Church planting demands great faith and hard work. It can squeeze every bit of time, energy, resources, and self-sufficiency out of a church planter and his or her family. This leaves both the church plant and the planter vulnerable to church planting landmines.

Here’s a story to help illustrate those landmines:

A team of three planters set out to plant a church in Big Bear, California. Together they had more than 10 years of trust, friendship, and business and ministry partnership. One leader—an international evangelist in his sixties who has led thousands to Christ and trained hundreds of leaders—was a mentor to the other two men, both in their thirties. One was a talented worship leader and professional musician. The other was a retired highway patrol officer who was already pastoring a small group of new believers. He had worked with pastors and churches in Big Bear for years, though all the churches he had worked with were small and had struggled.

Two of the planters were self-supported; the third—the musician—left a troubled staff relationship with a church four hours away, though he continued to draw some income from that church and from his business in the recording industry.

This team wanted to plant a large church that would reach the high percentage of people who were “not yet found” within their growing city. Yet six months after establishing a powerful ministry that was reaching ex-cons, prostitutes, and the addicted, the team was completely fragmented. All that was left of the ministry was a group of about 20 believers pastored by the former highway patrol officer.

What happened? Seven practices that help avoid church-planting landmines were lacking.

  1. Assessing: This was a “dream team,” so why waste time with planter assessment tools? [link to RCA Church Planter Assessments] Because talent and experience in ministry are not the same as church planter skills and characteristics.
  2. Coaching: Why bother with intentional awareness and accountability? Wasn’t it enough that the international evangelist was a mentor for the two younger men? No, because mentoring is a different role and requires a different skill set than coaching. A coach is trained to ask consistent, relevant questions about the direction of ministry and the character of the leaders.
  3. Training: The planters needed a “boot camp” training experience like Thrive. They needed to slow down, listen to experienced planters, and develop a strong, written ministry plan. Passion is no substitute for good planning.
  4. Mobilizing prayer:  Committed, Spirit-filled leaders should be enough, right? No, because the spiritual battle is intense, and spouses and children are not immune. [link to Fred and Ingrid’s testimony, Building a Marriage to Survive Church Planting] The RCA’s New Congregation Plan calls for at least 25 intercessors for each plant. Every planter needs a strong prayer shield of trained and committed intercessors before launching into a frontline ministry designed to rescue people from the kingdom of darkness. [Link to “Building a Prayer Team”]
  5. Focusing on humility:  A lack of financial integrity and stubbornness on the part of one of the leaders led to anger, denial, and division spreading through the team like wildfire. Inappropriate reactions can cause as much harm as sinful actions.
  6. Spiritual mapping:  Research and interviewing would have revealed that no church had survived on that side of the city in 20 years. It’s vital to pay attention to roots and patterns of evil and brokenness in a community.
  7. Forming alliances: Scorn for other, struggling churches in the city led to an independent “churchianity” instead of a commitment to advance the kingdom of God in the entire region. Jesus’ central message of the kingdom must not be replaced by individual churches acting in isolation from or in competition with others.

Church Planting Landmines, by Tom Nebel and Gary Rohrmayer

The authors include a chapter on each of 10 common landmines: ignoring personal health and growth, lack of leadership development, leadership backlash, personal evangelism entropy, corporate evangelism entropy, inadequate enfolding strategy, fear of money, underestimating spiritual warfare, misfiring on hiring, and delaying missions engagement.

Stories about planting and parenting

To learn more about parenting a new church, please call the RCA Church Multiplication office at (800) 968-3943. We would love to hear from you!