7 Lessons From a Lifetime of Church Planting (with Dave Devenish)

David Devenish has been planting churches since before church planting was cool. He started in the seventies as part of the team that planted Woodside Church in Bedford, and before long was leading the church plant. In the eighties, Woodside planted out two more churches in other parts of Bedford and in the nineties, David started the Midlands Initiative, recruiting, coaching and sending church planters across the Midlands and saw around 15 churches planted over 5 years. In recent years David has been involved supporting churches in the Russian-speaking world and the unreached world. David is an apostolic leader, who leads the Catalyst Network of churches that is part of Newfrontiers. In this hangout, David shares seven lessons that he has learned over a lifetime of church planting.


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In this hangout, David Devenish picks out 7 lessons that he has learned over a lifetime of church planting.

Prioritise Both Community and Evangelism From Day One

  • Some church plants try to build a community first and only do outreach after this has been done.
  • But this builds into the church from the start a culture of being an inward-looking pastoral church rather than an outward-focussed evangelistic church.
  • The objective is mission, but we form great communities to do that mission together.
  • A lot of this is done in the home. David Devenish had an open home when he planted, both for people in the church and those on the outside.

It is Helpful to be Bi-Vocational at the Start

  • When David Devenish first planted a church on a housing estate in Bedford he had a full-time corporate job in London.
  • One advantage of this was that it caused the whole of the core group to take responsibility for the church plant, rather than just leaving it to the leader. It also helped to develop a sense of community in the church.
  • Because he enjoyed his job, this was helpful motivation, particularly when things were tough in the church.
  • It helped to keep David in touch with people outside the church, and seeing people in his office come to Christ caused David's faith for the church plant to rise.
  • David remained bi-vocational until the church reached around 70 people.
  • Being bi-vocational at the start is not essential, but it can be helpful.

It is Important to get Coaching as well as Training

Note - The Broadcast Network has coaching masterclass groups very similar to the groups that David described. You can find out more information about these coaching groups here.

Battle for the First Fruits

  • This is an important principle in the Christian life (and the topic of a chapter in 'Demolishing Strongholds') - it is usually a battle to see the first converts, and a battle to establish community.
  • Sowing and reaping are very important in this. Often you will reap in a different place to where you sow.
  • As well as it being a battle to get the first fruits, it can be a battle to keep them.
  • In David Devenish's church plant, a number of people were converted in the first two years, who then over the next few years either fell away or joined other churches. This was a very difficult experience for David, but those people formed part of the critical mass in the church that was helpful in others joining and the church becoming established.
  • We should pray about this issue a lot, and we should recognise the enormous emotional pressure that church planters face.

Grow Through a Fringe

  • When Colin Baron led the Newfrontiers gap year teams, he said to David Devenish, "I want to put a team in your church because you have a big fringe."
  • It is important to establish a fringe. How you do this will depend on your gifting and your setting. Develop friendships, run social events, kids clubs, youth outreaches, social action projects, etc.
  • These things can be difficult to do on a large scale with a small number of people but it is worth the effort to do something.
  • Don't just look at how many people get saved or have joined your church. Look at how many people you have contact with in your fringe.

Establish Your Core Values at the Beginning

  • David Devenish spent the first two years of his church plant with his midweek groups going through what the Bible says about the church.
  • This led them to discover key principles, including the charismatic gifts and the importance of apostles appointing elders (which they had not known about previously).
  • Give clarity to people straight away about the values and vision of the church.

Don't Go Public Too Fast (Unless the Context Demands It)

  • Doing so would mean that you stretch yourself in order to provide kids groups, a good worship band, etc.
  • Take time first - multiply your midweek groups and do evangelism.
  • But if public meetings are what would be expected in your context, then do it. In some nations small group meeting are viewed with suspicion, and in certain poorer communities in the UK, inviting people into homes is not the done thing. In this case, starting sooner with a public meeting may be the best way forward.

Q&A

1. As part of a church that is constantly growing, how do you make sure that everyone is included and the church doesn't become cliquey?
  • This is why we shouldn't just build community first, but should emphasise the mission. If you just form a community, this is likely to be a problem because it is difficult to break into a very close group of friends.
  • It is important for people to be inviting their friends right from the start - and don't only meet as a church group, sometimes 2 or 3 members of the group should meet with a few of their other friends.
  • As the church grows, social groups will develop. This isn't necessarily a problem as long as an effort is made to be inclusive and to also meet with other people.
2. Can you elaborate more on why launching quickly isn't always the right way to go?
  • From day one, you want to build reproducibility into the church. This is easier to do if you multiply groups before you launch the Sunday meetings that are more difficult to reproduce.
  • When people come to a public meeting, they expect everything to be provided - by delaying the launch you will be better resourced to do this well.
  • An exception is if you are planting into a big city with a large team.
3. Why did David Devenish move his church plant from a home to school, and how did you ensure that the home was still a key part of church life?
  • We ran a Sunday school, and lots of children started coming and bringing their parents, so a school seemed like the natural place to meet.
  • The home actually became an even greater centre of community (as did a few other homes).
4. We have noticed that when single women get converted, quite often they fall away because of a man. Have you observed the same trend?
  • Yes, David Devenish has seen the same thing too.
  • We must fight hard to provide community for people who are in this situation.
5. What methods of evangelism do you think would work best for reaching a housing estate in a small rural town?
  • Living on the estate helps.
  • Try to get amongst the people, particularly the young people.
  • You need to build trust and develop relationships. Get involved in activities on the estate, do events in the community centre, run a mum and toddlers group, etc.
  • Often when middle class people come in, they can be viewed with suspicion and seen as part of 'the system'.
  • Ask how you can serve them. Often we can go in with our answers to what may not be their questions.
6. Do you think young people and children are particularly strategically important.
  • Often this is the case.
  • Winning the trust of young people in a community can lead to winning the trust of the whole community.
  • This is not the only key, but it is an important one.
7. How do you juggle the stresses of having a job and leading a church when you are bi-vocational?
8. When you start with a group that are all in their twenties, how do you grow a diverse church?
  • Look for who has a gift for reaching other generations.
  • Sometimes as you get older, you will attract people of other generations. Don't worry too much initially, think longer term.
9. Is there a balance between expressing charismatic gifts in meetings and being seeker friendly?
  • Context is very important. When you bring someone to a meeting, make sure they know what to expect.
  • Don't stop having charismatic meetings, but you may also want to have some guest services that run a bit differently.
  • It is possible to bring spiritual gifts without being wacky about it.

Recommended Resources

In this hangout, David recommended the following book: 

David Devenish has also written the following books, which we would highly recommend: 

Note - If you buy these books using the affiliate links above, Broadcast will receive a commission from Amazon to help more churches get planted, at no additional cost to you.