A sociologist, after studying the spread of Christianity across the world in several countries, said that there is no single more effective way of increasing the number of active Christians in an area of the world is to plant new churches.
As someone who has – as of last weekend – planted two churches in two very different areas, I think that is an accurate conclusion. Church planting is effective – it attracts people who for whatever reason have not made contact with, or in worst case scenarios, been hurt by – the established churches in the area. It raises the mood in the area and it forces you to focus on how to reach those who have never been reached.
Just reflecting back on last weekend, which I consider to be a total success, there are three things I have learned that maybe some of the wannabe church planters, or even those who just have an interest in these matters might want to consider.
Firstly, church planting starts off as maximum effort. What made this weekend about fifty times easier than starting the Dagenham church was the number of people who drove hours and hours this weekend helping out, making teas, greeting people, sharing their lives, cleaning and setting out chairs, playing guitars, and doing all the stuff that needed to be done. When we first started out Tree of Life in Essex, we did all that ourselves, and if we couldn’t do it, it couldn’t get done. I think this really bears well when we consider planting in Watford next year, as it means there will be even more helpers around to invest in the church plant. That makes a massive massive massive difference. My advice to anyone looking to plant a church is this: GET AS MUCH HELP AS POSSIBLE. We had more people come to our first Healing Crusade (which was in Barkingside) than we did in the Guildford one, but we lost people because we did not have the structure in place to keep them. Here, the people who came will be with us when we officially launch regular services in two weeks’ time because we did have the helpers. Everyone who came and helped is absolutely awesome, and will get many, many rewards in heaven! That’s awesome.
Secondly, the most important thing isn’t how slick you are but how much you care. One of the realities about Tree of Life Dagenham is that as it is growing (another 100+ day yesterday, praise the Lord – five first time visitors, one of whom got saved, another got baptized in the Holy Spirit) things that were informal have to become formalized to cope with the growth. Praise God for the Living Churches where you can still meet in a house and share the Word and teach and help one another and love each other. That way we get the benefit of big and the benefit of small. But when you are starting you are small. Rather than hate that, use that. You can say hello to everyone, find out everyone’s name, have some fun with everyone. Use that to your advantage.
Thirdly, always celebrate every step of the way. The first family, the first healing, the first salvation, the first baptism in the Holy Spirit. Everything when you are new is just awesome. They say with children you adore the first but enjoy the second. I think it is the same with church planting, I am thoroughly enjoying myself in a way that I could not with Dagenham because it was so intense and everything was new. This is fun, and I love it.