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When Big Vision Is Ridiculous
- Tim recently saw a church planter on Twitter bemoaning only having 15 people in his core team with no-one saved yet. But actually this planter had done a lot. He had moved to a new city (in a different country) and gathered 15 people to join him.
- It seems like the perspective on success and failure was out. He had big vision but no small vision.
- How do you create big hope for the future that gets you and your team excited in the first phase of church planting (0-40)?
- It is easy to get this wrong, and when you do this you can end up demotivating both yourself and your people.
- How can you cast a big, compelling vision when there is just one front room full of you in the church plant?
- When Tim Simmonds first moved to Manchester, he came with a big vision, and this was confirmed by some significant prophecies that he had been given.
- When Tim had gathered 12-15 people, he decided to do a vision evening. It felt ridiculous. There was a small number of people, who were there mainly because of their relationship with Tim. The meetings were awkward at best, the preaching wasn’t great and the room was dirty and too cold (in winter) and too hot (in summer).
- Tim struggled to get his head around the disconnect between the big vision and what he could see happening on the ground. He realised that he had written about a vision that was too big.
- The scale of your vision has an impact on how you measure success.
- A lot of church planters talk in terms of churches of hundreds or thousands, or even in terms of transforming a city.
- But church planters who don’t have a big track record don’t have a lot of credibility to talk about these things.
- This can easily set you up to fail.
- Sometimes we can misunderstand or misapply what having faith is and put pressure on ourselves.
- We compare ourselves to what other people are doing, and in any comparison we tend to come off worst.
When Vision Is Too Small
- It is possible to have too small a vision, and this can leave people with no faith and no hope.
- Some church planters only talk about how hard it is.
- Tim got to a point of only ‘being realistic’ and lost his confidence in talking about vision. He started saying things like ‘our aim is to still exist at Christmas’, which is not particularly inspiring and plays down what God can do. It’s like we try to get our excuses in early.
- Tim realised that there are three bottom lines for church planting: you need people to join you; you need people to grow in their love for Jesus; and for that to happen you need it to be fun.
- This couldn’t happen without some kind of hope and dream for the future. Tim was particularly inspired by Isaiah 60:22.
- In order to connect this with church planting in Manchester, Tim needed some confidence. The big thing was too much for him and the small thing didn’t give anyone any hope.
- He needed to celebrate some wins and get some small victories.
Some Things That Proved to Be Less Important Than Tim Simmonds Thought
- Preaching. Tim was spending hours and hours preparing sermons for a few people to hear that ended up not being very good. He needed to be spending his time on things that would grow the church.
- Meeting Quality. With such a small group, it was difficult to put on a great meeting. Tim decided to have some humour about the deficiencies of the meetings.
- Evangelism. Tim realised that he wasn’t actually very good at it. He needed to be investing in a team and hoping that some of them would be much more effective than he was.
Things That Tim Simmonds Focussed On Instead
- He became a networker– Tim went for coffee with loads of people. If he heard of anyone who was moving to the city, he called them out of the blue and he spoke about the church to anyone he could. He found that a lot of his meetings would lead to more contacts.
- He made his home a community hub– He found any excuse to have people round for a meal, a barbecue or a fire pit. This is difficult, especially when you have young kids and full time jobs. Sometimes people would come over for a meal and he would never see them again. For others, it was the first step into church.
- He spent lots of time on social media– He blogged, used Facebook, Tweeted, etc. People actually joined the church because Tim followed them on Twitter.
- He prioritised the Sunday meeting– Having realised that the quality of the meeting wasn’t that important, Tim realised that the welcome was. There are lots of good churches around with great preaching, worship, community group structures, etc. As a church plant you can’t compete. But you can use the fact that you are small to be welcoming, make people comfortable and make them feel like they are at the centre of the church very quickly.
- Praying– The way Tim prayed changed. He stopped praying for hundreds and started praying for the next ten. Instead of praying for the big thing, he would break it down into the bits. Pray really honestly. Church planting is hard. Sometimes the best thing to do when praying is to have a good moan about everything that is going on.
Begin to celebrate every small win. This can be a big mind shift. It means that you don’t put as much pressure on yourself, otherwise it can start to feel ‘sink or swim’. Embrace it for what it is and enjoy it.
What do you mean by celebrating wins?
- The occasional glass of wine is a good start.
- It’s about the kind of things that you talk about publicly. Have things that you pray for and then tell everyone when those things happen.
- Lower the bar of what things you are allowed to celebrate.
How do you know when to keep pursuing a non-Christian and when to leave them be?
- If they stop responding to texts, that’s a clue.
- As you speak to them, try to judge if and how you are able to serve them and if not then back off.
How do you keep your people full of faith when the focus is on small victories?
- It depends what you mean by faith.
- Your are looking for one small victory followed by another, followed by another. You are on a journey together to build something.
- The faith is in being able to see something happen right in front of you, and tell people the story of this.
How do you express the small vision to others in a way that inspires them?
- What you actually need in the early stage is for people to like being with you.
- Friendship and community are more important for people at this point than knowing what the future will look like.
How do you strike the balance between casting a big vision and credibility in how you present yourself (for example with you church name, on your website)?
- In the early stages, social media can be more strategic for you than your website – and it is quite hard to pretend that you’re something you’re not on social media.
- At Christ Church Manchester, there are no pictures of people on the website – to avoid it looking cheesy or giving a false impression.
- If the website paints a picture that is vastly different to reality, this can present you with a big problem when people actually show up on a Sunday.
To what extent should the vision be focussed on the plant itself and to what extent should it be focussed on the bigger movement that you are part of?
- Most people are drawn in by the local. Focus on this.
Has Tim Simmonds had to help people process the shift that he made from really casting a big vision to fighting for small wins?
- Not really.
- Even though Tim was talking big vision, most people’s focus was on the current reality of the situation.
- In a way, it was Tim who was catching up with everybody else.
How do you create a culture of celebration that the whole church can get a hold on, not just the main leader?
- In the early days, you can have the conversation with people and catch them up in it.
- When you get a bit bigger, the key is making sure all of your key leaders get it and then they can have conversations with others about it too.
- For example, if you break up a conversation between people in your church to ask them to speak to newcomers, this will help them to see and celebrate the win when those newcomers join the church.
At what point did you launch a Sunday meeting and how many people did you have with you?
- There are different ways of doing it – for example, Phil Whittall at Grace Church in Stockholm takes a very different approach.
- Tim Simmonds started his Sunday meeting as soon as possible. He was new to the city and felt that the best way to meet people would be to have something to invite them to.
Can non-Christians love Jesus?
- The goal is that they grow towards loving Jesus.
- It is good to have non-Christians in your gatherings, and they often belong to a church community before they believe in Jesus.