Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Advice for Church Planters

Sometimes it feels like I meet with a new church planter every week.

Most want counsel, and I am happy to give it. But I don’t think the counsel I give is what they expected – much less wanted – to hear. It’s not that I try to discourage them. I was a church planter. I believe in church planting. I love church planters! I love their courage, enthusiasm, commitment and vision.

But it’s as if no one is speaking much-needed truth (translation: reality) into their situation.

So I try. Not that the Holy Spirit can’t do whatever He wants to do against such “truth,” but I have been around long enough to observe He doesn’t often go against it.

So here are twenty of my bullet points (without much expansion):

  • don’t go where you will be the tenth McDonald’s in a row of nine – you’re not as different from other plants as you think
  • don’t pick a city for its curb appeal in relation to your sensibilities, or because it’s a hot demographic - that’s not a true calling
  • open your eyes and own it if there are already 50 plants starting where you want to plant, and go where there is a bigger need
  • don’t justify going to an area well served with new and existing outreach-oriented churches on the basis of the number of lost people in that area (that’s always a rationalization to go to a heavily churched area) – if that’s your basis, go where there are no new churches
  • think down the road - is there still land to be bought that will allow you to leave rented facilities? 
  • make sure you are sent and called (both are important), meaning sent by a church, and called by one or more local churches (or representative of local churches)
  • don't give in to the temptation of pride or ego which may try to convince you that your new church will now bring Jesus to the city; be mindful that Jesus is already there and well represented
  • whatever amount of money you’ve raised, you’re going to need more
  • stay true to your missional vision of reaching the lost and unchurched, instead of getting sucked up in a few months in the transfer growth game
  • you sought out pastors in the area when you came – keep those relationships alive and well and healthy, instead of beginning to see them as the competition
  • you’re probably best suited to reach people in the culture you are most indigenous to – which means if the South if you’re Southern, the North if you’re Northern, and so on
  • if your spouse is not fully on board, and ready to roll up their sleeves and work – hard – by your side, rethink things quickly
  • make sure you have a vision for the other six days of the week
  • rarely do co-pastor, co-leader structures work – determine on the front end who is going to be the point communicator/leader
  • when you think about where to plant, think about long-term growth of a city – the best place to plant may not be where the people currently are, but where they are going to be in the years to come
  • spend time – lots of time – on your church’s structure and decision-making process; it’s the greatest opportunity afforded church planters, and you want to get the blend of accountability and leadership freedom right
  • do not – I repeat, do not – sacrifice your family on the altar of your church plant
  • be leery of your initial transfer growth – much of it will come from people who are fleeing (wrongly), want to be a big fish in a small pond, want to impose their vision on what they think is wet cement, or are just plain toxic
  • you’re going to have to work really, really hard
  • you don’t have to plant to give yourself fully to the cause so be sure – very sure – that you are called not simply to pastor, not simply to serve in or lead a particular kind of church, not simply to preach, but to plant (in other words, don’t use planting to create your ideal ministry situation – be called to it)

Got it? Good. If you still go and plant, then God bless you.

No one will be in your corner more than me.

James Emery White


Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.


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