community Context. This component is critical because church planting is like reading the Bible, content without context can lead you to the wrong conclusions. A planter must understand the community in which this church is located. What are the felt needs? (This is what people complain about and usually ask for first.) Then they need to know the real needs like, spiritual looseness, hopelessness, or corruption. It’s nearly impossible to impact a city, town, or area without understanding the spiritual and natural challenges. What is the history of the area? Have there been any spiritual movements there in the past? Who is already doing good work there and how can you work with them? These are the questions that must have answers if a church is going to make a lasting impact.

These 3 components will give you a triangulated approach that will help create impact. Look at the model below to see how these components work together.

If you have 1 or even 2 keys without the other(s), then a church is more likely fail in its mission. The greater issue for me is that there will be churches that exist in communities that will not care about them. This is not about sustaining a healthy church or even growing a church. This is about having a church that matters to the people they are there to serve. The success of a church is based on many factors, but the impact of a church on its surrounding community can be summed up with these 3 keys. Even if a church doesn’t make it, and many don’t, at least a planter can walk away with their heads held high knowing that they made a difference.

 

1 Year Anniversary

It is amazing that it has been a year since we officially launched this project called Vertical Church. My wife and I have laid our money, family, and our very lives on the line to follow God into establishing a new spiritual family in the toughest community in Atlanta. This process has transformed us, and the community for the better. In 12 months times we have accomplished what I hoped we would have in 3-5 years.

Before someone can get a good picture of the work that God has given us to do they must first understand the community in which we exist. We are serving the statistically worst community in the city of Atlanta. We are located in the historical West End and Vine City neighborhood. These areas house the Atlanta University Center, which has the largest amount of Historically Black Colleges, and University in the world. Immediately surrounding the campuses, there are very high incidence of home foreclosure, child sex trafficking, and crime in general.

In our community…

Murder: 10x the national average

Rape: 3x the national average

Robbery: more than 10x the national average

Assault: 7x national average

Burglary: 4.5x national average

The educational system is struggling as well, high schools in the area graduate only
56% general education students.  The numbers are scarier for African-American boys at 45% and in Special Education only in 22.3%. There is a lot of work to do. We don’t necessarily believe that we will be able to “fix” every problem in the area, but through God we will be a part of the solutions that are critical to make a significant impact.

In one year’s time we have been able to become a vital part of the community. We have build relationships with local officials and even been able to welcome one into our church family. We are asked to give voice major issues in the neighborhood. We are also a certified community service agency for both Spelman and Morehouse Colleges. Below is a quick glimpse of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

In one year we have…

Helped sponsor Easter Egg Hunt serving over 200 children with Greater Vine City & English Ave. Association

Co-sponsored Community Wide Back-to-School Event serving 350 children with backpacks and supplies

Participated in Community Back-to-School Vigil and prayed publically for campus police

Blessed 13 local businesses with thank you cards and meaningful gifts for campus police, apartment complex offices, gas stations, restaurants, and a tattoo shop. 

Adopted a local school and donated well over 2000 books for their library and currently cataloging them for immediate use; served their staff; provided a financial gift for library 

Distributed over 1900 meals during community events, worship gatherings and service opportunities

Provided comprehensive support for a single parent family for 12 months (prayer, resume writing, coaching, home care, food)

Provided 20 Thanksgiving meals to college students and community members

Coordinated a Adopt-A-Child Christmas Opportunity and served 21 children at a local school and 2 community organizations 

We have helped start 7 churches in the in Tanzania some among the Masai people

Helped fund new churches around the North America

Yes, we measure our service and this is just the beginning. The simple truth is that God loves us and our response to His love is to serve others. We believe that service is a verb, something to be done, not attended. We have so much more work to do to ensure the kind of impact we believe that God wants to bring about in the area.

We are by no means finished. There is so much more work to be done in the community. There is still a desire to actively participate in key community revitalization efforts. One major desire is to help stop child sex trafficking, which is a major issue locally. We are also turning our eyes toward the world as we are sending roughly 10 people to China this summer on teaching missions. This year we will also continue to help fund the launch of new churches throughout North America. Not bad for a small church, in the roughest area of the city of Atlanta?

You can help us continue this mission of changing the city and world. For our 1 Year Anniversary we are trying to raise funds to continue this amazing work. As you can imagine it is a major challenge financially to lead a church on a college campus in the midst of the urban poor. But it is so worth it!

Visit www.verticalATL.com/giving and making a donation. I hope you can see that your investment into God’s Kingdom via Vertical Church is one that will make a great difference.

LOVE.  

Many people wrestle with the concept of effectiveness and significance. It might surprise you that churches have the same difficulty. Our church has decided that we will measure success by our impact on the lives of others and the overall community. We have named our outreach efforts “LOVE.” We call it, LOVE.(period) because too often our love toward others comes off as love + do what I want, or love + give this back, or love + cross off these items. That in no way resembles the unconditional love we have received from Jesus. Sadly, we place these seemingly spiritual requirements around the necks of others, and it unfairly weighs them down.

It’s easy to see this weak representation of love in the tough community in which our church, Vertical Church, is located. Child sex trafficking, drugs, high home foreclosures rates, etc. are quite the norm in the West End/Vine City areas. The interesting thing is that the community has been overlooked by many, and taken advantage of by others under the banners of “Community Development” and/or “Community Enhancement”. So, our response has been to first ask community leaders, “How can we help you?”  This was shocking to many because in the past people came into the area with prepackaged programs based on presumed premises, that failed. They were surprised further by the fact that we actually did what we said we would do.

This recently came up in a conversation I had with some members of another new church in the community. Our uniqueness is that my wife and I were educated in the community and extremely acquainted with the needs and struggles in the neighborhood. My new friends turned the conversation towards the role of personal responsibility in an individual’s life and how that responsibility builds dignity. I mentioned to them that although that is the goal, helping the immediate needs of the people gives you the creditability to help them help themselves. I believe in the process of a person taking responsibility for their lives. But, if a person’s house is on fire, and you are trying to sell them a sprinkler system, you first have to put the fire out!

We recently had a woman take a step in their journey to finding her own strength. We met this single mother before Thanksgiving last year. We provided her meals for the Thanksgiving and Christmas and gifts for both she and her children for Christmas. Over time she has become a part of our church, started serving, and is now working alongside of us as we serve the community. This is a powerful story happening right before our eyes. We also have people in the area who are not ready, so we will serve them where they are until they are ready to move forward. In these situations we don’t judge the people based on their struggles. We didn’t see them as a project, we see them as people who Jesus died for and loves. We can’t help others discover their dignity without seeing them as the dynamic person they are.

So, who benefits of our LOVE. efforts? If they are breathing, then they are welcomed. We do our best to focus on their disconnection from a Savior who created them and try to look beyond their condition. So, I’ve had a crack-addicted prostitute call me pastor, and she is overjoyed to have my listening ear and to know that she is not “too dirty” for me. To do that, I have to look beyond her condition, possibly meet her immediate need, and love her unconditionally. We have to stop looking at people and identifying them by their biggest struggle or issue. We too often see lying, drug dealing, homosexual, fornicating, rather than see people for whom Jesus died. To LOVE. we must see past people’s struggles to reach for their hearts.

LOVE. is the idea that we just love people and help them take whatever step they are prepared to take. Not placing on them some manufactured presets that don’t fit them and that may not be adequate. We will meet the immediate needs and help them find their own unique calling and giftedness. To be honest some may not come along for the ride, others will take a step or two, yet others will shine like stars. We never know who will respond to Christ’s call, or when they will do it. It is our responsibility to show His love and tell His truth to others no matter what package the person comes in. The truth is no matter how great our programs, no matter how amazing our training models, only God can change a heart, which is the only way to have lasting change in a persons life. LOVE. is God’s grace on display.

Declaration of Independence…My Journey to Grace

Most of my life I have been searching. I have been looking for something that has eluded me for some time. What I discovered was that the very thing I was searching for was available to me the whole time. The sad truth is that I wasted years and tears spinning my wheels to attain it. Finding that very precious gift was the one thing that would change not only the way I saw myself, but how I saw God and others.

Grace is a topic that is sadly too often overlooked or spoken of in trite tones in many churches. I went through a good portion of my spiritual life not understanding this basic yet powerful concept. Before you think that I am just being creative about communicating some religious dogma, read on as this is a very personal and sensitive thing for me to share. I hope it encourages you the way that it has encouraged me.

I have been for most of my life an affirmation whore. I know that might sound harsh, but it’s largely true. We all need affirmation; the old pat on the back, that a boy (or girl). It is a normal and necessary part of our wiring. I missed a great part of that in my childhood. My mother loved me and would without fail let me know it. But, what I missed was what was supposed to come from a father. Single mothers in particular have a hard time trying to do the part of both parents, and they deserve so much appreciation for the hard work the do. All too often our society makes them into a caricature of what they really are, people doing the best they can to raise their children well. But, we were not meant to parent alone.

Too often the lack of that other parent, whether in the home or not leaves an indelible mark in the lives of children who come up with that absence. I was such a child. I was always looking for what I longed for in the unhealthiest places. For me it was all about performance, the better I performed the more that need in me was satiated. I searched for affirmation in the form of sex, gangs, sports, etc. The better I was at any of these things the more I felt like I belonged and was accepted.

When I became a Christian at 16 years old I started to get the sense that things were shifting, but sadly that I used performance in that environment to get approval. Grace wasn’t a regular part of the conversation. It was about how good I could be for God. I quickly became a leader and was someone who gained attention for the good work I was doing. None of which is bad, but inside of me the approval of people meant that I was good in the sight of God. That is unhealthy!

This created a bad dynamic in my relationships. I was always looking to stronger older men to affirm and acknowledge my existence and value. So instead of hearing from God for myself I was dependant on another to tell me what to do. If I did something I that thought was awesome, but the men I looked up to didn’t think so, I would fall to pieces inside. That is no way for a man to live. Wisdom from elders is beneficial, but you cannot be paralyzed by their approval or lack thereof. My approach was do-better, do-bigger, be stronger, then maybe I will arrive (in the eyes of those I looked up to).

Then I started studying the grace of God, and it wrecked my life, in the best ways. I began to understand that I was good, not because of my doing good, but because God is good. At my worst, ugliest, and most wretched self, He places His greatness over me and sees me through the lens of His amazing love. He has beautiful eyes, meaning that He sees me through the beauty within Himself, and I become beautiful.

I will never forget my big moment of independence. It was years ago, when I was co-teaching a message with my former pastor. I was encouraging people to be their beautiful selves. I turned toward my former pastor and said, “I have spent too many years trying to be like him, I am who I am by the grace of God.” It was so powerful that other people come up to me this day, talking about that moment. That is what grace in a person’s life does; it inspires others to live free.

Grace is God’s undeserved favor. It is God looking at our sin and pronouncing us guilty of the death penalty, then taking on that penalty by Himself, releasing us to live free and blessed. Because Jesus wore my ugliness I get to walk around wearing His beauty. Because He got dirty for me, I am free to live clean. Because He carried my sin, I am overjoyed to live spotless. Because He is, I am. I don’t need to perform for others because of what God has already done for me. This is a Declaration of Independence! We don’t need to be chained to our old ways of functioning, whether trying to get over an absentee or abandoning parent, trying to gain significance through status and success, or trying to live free of addiction. God’s grace screams to us that because of who He is and what He has done we are free to just BE. 

Keys to Becoming a Church Planting Church

Church planting is a hot topic in Christian circles, with good reason as it is important in people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. My concern is that it will be a fad that the church at large has embraced rather than a constant way of functioning by healthy spiritual communities. The church was always meant to be a multiplying presence in the world. Somehow, the church has too often become a permanently fixed entity where church expansion means adding onto a preexisting building. We can never forget that the church that Jesus is building, is an offensive force that the, “…gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matt 16:18b

There are a few key components necessary to declare that your church is a church planting church. After coming through the process of starting a new church, it is important to me to help congregations become multiplication centers. Our very small, very new church has already crossed the proverbial line in the sand to become apart of this movement. Whether your church is diminutive in size or a “mega” ministry you can help establish new churches.

Key #1 Funding: This is the hardest part of the process for new churches because money although critical is in limited supply. Our God owns a cattle on a thousand hills, but I know no one who has unlimited access to that supply. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t take millions of dollars to be a church planting catalyst. It does require a real investment in the people and/or organization.

Our church has helped fund new local expressions of Jesus’ church in a few different ways. One way is by investing in a missions organization that established new churches in Tanzania. Imagine the look in the eye of an average member when they hear that they have helped start a church around the world. We also give to help a national planting network that prepares pastors to launch strong. Lastly, we give directly to future pastors and churches.

It is important to make the investment, the size of that investment is less important. We were just as honored to receive $250 from a church as we were $30,000. Start somewhere, anywhere. The exciting thing is the more you place church planting on your people’s radar, the more they tend to give because they know their money makes a different. You can’t see it as loosing money for your own church. You must see it as an investment in God’s Kingdom, which is bigger than your church. Church planting churches tend to make new churches a budget item. Scripture says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21) once you make an investment in new churches the more you care about them. Give first and watch your heart follow.

Key #2 Support: We have already talked about financial support, so this point is more about the time and people resources needed to get a church off the ground. You may not have enough room in your budget, but you can be an encourager of a new kingdom work.

You would be surprised how a visit, a word of encouragement, or a piece of old equipment (used but good) will lift the heart and perspective of an upstart shepherd. Every pastor needs someone in their corner (other than Jesus) telling them that they can do it. There are so many new spiritual leaders out there that feel alone and exhausted and one word of support will give them the push they need to keep going. That is why I make it my goal to attend launch services, because to see a new face, even if another pastor makes a difference.

What things are sitting around your church unused that would be critical in beginnings of another? If at all possible give it away! Your old stuff is brand new stuff to someone else. If you upgrade a computer, a sound system, or chairs, give the old to a new church. I understand that you may be able to sell it for a profit, but there is someone who is already on a shoestring budget that may not be able to pay. If you must sell it, do it at such a reduced rate that they still feels like a gift. We received a projection screen, an old camera, and a Mac computer and with each offering, we rejoiced.

Another way you can help is by your churches prayers. Prayer is important because it is prayer! We can talk to the Father on behalf of those who are taking great risk to make His name known. In the midst of all the “hell” that breaks out on a planter, it is necessary to be covered by others. I don’t know if we would have made it had it not been for the prayers of the saints. We can never forget, The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16

We have been overwhelmed at the service of people that attend other churches, but serve alongside us. Our sending church has made our story known to their small groups, and one of them has chosen to use our worship gathering as their community service. They have done such a good job that it is impossible for an attendee to know that they are not members. It has allowed our core team to focus on other areas that would go undone without these amazing volunteers.  It takes a very secure pastor to allow their people to help in another local body, but it is an amazing Kingdom gesture.

Key #3 Training: This component actually has some of the other two keys, but it is so important that it stands alone. It is a financial investment because of the personal time that it takes and as the saying goes, “time is money.” It includes support because you must intentionally build people for the purpose of starting a new church. This is different than any other type of leadership development, as it is all geared specifically toward the process of creating churches.

Some church planting networks focus on training and/or coaching alone knowing that an investment in the understanding and preparation of a new leader is crucial. It could be seen as a major discipleship effort, to build up the next generation of pastors. To pour your knowledge into another for the purpose of spiritual growth is discipleship. I went through a 6-month “planting school” with my church planting network Launch which was invaluable in my process to lead a local expression of Jesus body. You can shape future by developing a new planter.

Some churches have decided to take the internships route. They will work with a seminarian or a young leader looking to start a church and will pour 1 to 3 years into their preparation. Some will ask the potential pastors to raise support for themselves and others will pay them for work that the church needs. Either way they get them ready for the journey ahead. To start a church takes more than just a passion for the advancement of God Kingdom, it takes some practical knowledge as well. These internships are often of benefit to both parties.  

This is a real challenge for many church leaders. Train someone up for the purpose of leaving you. This sounds crazy until you realize that a person who is called to plant a church will have to leave eventually anyway. We can either hold on to people until they have to escape, or we can broaden our influence by launching leaders.

These are critical keys that are present in many church planting churches. I have seen no church that is actively apart of the planting community that doesn’t have at least one of these components. I believe that we need more churches planted as soon as possible. The bible says, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” We need to send more laborers into the field and churches can be laborers’ agencies. Please consider adding one of these keys to your church’s process. It will advance God’s Kingdom.

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