Why I Failed at Church Planting

I led a church plant in 2006 that did not make it.  I would not call the church plant a complete failure; God used the experience to grow me as well as many others who were a part of it.  He used our small church plant and the season that we spent together in profound life altering ways.  I am very thankful for the life long relationships that were built during the six years that HealingPointe Community Church existed.  -But in the end we closed the doors, we sold the building and we all moved on in life and ministry.

As a leader, pastor and most importantly, -as a potential church planter, I had to ask myself two questions: “Where did I fail?”  “What could we have done differently?”  Understand, my purpose in writing this post is not to beat myself up or make excuses, but rather ask “healthy” questions.  Wrestling with the answers to these questions is a worth while endeavor.  Answering these questions has helped me, and I pray these answers will help other church planters as well.

So, why did I fail?

 #1 -I lacked relevant experience.  I had helped plant a “successful” church.  I could preach.  I could teach.  I had solid secular and church experience managing people.  And I had a well thought out written plan and vision.  I felt well prepared, but I was not.  I had never been a lead pastor and I had no experience starting a church and developing a core group from scratch.  -And it showed.

#2 -I was wounded.  There were serious issues in my past church experiences that I had not fully dealt with.  You can not forgive and forget, -thinking you can just walk away from a bad situation without dealing with the “stuff” that went on inside of you.  I attempted to “forgive and forget” and it all came back and haunted me.  Severely.  Jesus certainly taught us to forgive.  However, we must process, then forgive, but we will never fully forget; we are all products of our past.  This means forgiveness is a “continual” choice that we must choose to make.  And this is part of the healing process.  I just said a whole lot here; some of you need to go back and “chew” on it for awhile…  Anyway, I did not give my wounds the proper attention or allow them to heal.  -And it showed.

#3 -I was arrogant.  I think to be a good church planter you must be confident and full of faith, but there is a line that can be crossed where you step into arrogance.  I believe I crossed that line at times.  -And it showed.

#4 -I was not financially prepared -and I did not have a sound financial plan for the future.  Our financial plan was “big growth.”  The church would grow, people would give and everything would be okay.  The church did grow, at a modest rate.  People did give, some.  But during the entire time, my personal finances and credit cards took up the slack.  By the time I had a reality check, slashed the budget and financially righted the ship, I had over $30,000 in personal credit card debt.  I had a mess to clean up.  -And it showed.

#5 -We attempted a cross country parachute church plant.  We dropped into town from 725 miles away on May 28 and started public services on October 15.  On our first Sunday, I had not known a single person in the room for more than six months.  I had no “history” in the area where the church plant was.  I had not yet earned a good reputation in my new city. -And it showed.

#6 -We had a weak core group.  We did not “select” a core group.  Because of the time restraints we were under, we just took whoever we could get.  The core group sets the tone for the entire church: culture, doctrine, personality, EVERYTHING.  Simply put, our core group ended up being weak and did not fully match our vision. -It showed.

#7 -We started public worship services to soon.  We did everything too quickly.  We were a mile wide and an inch deep.  We had no depth.  The backbone of our church was a marketing campaign and the excitement of planting a new church, -not relationships between people who shared common theological values.  -It showed.

#8 -I did not have a mentor or church planting coach.  Because of the financial restraints we were under, I did not go out and hire a qualified, tried and true, experienced church planting coach/mentor.  In time, I knew I needed help but I simply did not have the money to go out and get it.  -It showed.

#9 -I invested my time in the wrong places.  I invested my time in needy people, construction projects and my sermons.  I should have been investing my time in building strong relationships with the people -and teaching them to do the same.  -It showed, and I failed them.

#10 -I expected a miracle.  I honestly expected God to “wave His magic wand” one day and make it all work.  I kept telling myself that God knew my heart.  He knew how hard I was trying.  He saw the sacrifices we were all making.  Surely He would honor what we were doing and “make something happen.” God never “waved His magic wand.”  -And it most definitely showed.

#11 -I got very stressed out.  I was at a training recently and the instructor said, “When people are in high stress situations, they do very stupid things.”  At that very moment, a few things that I did as pastor at HealingPointe finally made sense for the first time.  I finally understood why I made such stupid decisions.  Before that training, I would think back to those few years at HP and say, “What was I thinking!?!”  “I should have known better than that!!!”  And now I finally understand; I was NOT thinking straight.  I was under so much emotional, financial, relational, spiritual and self induced pressure that it was impossible for me to think clearly and make wise decisions.  Furthermore I never developed that strong core group; I never made a strong connection with a planting coach or mentor.  There was no one there to save me from my own self induced stupidity caused by stress.  -And is showed.  Boy, did it show.

By the time I began to understand the eleven mistakes I have listed above, it was to late.  I was already burned out, the people we had left were wore out and the momentum of a new and exciting church plant had ran out.  I knew the best thing I could do was step down.  After I stepped down a pastor friend who had been a part of the church attempted to keep it going, but the damage had already been done.  Within a few years we disbanded the church and sold the building.

*The impressive thing is….  the church plant existed for six years and we almost made it.  I can’t help but think of what could have been if I would have not made just half of these bad choices.  If you happen to be a church planter reading this, please learn from my mistakes.

8 responses to “Why I Failed at Church Planting”

  1. Eric,
    Although I would agree with a majority of what you have written, You most definitely made connections with and had relationship with the people who were part of H.P. My spiritual growth would not be what it is today had I not become a part of the little group of Healing Pointe. Because we were small, I knew that I couldn’t just sit at a table and watch ‘church’ happen. Since I am an outgoing, assertive person, I got involved! Boy, did I get involved!!!! God led me to your church to teach me to serve others, and to learn to love and serve children more and better!!! I am glad that there was a Healing Pointe and that you and your family were leading us!!!!! God bless you and all that you have done and will do!! I have a great love for Our God, your Faith and your family!!!!!

  2. just wondering…. have you ever thought of starting a church but keeping your day job? Like just a few committed couples meeting in a home without all the pressure of a building, bills, etc. That way you would have time to make relationships with a strong core group. If it grows bigger, fine. But if not – well who says God only wants big churches? Honestly, my husband and I always felt that we could relate more to those Christians in the work force rather than full time ministry. Full time ministers just seem to be putting on a show all the time and have usually been out of the work force for so long (if they were ever in it and not a preacher from college) that now my businessman-husband of 49 just would not feel like someone with no outside-church-work experience would have practical advice/encouragement to offer.

    I think you are way too hard on yourself. You seem like a genuine caring person. Perhaps your church just did not grow because we live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. Just because we perceive we “fail” at something we cannot assume we did anything wrong. In fact, as I read the bible I see that in the end times (or just times where society is antichristian) being a good christian will make you unpopular with most.

  3. Thanks for your kind thoughts Marsha and Diane. Diane, I think you make some good points. For most of my ministry career, I have pursued my secular career and plan to continue to do so. So.. if I ever plant another church, I will continue to work out side of the church for a long as practically possible. -For financial AND social reasons.

  4. Pastor

    Reading your post i felt like I was reading the bio for our church plant. Every thing you listed, i experienced in our church plant. Ours closed as well…I felt discouraged and beaten thinking i missed God.

    Keep up the work


  5. My wife and I left our jobs, cashed in our 401k’s, and bought a tent that would seat about 300. We did 40 Nights of Praise to lay the foundation for a church plant. During the 40 nights several hundred people visited and about thirty families joined the church. Over $57,000 was given during the 40 nights, without asking for anything. After the 40 Nights, we moved to land that the owner wanted to give us. During the same time, someone donated a 20,000 square foot building that was broken down and ready to be moved. Everything fell in place, until we ran out of money clearing the land, and developing parking. Momentum stopped as the summers started hitting a hundred degrees. Two different air conditioning companies had committed to air, but had problems that made if impossible for them to follow through. Most of the families gave up during the summer and the rains of Fall finished it off. We sold the tent to another ministry to pay off all our committments. In hindsight, I would have never left our jobs, but it would have been a remarkable example of faith, if it worked. Tried to disband and send the remaining fifty folks to other ministries. About twenty did what we asked, but the remaining thirty continued to meet in our home on Sunday nights. We believe that we made many mistakes, but know we have not failed until we totally give up. I have gone back to work and rested for a year, ready to make another run at it this coming Easter. I thank the pastor for sharing, because there are many out there that can be encouraged by his words.

  6. Thank you for sharing your heart, Eric. God has given you with the ability to communicate in a very relevant way. I always look forward to hearing you give talks at Walks or preach sermons. As you know, quite often our spiritual maturity comes through the difficult times in life. Unfortunately, many of us (me included) try to plow through those difficult times with the “forgive and forget” mentality you mentioned. When will we learn that the heart of maturity comes in the reflection and application period? How blessed we are to serve a patient God. His timing is never too late or too early. He knows when to break us down and when we are pliable to be rebuilt. The Potter’s hands are skillful, wise and patient. You words are life breathing and encouraging thank you for sharing. May you receive His rich blessings.

  7. Beth, thanks so much for your kind words, encouragement and wisdom.

    I honestly do not know what I would have done without God using the Emmaus Community in my life over the past five years. The blessings that flowed from people like you cannot be accurately expressed with words.

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