Church Planting Tips From Someone Who Is Still Learning… [ARTICLE – JJ Lusk]

I have not arrived.

In fact, I told my wife just the other night that I’m not a good husband, I’m not a good dad, I’m not good at planting churches…and here I am trying to do all three! So, before you can ask, “What does he know?” Let me go ahead and answer… Not very much. I do believe, though, that three years of trying to plant Forest Hills Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland, has taught me a few things that others might find helpful. The following list of lessons is not exhaustive, and it is both somewhat practical and somewhat philosophical.

  1.   Be real.

I don’t think I need to expound upon this much, but don’t “fake it until you make it.” You may be a church planter or a pastor, but you are Jesus’ disciple, and, as such, you are a pupil. He’s the only one with all the answers. So, relieve yourself of some pressure, and stop trying to be that guy. Be real. Be approachable. Be yourself. Be honest with the people you are trying to reach and to lead. If there is something that you don’t know, or that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to admit it. Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t and what they know they can never be. Be a normal man that is simply trying to follow Jesus just like them.

Paul was this way. While he may not have gone into detail about his specific struggles, he was honest about the fact that he struggled. He referred to himself as the “chief” of sinners – present tense. He acknowledged that his flesh and his spirit battled and that he often would not do the things he desired and that he would do the things he did not desire.

We don’t get to see as much of Peter as a mature believer, or get to read as much writing from him, but we get to see him quite a bit in his immaturity. What we see is that he was just a man with many issues of his own. This is good. Jesus can do a miracle with a mess. That is why we are in the ministry. Let’s not forget it or yield to the temptation of letting others think that we are something that we are not.

  1.   Do a few things, do them really well, and encourage participation.

You only have so much time. You don’t have the resources (money or people) that a larger established church has. So, if something is going to happen, the bulk of making it happen is going to be on you. The more directions you spread your time and attention, the less time and attention you can give to each one. A degradation in time equals a degradation in quality. It’s that simple. I’ll say more about this in another point, but don’t get so caught up in thinking that you have to do all the things every church you have ever known has done or does.

It seems to me that the first-century churches were far more focused in their purpose and efforts than churches of our day tend to be. They weren’t less busy, nor were they doing less. I think they did more, and the individual members devoted more of their time to the work. They were just focused on doing fewer things. In our church, we do fewer things than most churches, but our participation rate is high. Our lowest percentage of participation in anything church-sanctioned is 80%. We do fewer things, but unapologetically expect and communicate the expectation that everyone needs to participate in everything.  

  1.   Determine to be more loyal to Christ and truth than you are to any man or ministry.

You are answerable to your sending church and pastor. That’s a fact. Trust God and accept that. I think this is one of the more clearly observable truths evident in Paul’s ministry. He was sent by the church at Antioch. I think it is very telling that the Spirit of God came to the church and told the church it was time to send Barnabas and Saul instead of going to them directly. God communicated with them directly in calling them, but communicated with the Antioch church when it came time to separate and to send them. Paul always went out of Antioch, and he always returned to Antioch. That was his church as long as he was a church planter. I am trying to be clear regarding the relationship between a church planter and his sending church because I don’t want anyone to misunderstand this third point or what I am going to say about it.

If your loyalty isn’t ultimately to Jesus and truth, then you will sell the work and the people short (your submission to your sending church and pastor will be a result of your loyalty to Jesus and truth…by the way). You trusted Jesus to call you to wherever you are. Now trust that He knows better than anyone else what will and won’t work in regard to strengthening His disciples and reaching the people. For a church planter, this can be challenging because all eyes are on you, and the fear is what will happen if you don’t do things just like everyone else, or like everyone thinks you should. Will you lose support? Will pastors begin to talk about you amongst themselves? Will your reputation be damaged? This is still, to some degree, a sad reality.

On the one hand you are there and know that changing a few things would make your ministry more approachable for the people of your area, but, in order for you to be there, you rely on the funds of churches led by men that may not understand the nuances of ministry in one city as opposed to another city. Jesus called you to the people of your area. Let Him lead you regarding reaching them and ministering to them. I hate what that might mean for you or me, but God didn’t call us to a secure, cushy, and comfortable situation. He has called us to plant churches and to reach people. They need us to try to reach them, not try to please people that are thousands of miles away.

At the same time, don’t be arrogant about that. Don’t be angry or bitter about that. Man up, and do what you have to do. Again, you have authority to answer to as far as your sending church and pastor. So, follow the proper channels of authority. Providing you have, though, don’t be afraid to innovate. Everyone says not to reinvent the wheel. Innovation isn’t a bad thing, though. We don’t use round stones, or wagon wheels, or anything like that anymore. We still use wheels, but I’m thankful wheels, as well as suspension systems, have evolved. They have changed. They are better now, or at least better suited for our environment. Determine to be more loyal to Christ and to truth than anything else. If you can enhance the ministry in your area by changing the way things are done without compromising truth, then do it!

  1.   Raise more support than you need.

This one came to me in retrospect. Raise more support than you need (this will also help cover startup and early operation costs). Set up a salary package as soon as you have men in the church to help you with it. Receive support through the church you are planting (this helps you establish work history in the area you are living in, and simplifies your tax situation). Your sending church can simply deposit one check each month into your church plant’s account, and then your check can come from the church plant. Base what they pay you on the salary you agreed on, not the amount of support that is coming in. Put the extra money into a specific savings account the church can draw from once your support dwindles. This will probably happen before the church is ready or able to pick up the tab, especially in a very expensive urban area. Every day you can give that church plant your full attention is so important. You may have to get a job eventually, but hold out as long as you can.

  1.   Know what you believe about what a church is and what it is supposed to be about (not just what you’ve inherited from your experience and upbringing).

Determine and state in one clear and concise sentence what Jesus had in mind when He established the New Testament church, and what you see throughout the New Testament regarding church life. Clarify what a mature disciple is, and then design ministry programs accordingly.

  1.   Lose yourself.

Stop caring about looking like a failure if it fails, and focus on hearing from God and loving Him and loving people! Don’t forget that God is as interested in working on you as He is in working through you.

  1.   Don’t try to be an example in church planting.

If God is in it, then there won’t be a formula for producing what has happened. Also, the thought that others might try to mimic what has happened should scare you because you know that your methods are not what accomplished God’s work. And, apart from God, they won’t accomplish anything eternal, either.

  1.   Let your family fully commit to being on board before you start.

A more godly man would have listed this one first, but here you go. They are your family. It’s not about needing them. It’s not about the idea that “you lose your wife, you lose your ministry.” That thought process has always bothered me. How about this… “If you lose your wife… you lose your wife!” “If you lose your child’s heart, you lose your child.” That is why you want to allow God to work on them, as well. That is why you want to make sure they are enlisting willingly. Planting a church is the hardest and most trying thing emotionally, physically, etc. I have ever attempted, and it takes its toll on both me and my family.

My teenagers don’t have friends their age at our church, and haven’t had in three years. My six-year-old has had to experience kids coming that are his age, becoming friends, and then watching them leave for silly reasons more than he should. My wife and I are fortunate. God has brought many our age, and so we have peers. In this regard, this process has been harder on my children than any of us. If you think you will shield your family from the challenges of church planting, you are a fool. Don’t risk your family to your zeal. My little ones were too young to sign on, and you may be in that situation, but shepherd them carefully along the way.

  1.   Accept that, sometimes, you have to go slower to go faster.

Things may not happen as you would like, as quickly as you would like. Bro. Wayne Hardy said to me once, “You need to build wide before you build up.” A solid foundation is essential to a healthy church. Wouldn’t we all like to be the miracle success story that ends up running a couple hundred and severing support after the first few years!? There are no shortcuts. As one man said, “Shortcuts make for long delays.”

  1.   Understand what success is.

Going back to point #5, understand that success is doing what Jesus designed churches to do, however you articulate that. Don’t ignore results. Every number represents a person and thus tells a story, but don’t focus on results, either. Focus on loyalty to Christ and obedience. Have a heart and burden like Paul to reach people, but learn to be satisfied pleasing Christ.

  1.   Finally, and, perhaps this is a weird one to end on, make sure you can be found.

Realize that there are possibly people in the area you intend to plant a church that are what you are. There are going to be people moving to the area in which you are that are what you are. These people need a church. They are likely going to Google to search for something like “Baptist church __________.” When they do, your church needs to come up, and it needs to be toward the top of the list. This takes work. You will intentionally pursue this, or it won’t happen for a long time. Invest some time in understanding search engine optimization. It will pay big dividends. These people that are looking for what you are typically come ready to serve and ready to give. They often become a part of that foundation you are trying to lay. We canvass, we do mailers, we serve in the community, our folks actively invite their friends and coworkers and neighbors, we are regularly handing out tracts, and witnessing to people, and–hands down–the number one thing that gets people to our church is Google.

So, there you have it. After three years, I probably should have more to say, and certainly there is more that could be said, but perhaps this will at least be a help to someone along the way. Planting a church, as I have already said, is the hardest and most trying thing I have attempted to do, but please understand it has been the most rewarding, as well. There is no place I would rather be than where I am, and nothing I would rather be doing than this.

Author Bio: JJ Lusk was born in Dallas, TX in 1981. He did not grow up in a Christian home and did not come to know Jesus until he was 15. He surrendered to God’s call to teach and preach the Bible that same year and has been doing so ever since. He married his wife, Lindsay, in 2002 and received his degree in Biblical Studies in 2011 from Heartland Baptist Bible College. JJ was a youth Pastor for 5 years and an Associate Pastor for 3 years before moving to Rockville to start Forest Hills Baptist Church. JJ loves books and tries to read one book a week. He and his wife Lindsay have 5 children. Church website:

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