The Impact of Church Planting on Family (with Stu & Livvy Gibbs)

Stu & Livvy Gibbs planted Emmanuel Church in Greenwich seven years ago, and the church is part of the New Ground family of churches in Newfrontiers. Stu continues to lead the church, and both Stu and Livvy teach at the New Ground Academy. They have three boys, currently aged 6, 9 and 11. In this hangout, Stu and Livvy talk about the impact that church planting has on the family. 


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The Challenge of Moving

  • Stu and Livvy were not particularly looking to plant a church at this stage of life. It was a God-initiated thing.
  • How you leave the place that you are coming out from is very important.
  • It can feel quite disconnecting when you leave. Sometimes people withdraw from you a bit because they know you are going. 
  • Nobody else is excited about the thing that you are excited about.
  • Church planting can be a very exposing thing. You have to put yourself on the line. 
  • Fear is a challenge, because you know that people will be talking about your successes and your perceived failures
  • In Stu and Livvy's case, there were a lot of delays before they could move.
  • Saying goodbyes was very difficult, particularly for Livvy. Stu was pumped with future plans whilst Livvy was tying up the loose ends.
  • When you are a relational person, church planting can actually be quite a painful thing.

Opportunities and Challenges of Church Planting for the Family

  • There is the opportunity to line up church life and family life like never before. The family was the core group, and it brought the kids right into the heart of the church.
  • In the pre-launch phase, try to do as much as possible in your home. Organising this is easy (it just takes a group text), and then eat, worship, teach and pray.
  • A challenge that Stu and Livvy faced was that Livvy got an extreme case of tonsillitis 2 months after moving to London, and was then in and out of hospital for the next 5 months. This felt like spiritual opposition, but during this season they were still growing as a church.
“90% of church plants experience a leadership crisis in the first 18 months." (Steve Nicholson)
  • When the leadership crisis comes, you don't want it to be a marriage crisis or a family breakdown. Go into the church plant making sure that your marriage and your family is rock solid.
  • Because church planting is all-consuming and your identity can easily get wrapped up in it, be careful not to neglect other important things. 
  • It is easy to set an unhealthy pattern in the early days of being too church-centric. 
  • A lot of people crash at about the 2 year stage because their bodies catch up on themselves and they realise they have been feeding on the church planting adrenaline. 
  • Make sure you have healthy patterns of life and are enjoying Jesus and your family as well as planting the church. 
  • For a lot church planters, it is their first experience of senior leadership. The pressure of being the main leader of a church is a big step-up from even being an elder.
  • When a man is church planting, a lot of people tend to view his wife as the 'women's pastor'.
  • Make sure there are people who don't have a vested interest in your church but are praying for you and asking how you're doing - and who you can be honest with if you are struggling with things.

A Transition Point

  • There is a transition point (particularly for the spouse) when a team starts to emerge.
  • Initially the spouse is the key voice in the church, but as an eldership team emerges, this isn't necessarily the case.
  • Livvy realised that it was important to be Stu's wife rather than trying to be one of his elders. There are certain things that only she can be for him.

A Long-Term View

  • It is a relief when you get to the point where things in your surroundings no longer seem new to you.
  • It can be tempting to base your assessment of how well things are going on very short-term factors.
  • If you have been preparing and dreaming for the church plant for a long time, you can feel a pressure for it to be brilliant.
  • A lot of it is actually very normal - meals, prayer, hanging out with people, etc.
  • It is not all cutting edge.
  • Whether it is slow or fast doesn't indicate whether or not you are in the will of God. 
“Orientate your life not around the church but around your Father God in Heaven, your Saviour Jesus and the fellowship you have every day with the Holy Spirit. Some days the church is rocking, and other days it feels like it is reeling. You've got to be orientated around the gospel and not the church.” (Livvy Gibbs)
  • Church planting shines a light on a lot of fault-lines that need to be addressed.
“If the church is going well and you're not, then at some point the church won't be going well.” (Livvy Gibbs)

Q&A

1. What would you recommend to a couple who want to church plant but are struggling to integrate into their current church?
  • It is really important to integrate into a church.
  • If you consistently struggle to integrate into a church, this should raise alarm bells.
  • Work hard at it.
  • No church is perfect, but going through this process is part of developing character.
  • Make friendships (even if they're not the kind of people you are usually friends with), go to events (even if they're not as dynamic as you would like) and submit to leaders (even if they're not as good as you think you are).
  • When you church plant out of frustration, you are likely to come unstuck.
  • It is worth asking why you are finding it hard. Is it style? Is it vision? Are you lonely? Are you not being recognised?
  • When you plant a church there will be people in it who don't integrate well. Think what you would want them to do, and then do that yourself.
  • This is a season for develping character as followers.
2. What practical steps did Stu and Livvy take to bring family into perspective after having been too church-centric?
  • They stopped talking about church on their days off.
  • They took days off and holidays and were willing to miss Sundays.
  • The practical steps came second - the primary issue was idolatry. It is about where you look for satisfaction.
  • The biggest thing that Stu has done in this regard is taking a Sabbatical.
  • Saying no to some meetings because of the impact it would have on the bedroom routines of the children.
  • Having family meals together - and sometimes inviting people round later for drinks rather than dinner because you are eating as a family.
  • Keeping Saturday as a family day.
  • Now that the kids are a bit older, taking them along to things.
  • You don't want to move from being church-centric to being family-centric. You want to be Christ-centric.
  • Sometimes one person might be more drawn away into church than the other and need calling back.
  • Try to keep enough energy for a good day off rather than treating it as a recovery day.
3. What things did Livvy do that helped as she moved away from the old church?
  • She was real about her emotions.
  • She talked to the people with whom it felt like distance was forming (not in a confrontational way).
  • It was about grieving for something that was finishing.
  • She tried to connect with the people who were coming with them. 
  • She prayed about the future.
  • She took it a bit too personally when some people they had asked to come said no. This was a mistake. 
  • Don't give yourself a hard time as though you're doing something wrong by finding it difficult.
  • Talk to other church planters.
  • Time helps.
4. How did you adapt to the changes that came to the family by church planting?
  • You just get on with it.
  • Stu emotionally got to the point of moving much quicker than Livvy did. The challenge between them was a communication one.
5. Were there any key moments in realising the timing of making the move to church plant?
  • Timing is a key issue for a lot of church planters.
  • Be willing to submit to God's timing. In the mean time, get on with what you are doing and wait for God.
  • Don't try to make it happen yourself too quickly.
  • Stay in good relationship with leaders, and listen to their counsel.
6. Were either of you employed outside the church? What are the pros and cons of this?
  • Stu worked for the church. He had been given a grant from Newfrontiers to fund this. 
  • The advantages are that it gives you more time to plan and to pray, etc.
  • The pressures are that you need to become self-funding very quickly to continue being employed by the church. This can make you try to grow by attracting Christians who will give, which isn't what we get into church planting for. 
  • There is a need for both. We can't rely only on full timers or very few churches would get planted, but some situations do need this.
  • Other advantages of having a job outside the church are that you regularly connect with non-Christians, and it cuts against  the church-centricness.
  • Livvy was a parent who stayed at home with young kids. This was a very sociable stage of life for her.
7. Are there any final things that you would like to say?
  • You are in it for the long-term, so try to keep the perspective of long-term kingdom advance.

Recommended Resources

In this hangout, Stu recommended the following book: 

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