The things I thought were important for church planting turned out to be not very important at all. My beautiful rose tinted view of planting evaporated quicker than you can say “systematic theology“.
So what did I think would be useful but turned out not to be?
- Preaching– What use is a whole day’s sermon prep when only 7 people are at your meeting? No use whatsoever. Was I that good at preaching that my oratory skills would turn 7 people into 700 (or just 8)? No I was not. I planned my first sermon series. I thought of something deep, provocative and inspiring. Nobody heard it. Everybody’s grateful.
- Good Worship– Honestly, this helps because the presence of God is amazing! However, when you meet on the third floor of a dingy vodka bar that has no lift, lugging a pa, a drum kit and a worship leader around can be colossally painful. The large physical effort for no reward was draining any inspiration from the few people we had. I quickly realised that people weren’t expecting a slick worship time they just wanted to know God’s presence and be inspired to pray. We fired the band and life became simpler.
- Evangelism– I am going to stick my neck out on this one. Evangelism is not always that useful at the very beginning of a church plant. I quickly became aware that to see people saved in Manchester I needed lots of missionaries who were motivated to see the kingdom advance. This meant my time and effort had to go into finding a team. I simply had very few unchurched friends and it would take significant time to change that so I looked for Christians.
- Vision– Almost every church leadership book I have read says that you need a powerful vision that’s easily articulated. I started off doing this but it became a little embarrassing. Picture the scene, 7 or 8 of you are sat in a cold vodka bar and I am stood at “the front” explaining a big vision for a church in Manchester. Everybody listens politely because they are my friends and I have hassled them to be there. However, they then start glancing around the room and notice that it is November and they haven’t seen a new person in about 4 weeks. The big vision sounds ridiculous.
The things that I thought were important turned out to be largely useless. What did I discover was important?
- Tea– I drank gallons of the stuff. I’d meet anybody who vaguely expressed an interest in a new church. I once convinced a guy that cold called about Google adwords to meet for tea. I spent most of my week arranging meet ups with anybody who had a pulse.
- Twitter– Turns out Twitter grows your church. I followed a couple of people who read my Twitter bio and then showed up at meeting.
- Dinner– Vicki and I fed hundreds of people in the first couple of years. I phoned people I had never met, but had heard might be looking for a church and invited them for dinner. We fed so many people that we never saw again. Some of them had dinner and then just stopped returning our calls. But having dinner and developing friendships are what grew CCM:City. I realised that when you are a small church people want to feel that you like them and want to hang out with them. This realisation improved my life greatly because I did like them and I wanted to hangout with them. We had a strategy!
- You have to take it personally– This was the strangest one because it is really very uncomfortable. I often hear people say that their ministry doesn’t define who they are and doesn’t affect how they relate to Jesus (or vice versa). I even heard one planter say “I always sleep well because God is sovereign“. This was not my experience. I am a heart on my sleeve kinda guy, and I found that if I wasn’t taking it personally, then I wasn’t working hard enough. I cannot do unattached. I am all in or I am somewhere else.
When it wasn’t going well (I will tell you about the Valentines Day Massacre in a future post), I would shout at God and asking him what he was playing at. When it was going well (I may tell you about that as well!), it felt like I was getting a direct blessing from heaven. Clearly, my position before God is unaffected by this endeavour but when you move your whole family into a new city because you think God told you to then this weird little church better plant.