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10 Things You Should Think About before Planting a Church

Think before you post.

Just four words, but instantly you know what I’m talking about. It may sound similar to the old ways of saying it: “Think before you act,” or “Think before you speak.” But that was before we all became publishers. Thanks to technology, we get to post/text/share whatever we want to a waiting audience—instantly and inconsequentially. It’s remarkable and devastating power.

Hence the modern wisdom: give thought to the potential consequences before you hit Send—because nothing else is gonna stop you. And once the toothpaste is out of the tube—as another old saying goes—it’s really hard to get it back in.

Here’s my point: you can plant a church if you really want to. There are enough resources and opportunities and needs out there to just go for it. You may even be motivated and winsome enough to build a platform of people who help it to seem instant and inconsequential. But it also means that in a post-first-think-later era, you may be the only one who can keep you from enduring a lot of painful consequences.

With that in mind, here are ten things to think about before burnout sets in and bridges are burned—before you squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube.

What Are Your Motives?

After years of being a church planter and pastoring aspiring church planters, I have stopped assuming the motives behind the desire to plant a church. Instead, I ask. And not just about what’s on the surface. I want to know about the monstrous iceberg hidden under the surface: the story, the personality, the wounds. The answers often give a clearer picture of the deeper motives underneath the sense of calling. The last thing you want is to be in the midst of church planting and realize that it had all just been about proving yourself. Have you thought beyond the surface about your motives?

What Does Your Spouse Think?

When a man tells his family that he wants to plant a church, the nobility of such an endeavor can put his spouse in an awkward position, as anything less than compliance can feel really unspiritual and unloving. Your wife needs to be able to respond honestly without coercion or consequence. If you really believe that your marriage matters more than your ministry, then unity with your spouse should be a deciding factor. What would it profit you to plant a church and lose her? Ask her what she really thinks.

Who Has Assessed Your Readiness?

Wouldn’t it be cool if there were experts who could accurately assess the results of a post before you even send it? “This will get 100 likes,” or “This will make ten people unfollow you—including your biggest future donor.” Well, in the church-planting world, that’s actually a thing. There are organizations and networks with “experts” who assess the readiness of a potential church planter. Sure, it would be painful to hear that you’re not as ready as you thought, but wouldn’t you rather find out now while you still have time to grow and prepare, rather than after your church plant is a dumpster fire?

Have You Considered Training?

Imagine soldiers being shipped off to war without basic training. They don’t know how to handle a weapon, how to work as a unit, how to follow orders—nothing but some camo and boots. It ain’t gonna be pretty! That would be a lot like deploying into church planting without taking advantage of the rich training available to you. So the experts assessed you and said that you need to grow in your theology, administrative skills, and boundaries? Cool. There’s training to develop that. Have you explored it?

Have You Considered a Residency?

To extend the analogy here for a moment, after basic training most soldiers move on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). It’s at AIT where they learn how to perform tasks in their occupational specialty. No doubt, church-planting “basic training” is great. But your AIT—where that training gets hands-on and soul-deep in the context of relationships—can happen in a church-planting residency. Residencies allow you to be mentored, put your gifts and skills into practice, and launch from within a local church. Don’t you want that?

How Do You Really Feel about Funding?

Church planting sounds awesome . . . until you get to the funding part. Raising thousands of dollars, taking a startup style risk, facing a big pay cut—these are sobering realities. So then, are you sober? Have you looked at the numbers of a consolidated budget? Have you imagined "a day in the life of" full-time support raising? Have you conceded to the necessity of a side hustle for the foreseeable future? Make no mistake, there is great joy and wonder in experiencing God’s provision, but it will come with some sleepless nights. Are you cool with that?

What Will Be Your Leadership Structure?

One of the inevitable realities in ministry is that leaders reproduce themselves—for better or worse. The leadership structure that you establish from the beginning of a church plant will set the tone and shape the culture of the church indefinitely. Have you given thought to that structure? I would urge you to consider a structure that is elder-led rather than solo-pastor led or polity-ambiguous. If you’re going to adopt an elder-led structure, then you’ll need to be thinking about your potential fellow elders. Got anyone in mind?

Do You Know Your Context?

Of course, if you’re wanting to plant a church, you probably already have a place in mind. But do you really know that place? Not just its modern aesthetics, trends, and demographics. Do you know the culture, the language, the story? Perhaps it’s helpful to think like a missionary in this regard. It’s called contextualization. What is the spiritual narrative of the place, and how does the gospel uniquely address and redeem that narrative? Think about it.

Who Will Be Your Band of Brothers?

It’s easy to think of church planting in terms of tribes: denominations, networks, associations, regions, etc. But you’ll need more than tribal affiliation to stay healthy. Who will be your band of brothers? These are the people within the tribe who offer ongoing support. You don’t pick up your phone and text your network; no, you text that guy in the network who’s got your back. Have you considered who might make up that band? Have you thought about how to develop those relationships?

How Will the Church Care for Your Soul?

Yes, you are signing up to care for everyone else’s soul. It’s (hopefully) a huge part of your motivation to plant a church (if not, then return to question #1). And yet the only way to minister to those needy souls over the long haul is to embrace the ministry to your own needy soul. Do you know yourself well enough to articulate what your soul needs, what it’s vulnerable to, where it goes in high stress? Better yet, do you know how to build a church culture that keeps you from becoming a minty pile of toothpaste?

You might want to think about that before you hit Send.

This article originally appeared on Great Commission Collective. It has been republished here with the permission of the author.


Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global Sent One, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.

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