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.