Well, we’re still here.
It’s still a bit of a surprise even to us, but we survived the initial landing on the beach, managed to blaze a trail through the woods, set up camp, and are now sending a team off to pioneer new territory.
In 2014, we were on a team that left Pullman, WA that planted a church in Ellensburg, WA that is now sending a team to plant in Monmouth, OR, becoming Resonate Church's first third-generational plant.
We proved we’re not just a fluke or a flash in the pan. We proved that twenty-somethings can still plant churches just like they have throughout history (Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and countless Moravians to name a few). And we proved that our God is faithful to save as his people live sent.
After the first year of church planting, you’re just happy to be alive. You’ve seen lives being changed, people finding Christ and community for the first time, and a church beginning to form that’s held together delicately by the grace of God. It’s quite exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. The law of inertia reminds us that the force required to put an object in motion is far greater than the force required to maintain motion because static friction is higher than kinetic friction. Once you apply enough force on the object, it breaks free from its stationary position and slides with ease. Anyone who’s ever thrown their back out trying to shove a heavy desk or couch across the room knows this first hand. Launching a new church feels similarily in the early months. It takes a ton of leverage (strategy) and force (teamwork) but eventually that thing is bound to budge by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the second year, you are happy that people are still there. It’s a little bit like your second year of marriage: the shine has worn off, the honeymoon stage is over, and every day you wake up thinking, “I hope she doesn’t discover just how jacked up I am and want to run away.” Heartbreak abounds in year two as people discover indeed, that your church isn’t perfect, and walk away because their idealized picture of community was destroyed or the cost of following Jesus was just too high. However, those who do stick around become the catalysts for breakthrough that’s on the horizon.
By the third year, you must make a decision though. It’s a tipping point year that demands the question, What kind of church are we going to be?
Will we play it safe, hoarding leaders and resources to ourselves, grow bigger and cling to the comforts of addition? Or will we release control, send our very best people away and continually embrace the thrill of multiplication?
Robert Brault says, “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” In the American church, too often the lesser goal is addition. Church growth becomes the target instead of church multiplication.
Contrary to all intuition and conventional wisdom, we’ve come to believe that planting another church within three years is actually the healthiest thing for our sending church.
There is a big difference between planting a church and planting a church planting church. We knew going into it that we wanted to multiply rapidly. We weren’t going to wait until our church was busting at the seams to plant again. We were going to do it when we had ready leaders. This kind of vision and urgency became the driving force that created a multiplication DNA in our church. By God's grace we've seen over 100 people baptized, over 200 college students gather weekly on Sundays and in community groups, and 20 people moving together and transplanting their lives so that more people may be reached for Christ.
Here are 5 things we believe were keys to our success in the third year of this process.
1. Letting the rookies play
Wilt Chamberlain earned the MVP award averaging 38 points and 27 rebounds per game en route to what is considered the greatest rookie season in the history of the modern sports era. Some rookies make a huge splash—the vast majority, however, need a ton of time, reps and feedback to reach a high-impact level. A lot of coaches bench rookies because they are either afraid of the risk or don’t want to take the time to develop their raw talent.
Too often in the church we let new and young leaders sit on the sidelines watching the game be played by paid professionals. We value program excellence over people development. We think we’re saving rookies from failure but what we’re really doing is robbing them of opportunities to grow and eventually they get bored and leave. Failure is an invaluable and inevitable piece of leadership development. By withholding opportunities “until they’re ready” just means young leaders will experience the same mistakes later. All veterans were at one time rookies who were given the chance to play, make mistakes, receive coaching and correction, on their way to a high-impact future
For our church, giving underclassmen in college opportunities early and often to exercise spiritual leadership is now paying huge dividends—they have now become our best leaders, many of whom are spearheading our new church plant.
2. Developing a leadership pipeline, not platform
In a recent study by Lifeway, they found that the odds of survivability increase by over 250% in church plants that offer leadership development training. In order for rookies to mature into veterans they not only need playing time, they also need a ton of training. A leadership pipeline is absolutely essential for any church planting endeavor, and the time when you begin to see the return on your early investment in young leaders begins to shell out serious cash in year three. But it takes a systematic approach to developing people the way Jesus did.
In a recent Leadership Network talk, Will Mancini claimed Jesus founded the movement of Christianity on a leadership pipeline, and said:
The church today has practically abandoned the original pipeline vision of Jesus, and substituted it with something more culturally attractive. Rather than developing people we manage programs, rather than building leaders we build worship centers. We have traded the pipeline of Jesus for the platform of cultural Christianity and as a result the church in America is over programmed and under discipled.
He goes on to outline a “pipeline manifesto” in the New Testament:
- Luke 6:12 → Jesus chooses 12 out of the multitude (hundreds) of disciples
- Luke 8:1 → Jesus does the heavy lifting, healing people while the 12 watch
- Luke 9:1 → Jesus gives the 12 power and authority and sends them out
- Luke 10:1 → Jesus sends 72 to proclaim the kingdom and heal people
- Acts 1:15 → 120 leaders gather in the upper room after ascension of Jesus
- Acts 2:41 → 3,000 people saved at Pentecost
Consider what happened in the third year of Jesus’ ministry: after skyrocketing to influence and gaining a massive platform, just when things start gaining traction he begins to hand over the most precious and eternally significant task to a dozen mostly blue collar, ordinary men. Jesus could have continued to preach to large crowds and gained a larger following, but instead he chose to give away his leadership because it would not only lead to exponential growth, but it would outlast his earthly life for thousands of years. Mancini points out that in the platform paradigm the ratio of leaders to people would be 1:3000 as opposed to 1:25 in a pipeline paradigm, showing us that if we truly want to reach the world it will come by way of a leadership pipeline, not a preaching platform.
3. Hiring fruitful over faithful or flashy people
It’s really easy to make the mistake of hastily hiring people in the midst of the chaos of the first couple of years of church planting. Your church is growing, which is an amazing thing, but you have to tread carefully as you begin adding people to your staff leadership team.
Faithful people are great, don’t get me wrong, but often it ends with them. They show up everyday to everything but rarely multiply themselves, becoming cul-de-sacs rather than highways. Many believers never miss Sunday gatherings but also never bring any non-believing friends with them to those gatherings.
Flashy people often have incredibly winsome personalities, dress and dance stylishly, and can light up the stage. They seem like an obvious choice for any leadership position and are frequently labeled as “influential”. But when it comes to hiring for your new church plant, you have to resist the urge of onboarding someone based on flash. Don’t be swayed by a perceived level of impact. Dig deeper and look closer at their life.
Fruitful people, on the other hand, are those in whom you have witnessed continual spiritual breakthrough in their life. You’ve seen visible, genuine expressions of inward Christlike transformation in them. Fruit is not only the metric we use to measure discipleship (like Jesus does in John 15) but also in evaluating staff applications because it’s the best way to ensure someone will be able to equip the saints (Eph. 4), which should be the primary work of leaders in the church.
4. Believing resiliency is the new currency
The great theologian Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.” The one common factor in every church plant is getting metaphorically punched in the face (but also quite literally for some friends we have who recently planted a church in downtown Portland). Our friend Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist with the North American Mission Board, often says in reference to pioneering new movements, “The first one through the wall gets their nose bloody.”
Church plants that survive and thrive are led by teams of people who are able to take the punches and pick themselves up off the ground over and over, year after year. More than theological training, more than money, more than buildings--church planters need resilience to make it to year three and beyond.
No one modeled the “beaten but not broken” resiliency required of church planters better than the Apostle Paul. This brother endured lashings, beatings, stonings, and mockings. Nonbelievers degraded him and believers deserted him. He spent three decades on the run from the authorities. Loneliness and anxiety were often more commonplace than his next meal. Yet through it all Paul still writes with battered hands, “we do not lose heart.”
Embracing a life of resiliency on the missional frontier may mean “bearing on your body the marks of Jesus” like Paul, but that tenacious sacrifice paves the way and makes inroads for the gospel to continually transform new lives over the long haul.
5. Elevating the “APEs”
In Ephesians 4, Paul lays out the five ministry roles (first modeled in fullness by Jesus) that are designed to synergistically lead and equip the church--Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (or APEST). Alan Hirsch in his recent book 5Q illustrates it quite well.
Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists naturally pioneer new ground, start new communities of faith, and take the gospel to new lands to engage unbelievers. They act like spiritual entrepreneurs. Shepherds and Teachers naturally developthe ground taken by the “APEs”, cultivate relationships in existing churches, and root the gospel deeply in the lives of believers. Hebrews 12:2 gives context for this ecclesiological rhythm when it points to Jesus as both the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.
Nearly 70% of people test as Shepherd or Teacher, which means the majority of pastors will be Shepherds or Teachers, which means most churches will be dominated by a developmental culture. All churches were birthed out of pioneering but very few continue to pioneer because frankly, pioneering is harder than developing. This is why only 4% of Southern Baptist churches will ever start a daughter church (Neil Cole).
The church in North America is declining because it stopped pioneering new congregations while the culture around it grew exceedingly secular and stopped going to church. The church lost its missional impulse because it buried and forgot the APE giftings, which have laid largely dormant for two hundred years. In order for a church to activate and maintain a missional impulse it must intentionally cultivate an ongoing pioneering culture and bring people with APE giftings to the forefront of its operation.
Even in our third year as a church plant, we could already feel the magnetic pull back to development. This is why starting another church within three years, and subsequently starting churches every other year after this, is so crucial in perpetuating the missional impulse the church had when it began.
The natural human tendency is to gravitate away from chaos and toward comfort. So once a new church finally reaches a point of stabilization, it’s easy to begin moving away from the mission and into maintenance. Craig Groeschel calls for “institutionalizing urgency”, and says there are three factors that contribute to sustained urgency: outside opposition, divine calling, and limited time. Because we set a goal of planting again within three years, it never allowed us to settle into missional complacency. We kept our edge by leaning heavily on people with APE giftings who kept pressing the gas pedal on reaching new people and multiplying everything.
It’s easy to have urgency in year one because you’re in survival mode—maintaining urgency over multiple years takes a top-down institutionalization from the stage and in discipleship.
THIRD YEAR BREAKTHROUGH
Statistics suggest that the third year is a make or break year for new startup churches and businesses. Research shows 68% of church plants still exist four years after having been started. That means one in three fail during the first three years.
The corporate world actually fares worse than the church. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 75% of new businesses survive the first year, 69% survive the first two years, and less than 50% make it to five years.
The key to breaking through the wall in year three of any organization is leadership. Will Mancini says “Every church needs a leadership pipeline and every pipeline needs a clear vision.” Clear, compelling vision and strategic people development. That’s it.
I’ve often thought that when it comes to the most important things the church is called to do, the answer is not complicated. It’s really quite simple. But it’s also really hard to do. We often want to make ministry and church planting easy and sophisticated, we dream of overnight platform success. In the end though, it comes down to a long-haul, simple system of pipeline disciple-making. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.
*Follow Jacob’s journey as well as the Resonate Vision here: resonate.net
If you’d like to know more about the Resonate Church Planting Network we’re a part of and our strategy of planting 21 collegiate churches by the year 2021, watch the video below. We're also hosting a "Hitchhikers Guide to Resonate" this fall, which is a 3-day event designed to give attendees an inside look into how we operate. You can register here.
If you need additional convincing on multiplication or multi-siting, here is a graphic from Warren Bird on 5 Compelling Reasons to Start a New Church.
If you’d appreciate more resources or ways to better engage college students, look no further than the Collegiate Collective.