Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts by Jim Griffith and Bill Easum
A Review by Glen Bickford
Written in a readable style, this book is surely helpful to those who are planting churches. What is interesting is that this book is just as helpful to those who are trying to redevelop their congregation or simply improve it.
The ten mistakes are:
1) Neglecting the Great Commandment in Pursuit of the Great Commission.
2) Failing to Take Opposition Seriously
3) A Love Affair with One’s Fantasy Statement Blinds the Planter to the Mission Field
4) Premature Launch
5) Evangelism Ceases after the Launch
6) No Plan for the Other Six Days of the Week
7) Fear of Talking about Money until It Is Too Late
8) Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Size
9) Formalizing Leadership Too Soon
10) Using the “Superstar Model” as a Paradigm for All Church Plants
Space will not allow a detailed critique of all the above mistakes. I will, however, attempt to apply the authors’ principles to existing congregations.
Mistake #1 “Neglecting the Great Commandment in Pursuit of the Great Commission.” Too many congregations recruit members not because they love God or love the person but simply because they want to get a church growing in a hurry, keep the church going and/or need new volunteers. The authors rightly exhort pastors to refocus on love and remember what brought them to the ministry in the first place.
Mistakes #2 “Failing to Take Opposition Seriously” and #3 “In Love with Your Mission Statement.” Blindly following an idea of what the church is or has been can doom a congregation in a different time and ethnic environment. This is just as true of the pastor’s vision as the vision of its members. The authors state members and pastors bring their ideas of church from other congregations, denominations have expectations, and evil/chaos can affect outcomes. Other area churches may have a better handle on the environment as well, forcing competition. The authors answer to these problems is prayer. Prayer is important. Just as important is realistic expectations of how difficult it is to change or form any organization. Then one will not be surprised by unintentional or deliberate attempts at sabotage especially in established churches
Mistakes #4 “Premature Launch,” #5 “Evangelism Ceases after the Launch” and 6
“No Plan for the Other Six Days of the Week.” There is a tendency to want to get to “the good stuff” in ministry: a vibrant fulfilling, church, program or worship service. When launching a new church or worship service there is danger from short term gratification. The danger of short term gratification is that as the authors state “Sunday follows Sunday, follows Sunday, follows Sunday, follows Sunday.” Coming up with a good idea is fun; making it work week after week is, simply put, hard work. Too little planning can be problematic. Resources in ministry seem limitless when visioning but are often in actuality are limited. The biggest consistent mistake I have seen in building projects, for example, is the tendency to avoid conflict by giving everyone what they want and worry about the cost later. The planning necessary for success is not easy but necessary. Starting a church too early (this applies to new worship and new projects) can be more costly in the long run because expenses start immediately and energy goes into “doing” rather than more planning. The authors suggest a “preview season” of 6-9 months where different styles of services are tried before settling on a particular format. This works equally well for worship changes or new programs.
Just as deadly as launching early is to stop reaching out. In any church, evangelism is important. Gone are the days when one opened the church doors of a new or existing church and people simply streamed in. The mistaken assumption of many churches is that new people will show up and pitch in. The author are right on in naming this a mistake Few if any churches are so unique and dynamic that they can simply assume they will grow by existing. Rather, constant time and attention have to be given to reaching out to others by pastor and members. There has to be care given to what the church will be on days other than Sunday, as well. Stagnant church tend to be “Sunday only” churches that are spiritually dead (GB).
Mistake #7: “Fear of Talking about Money until It Is Too Late. I agree that failure to talk about money in churches is most often a huge mistake. This is as true in existing churches in new ones. There are many useful insights in this chapter. Foremost among these is that “people returning to church don’t tithe, they tip” That is to say, even if it weren’t bad theology to evangelize for the sake of balancing the budget (or filling pews/committee slots), it is simply wrong. Most people build up gradually to being big givers. New members esp. young ones give modestly at best. Asking for money does not drive unchurched people away. Instead, pastors should talk about money from the beginnings of the church or their pastorate there. Bill Hybels says discipleship about money should be taught from the pulpit; pastors should not beg. What a difference between the two!
Mistake #8 “Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Size” and Mistake #9 “Formalizing Leadership Too Soon.” According to the authors, young churches should not try to act like older established churches. The churches are not ready and most lay leaders don’t have the experience to “jump into church” like that. Instead, a new church should be content with being new. Where I see this principle applicable to established congregations is more with size than age. Many mid-sized churches (programmatic esp.) try to act like corporate churches. This desire to act a size bigger is esp. pronounced if the church in the past has been a bigger church. To avoid the mistake in a new church or older congregation, focus on what’s most important, do it well and let other things go. Enjoy being young. Younger churches grow faster than older ones. Once things get set, many churches stop growing or at least grow more slowly.
Mistake #10 “Using the ‘Superstar Model’ as a Paradigm.” A deadly mistake similar to #9 above. Superstar churches are in a particular location, often with a growing community. There is no one model of church that fits everywhere i.e. you cannot build a church (either new or old-GB) on a borrowed vision. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. A “Willow Creek” in a rural cornfield might possible become the same size, but it would never have the same feel as suburban Chicago.
There is an incredible amount of material on church plants in this small book. Any pastor of any size congregation would find this helpful especially when involved in redevelopment. The authors have a wisdom that is able to remind us of the things we pastors know or should know wi  Griffith, Jim and Easum, Bill.Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts.(St Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2008), 34.