A Guide to Church Planting (by Mark Landreth-Smith)

Mark Landreth-Smith is currently planting a church Bridge Church in Newbury, West Berkshire. He is ably assissted by his wife Beverley and daughter Phoebe. Before that, Mark was involved in planting churches in Chertsey, Farnham and Cambeley in the UK.

This guide is designed to help those thinking about church planting or who are on the adventure of starting a new church think through some of the practical issues.

Whilst Mark takes full responsibility for the content of this guide, he is grateful for the wisdom and experience of many who have planted churches and passed on their wisdom. Many names appear from whom he has learnt much. There are countless others who are not mentioned who are still part of the great story of church planting. He is grateful to them too for their example of faith and words of wisdom.


Why Plant Churches?

One of those with a proven track record of planting churches is Kevin Bartlett, who is currently planting Cristo Salvador church in Madrid. Kevin lists 21 reasons to plant churches.

21 Reasons For Church Planting (by Kevin Bartlett)

  1. Church planting is what Jesus told us to do (Matthew 28:19).
  2. Church planting is a great way of producing new leaders.
  3. Church planting more effectively reaches new neighbourhoods and social groups.
  4. Church planting is a healthy way to create gaps in sending churches for other members to grow into.
  5. When you go church planting, you can see the world and meet new people.
  6. Church planting is a sure way to learn what it means to depend on God.
  7. Church planting involves being faced with new cultures and challenges, which often leads to greater innovation.
  8. Church planting, statistically, seems to be the most effective form of evangelism.
  9. Church planting is essential simply to maintain the ratio between churches and an expanding population.
  10. Church planting creates a tight-knit community that is on a mission together - church as it should be.
  11. When you go church planting, you can watch you own children engage directly with God's great mission to a fallen world.
  12. Church planting is the key to reaching people cross-culturally.
  13. When you go church planting, you will have an unforgettable adventure - both with God and with friends.
  14. Church planting means that every member starts to carry new responsibilities. This is the body of Christ in action.
  15. When you go church planting and are faced with new challenges, you will start to utilise dormant gifts and capabilities.
  16. Church planting is very 'New Testament' (e.g. Acts 11:21-26).
  17. Church planting causes both the sending church and the sent to look outwards to a fallen, lost world.
  18. Church planting is a great environment for Christians to grow and mature.
  19. Church planting can rejuvenate more established churches.
  20. Church planting is partnering with God to create something from nothing.
  21. When you church plant, you leave behind a legacy..
“A vigorous and continuous approach to church planting is the only way to guarantee an increase in the number of believers, and is one of the best ways to renew the whole body of Christ .” (Tim Keller - New York City church planter and movement leader)
“Church planting is a model that works because people can be sent out and it energises existing populations.” (Elizabeth Oldfield - Director of Theos - "The Battle for Christianity", BBC1, January 2016)

Being Sent

In Newfrontiers churches, we often talk of ourselves as an apostolic sending family of churches. It is important when planting a church to be sent rather than just going on your own. We believe in apostolic ministry, which means 'sent ministry'. If you are feeling stirred about church planting in a particular location or nation, rather than just pressing ahead on your own, speak first to your local church leaders. What do they think?

Also make it known to the apostle or one of the apostolic team that serves your church or region. Share it with others and be open to their advice and guidance. 


Timing

It may be time to go when you feel the call or hear the prophetic word, but more likely it is time to start thinking, praying and talking some more. Get some training and watch out for 'Good to Go' days and other opportunities.

Normally we would suggest that there is a process of time during which a call to church plant is tested and worked through with others, including your local church leaders. This can take anything from a few months to a few years...


Location

The location for a church plant can be determined in several ways:

  • An individual's stirring about a place
  • A church leader's thought
  • A prophetic sense about a place
  • Strategic planning from the apostle
  • Hearing about it at a conference or event
  • Relocation for employment
  • It's a good place to be

Team

An important part of the church planting process is building a team. It is preferable to have a church planting team rather than starting out on your own.

Team building is essential, whether leading a large church or planting a new church. Learning how to work together, listen to one another, pray together, bring out the best in each other and build church together is an important foundational ingredient in the life of any church. When planting a church you work very closely with a small number of people.

You might want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How good am I at working with others?
  • Do we, as a team, share the same vision and values for this (new) church?
  • Have we had time to get to know one another?
  • What are the issues, in these early stages, that need bringing into the light?
  • What key ministry leaders do we need in our team to build the church (e.g., worship, children, administration, communication, opening the Word of God,...)?
“I found myself on my knees asking God for a bass player!.” (Chris Kilby - church planter in Southampton)

David Stroud offers some excellent advice and potential pitfalls in choosing a church planting team:

  1. Be careful of those who are looking for a leadership role because they cannot find one in their existing church.
  2. Be careful about bringing those with you who do not look to you pastorally as their leader.
  3. Ensure that expectations are realistic.
  4. Be careful about recruiting friends.

When & How to Meet

Many new church plants start in homes, with a handful of people meeting mid-week every week until Sunday morning meetings begin in a rented facility.

  • Don't think too big too soon
  • ​Allow for organic growth whilst at the same time setting realistic faith goals.
  • Meet each week but do different things.
  • Be creative about where and when to meet.
  • Spread meetings out - in different homes and locations.
  • Clearly communicate in different ways where the meetings are. 
  • Invite prophetic and apostolic ministries to meetings to stir faith and direction.

Content of Meetings

In planting churches, we are looking to build churches that are not only built upon The Word of God but churches that are also open to the Holy Spirit. Word and Spirit churches - like two wings in flight.

Have regular times together where you read the Bible and talk about it.

“Spend the first year of a church plant looking at the book of Acts, drink lots of coffee, pray and see what God does.” (Colin Baron - Church planter and founder of the Broadcast Network)

Create space and time for the Holy Spirit; practice gifts of the Holy Spirit, be expectant and encourage prophetic words. Get used to and become friends with the Holy Spirit.

In the early days of meeting together as a small group, a new church, have lots of time being together: eat together and get to know one another. These times are good relational building blocks for the church. Have unhurried time of sharing your stories. These will prove to be invaluable times of getting to know one another.

Watch out for those who come with their theological hobby-horses (End Times, Israel and Bible Code are favourites). Gently deal with those early on and head on. 

When setting out a room to meet in, consider these elements:

  • Don't go for theatre-style seating.
  • Meet in a circle or crescent shape seating early on.
  • Resist having a big band, lots of microphones and wires or a big PA system early on.
  • Keep meetings informal, relaxed and encourage contributions.
  • Decide where and when to have refreshments and who will take responsibility for these.
“Don't pretend to be a big church when you are a little church.” (Dave Holden - Leader of New Ground churches)

Finding a Place to Meet

Hopefully, after meeting together for a few months in a home, the church plant will grow sufficiently to require a rented facility.

There are all kinds of facilities that you could use: homes, hotels, church or school halls, other churches, youth or community centres, children's centres, cinemas, race courses, empty shops, sports centres and government offices are all possible ideas to think about.

In considering a venue for the church plant, bear in mind the following:

  • Location (town centre or residential area).
  • Car parking (is there parking close to the door for those for whom walking is a struggle?) Some churches have negotiated with local councils for preferable Sunday rates.
  • Neighbours (will they mind noise and traffic on a Sunday morning?) Let them know what is happening. Build relationships.
  • Cost (many schools like having regular community use on Sundays).
  • Keys (will the church have to pay for a caretaker or can some arrangement be made with keys?)
  • Negotiate the price (many venues are willing to reduce the price for a long-term Sunday let).
  • Get to know the people who run the place. Make friends with them.
  • Leave the building in a better state than when you found it.
  • Is it available every Sunday? What about Easter Sunday and Christmas Day?

Technology & Social Media

Most people come to our churches having found us on a website. A good, colourful, life-expressing website is an important tool for any church. Find someone in the group who likes this kind of stuff and who will keep the website up to date and will also send out the weekly email/text/Facebook/Whatsapp/Instagram updates to all those coming along and those who have visited recently. 

Keep people informed about what is coming up this week and next. Share news and answers to prayer.

Develop a wise and agreed strategy of using Facebook, Twitter or other chosen social media, and if taking photos gain consent from those appearing, or from parents. 

Think about a social media policy early on. Don't get caught in a trap or exposed.

Don't just use Social Media - give them a ring. 


Become a Friend of the Media

Get to know the local media. Get to know the regional BBC radio Sunday morning producer.

The Sunday morning show will prove to be a great tool for you in publicising your church and activities. Regularly send updates and news features.

Perhaps you can ring the producer and ask to speak to him/her. Take them out for lunch; ask how you can serve them. You will be surprised at how often they will call on you for help, a comment or a feature.

To find the BBC radio stations in your area, log in to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/stations 

It is also worth getting to know and using the local commercial radio station - they are always looking for good local news and stories. 

Get to know the local newspaper editor and a key local reporter. Feed them with news and stories from the church and other non-church related activities/community news and stories. Serve them and see what doors God will open up for you. There might be someone in your church who has some experience or flair in dealing with the media. The leader of the church plant does not have to do all this. Find someone who enjoys this kind of thing.

Appoint a Church Media Officer. Don't be afraid. Build Team. It will be worth it. 


Children & Young People

Hopefully, your new church will have a few children and young people. They will be both a blessing and a challenge. If you have a few young people they will, most likely, feel there are only a few. That is why finding opportunity for them to mix with other Christian young people is important.

  • Find out what is happening with other churches in your town or region (particularly churches that you already have relationships with). Can you plug into that?
  • Take them to big summer events to get thoroughly blessed.
  • Gather them at a home to hang out and have fun.

Hopefully, you will also have a small number of children in your new church. Take care of them well. Consider and plan excellent child care. If you look after the children and they have a good time, the parent(s) are much more likely to return.

It is also good to have times when the whole church family are enjoying fellowship together. You may want to consider picnics in the park in the Summer and early evening meetings to include the whole family. 


Safeguarding

As soon as you begin meeting together and children are cared for by others, start the process of Safeguarding and DBS checking all your volunteers. This is very important.

Train the volunteers and begin the DBS application process online. Further information can be found at http://www.ccpas.co.uk.

You may be able to access Safeguarding training with another local church. Share resources and skills.

You will need to produce a Safeguarding policy, but you can use a model from another church as a template. Find someone in the church who has the skills or is professionally qualified to assist you.


Money

Starting a new church requires resources and money. There will be start-up costs in terms of venue hire, publicity, website production, resources for children, screen, projector, insurances, registrations, etc. Even tea and coffee every week can be expensive. 

Early on, work out what your budget is going to look like and where the money is going to come from. Possible options include:

  • The sending church
  • A grant from a network, denomination or apostolic sphere
  • Regular giving from individuals
  • Other gifts or grants
  • Winning the lottery!​

Charity, Charitable Company or CIO

Setting up a charity, and what kind of charity, is an important decision and process in the early days of a church plant. Further details on this can be found at https://www.gov.uk/topic/running-charity/setting-up


Working With All Churches in the Town

It is very likely that you will not be the only church in your locality. Very early on in the process of planting, get to know the other churches and the other church leaders. Find out when they meet together. Go along, introduce yourself, share your heart and vision; ask them what they think. Go into a new location through the front door.

With a humble spirit, seeking to learn and serve, go along to the local minister's fraternal and engage. Become friends with other church leaders. They will teach you a lot and you will be a blessing to them.

If there is a local Mosque, do the same with the Imam (a little Arabic will go a long way!)

Do not be afraid of Muslims. Make friends with them and the wider faith community in your locality. Get to know their community, something of their language and culture. The nations are on your doorstep. 

There might be other opportunities to share resources and work together as churches - a joint Alpha course at the local Starbucks, and open air in the town centre or park, a Christmas event or carol concert together, mission initiatives, social action, Street Pastors, etc...

Sam Priest, planting into Wimborne, early on made the decision "to be a blessing to the town".


Get to Know Your Community

If you are moving into a new locality to plant a church then get to know the community. Find out as much as you can about your town, history, culture and demography. It will help you understand your new context and open doors for you. 

Stuart Murray encourages church planters in: "demographic research, cultural exegesis and prayerful reflection."

Put yourself in situations to meet as many people as you can. Go to the town fair/carnival, Christmas events, meet the MP, the leader of the council, the Mayor and other leaders in the locality. Where do the people of your town gather - go there; go on the Park Run, do sport, join a club, serve the school PTA, meet Head Teachers; be amongst the people and see what God does.

Examples of what church planters have done to get to know their communities include setting up a Neighbourhood Watch, becoming a school governor, meeting the MP and Mayor and asking what the needs of the town are, making friends in a local pub and becoming Secretary of the Triathlon Club.

“What do you like doing? Do that and you will find others who like doing that too. You will make friends.” (Adrian Holloway - Evangelist)

When we first moved to Newbury to plant the church, Beverley, my wife, got to know the neighbours quickly and easily by baking cupcakes and taking them round!


Pray

There are lots of books on church planting. There are numerous manuals from various church streams. There are a lot of helpful insights, articles and resources.

Church planting is not an exact science however. There is no formula for success.

“No two church plants are alike and no two leaders are alike.” (Chris Kilby - Church planter in Southampton)

There are some things that you can do to help a church grow. There are some things we have learned. But fundamentally, it is God's thing. God grows His church. It is His. So let's pray. Seek him for what he is saying to you, your situation, and your church. It will be different and unique. Soak everything in prayer and see what he does. 

Pray on your own, pray with your family, pray with your team, and pray with the church. God will hear and show you what to do.


Create a Culture of Faith

Don't get too professional and organised about starting a new church. Create a culture of faith.

Chris Kilby in Southampton has done a brilliant job of creating an atmosphere of faith for God to move both in church meetings and on the street, He has seen more people saved and healed outside meetings than in. His Park Life initiatives have seen many saved, healed, baptised (in the park) and added to the church. 


It Takes Time

A helpful phrase that is repeated throughout the Vineyard Church Planting manual is "it takes time". It does. Remember that.

Resist the temptation to compare your church plant with others that may have grown quickly. Take a long view. This is not microwave church. We are building churches with good foundations. strong relationships with solid theology. It takes time.

Enjoy the adventure!