Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Plants

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.”[1] 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.[2] The authors suggest a “preview season” of 6-9 months where different styles of services are tried before settling on a particular format.[3] 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.[4] 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”[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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 [1] Griffith, Jim and Easum, Bill.Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts.(St Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2008), 34.

[2] Ibid., 34.

[3] Ibid., 39.

[4] Ibid., 45ff.

[5] Ibid., 75.

[6] Ibid., 77-79.

[7] Ibid., 83 (quote from Hybels’ Church Institute Lectures)

[8] Ibid., 113.

Mediation and Judgements

I have learned over the years not to make assumptions during a mediation about who is right and who is wrong. Whenever I do, it seems that information comes along and by the end of a mediation that proves me wrong. Another thing for mediators to remember is that the people who are mediating in a divorce are under extreme stress. The person you see may not be who the person usually is or how they act. I treat people with respect: everyone will show strain under stress.

Seven Practices of Highly Effective Ministry

Seven Practices Of Highly Effective Ministry[1] by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones

A review by Glen Bickford

Seven Practices of Effective Ministry is an unusual book and an unusual read for me. The authors are from North Point Community Church, a corporate sized church in Atlanta, Ga. which Andy Stanley started. Written by folks with a decidedly conservative bent, I expected the book to be heavily theological. Even though it was directed to church leaders, it’s a book was decidedly secular in nature. In fact, the first section of the book is written in story format and gives advice from a secular businessman to a struggling pastor. It’s an easy read: it took me under 3 hours from start to finish.

Using the metaphors of a baseball team, the authors introduce the seven practices: 1) clarify what constitutes a win 2) think steps not programs, 3) narrow the focus, 4) say only what you need to say to those who need to hear it, 5) listen to outsiders, 6) work to replace yourself and 7) evaluate work/celebrate wins). At first I thought this book might simply be a rehashing of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People but after I read it I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly the title was no accident and there is overlap with Covey. Covey’s habit #2 “begin with the end in mind” is very similar to the book’s practices #1 “clarify a win” and #2 “think steps not programs.” Practice #7 “work on it” (evaluate performance and celebrate what you do) is remarkably similar to Covey’s habit #7 “sharpen the saw” for church ministry. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that the book often plays off and applies much of Covey’s habits to church ministry.  Many of the practices, however, are quite different than Covey’s work and also quite relevant.

For example the practice #3 “narrow the focus” is good for personal growth and especially helpful for smaller congregations[2] but seems less important in megachurches such as North Point Church with many programs and massive resources even as in this economy churches are cutting back[3] . It is true, though, that the purpose and target audience of a church program and of a church as a whole are often fuzzy. Many churches attempt to simply “help people” which is too vague to be truly productive.  Thus, narrowing the focus can be as important in larger congregations as smaller ones and a helpful way to achieve the “win” of practice #1. It is also true that “there is a natural tendency in many churches to drift toward complexity.[4]More precisely, there is natural tendency in most organizations to drift toward bureaucracy and stagnation; narrowing the focus can counteract this tendency somewhat.

#4 “teach more for less” argues for telling people only what they need and want to know. Applied to sermons they claim this means simpler sermons of life application with fewer points.[5] The point is well taken (less is more) if, as in many sermons, the points are on different topics. This principle is less helpful to well crafted sermons where the several points explicate and exegete a single relevant Biblical principle.

“Learning from people outside the organization” (practice #5) is in some sense a “no-brainer” but it is a valuable piece that many mainline churches have lost. Congregations tend to do church more for “insiders” than those outside which, according to Jesus, we Christians are trying to reach. Practice #6 (replace yourself) is quite valuable when dealing with volunteers.[6] A critique of this principle might be that training others to do some of what you do as a leader is impossible with some roles of a leader- say communion/eucharist- unless the authors are telling pastors to be on the lookout for seminary candidates.

The book is neither profound nor deep in its explanation of the stated seven practices but it is valuable if you intend to re-evaluate ministry. Its practices may need adapted somewhat to churches which function more as a parish church for locals of a particular denomination than bigger city churches targeted at a particular age or ethnic demographic. For example, “learning from people outside the organization” and “telling people only what they need to know” may be threatening to some in small congregations. What constitutes a good sermon or program likewise varies in style and content from denomination to denomination and from urban educated to less educated rural areas. Still, the book has many useful reminders: 1) attempting to do too much in any size of church is not helpful 2) using specific, relevant practical goals, measures and rewards is more helpful 3) expecting folks to work diligently to help others without recognition of accomplishments is ultimately destructive to an organization. This book may go a long way toward preventing stagnation and burnout in any congregation. I recommend it for that reason.

[1]Seven Practices Of Highly Effective Ministry (Salem, Oregon: Multanomah Publishers, 2004)

[2] Cf. a similar David Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 87

[3] Seven Practices, 102

[4] Seven Practices, 101

[5] Seven Practices, 131

[6] Seven Practices, 163-4

Power and Peril by David Brubaker

Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations by David R. Brubaker

A Review by Glen Bickford

David Brubaker is clearly a master of statistical analysis. There is much to be gained by reading this book from Alban Institute. A few of his insights are qualitative such as building layouts can help explain the interaction of staff.
[1] Most, however, are based on quantitative analysis such as the notion that building projects are not correlated with numerical growth as it is often claimed[2]. Dr. Brubaker in a study of 100 Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations in the Southwestern United States brings some interesting insights on church conflict. He begins by saying that congregations which grow tend to be those involved in conflict, though the conflict in those congregations did not seem to significantly deter growth.[3] Nor did building projects themselves cause conflict.[4]

Perhaps the most interesting of the insights on conflict are the two areas of change most correlated with conflict (note Brubaker does not necessarily indicate causality). The first is change in governance structure. It is this, Brubaker concludes, not change in size alone, that is a likely cause of conflict in congregations undergoing “size transitions” i.e. transitions usually requiring a change in functioning of the pastor and subsequent adjustment of people’s expectations.[5] One common transition of governing structure is a change from committees which report back to a board to teams which function more loosely and autonomously. Brubaker states that loss of power by committee chair could cause be a major adjustment (and implicitly a root cause of structural change conflict) I agree. Brubaker quotes a pastor that how change is done is as important as the change itself (As always-GB). I understand power shifts from one person to another in such changes in structure to be the reason for conflict.

The second major area of change bringing conflict is addition or subtraction of a worship service; the addition is usually a “contemporary” service. While adding a worship service is often done to encourage growth, this effect is modest according to Brubaker and its correlation to conflict is significant.[6] Why does adding or subtracting a service correlate with conflict? The two hypotheses Brubaker mentions are disruption of ritual and disruption of cohesiveness. Disruption of ritual is nearly obvious and more likely to be the greater effect. In this day where traditionalists make up the bulk of most church, any change such as worship time change due to the addition of contemporary worship is likely to bring pain. Regarding cohesiveness, Brubaker succumbs here to an error of logic: he states add or subtracting a service may correlate with conflict. Admittedly this is true with adding a service but group cohesiveness is actually strengthened when one subtracts a service. One could see that the conflict caused by subtracting a service is more likely correlated with a shrinking church. Such subtraction may even be the result of previous conflict. Yet the point is well taken. In my own experience when a service was added, the “fear factor” seemed to be that such a move “splits the church” and members would not communicate as well. This conflict over worship change is just as great, however, for large churches adding a service as for smaller ones.[7] Hence disruption of ritual is my own best guess is the primary reason for conflict over additions and subtractions of services, with cohesiveness more likely is secondary.

Brubaker concludes the book with a section on leadership esp. how conflict affects staff. His study with 45 congregations found staff departure usually follows or at least accompanies conflict while only in 5 of 45 congregations (89%) he studied did no staff change occur during or after conflict; 62% of non-conflicted churches had staff turnover.[8] Peter Steinke claims about 40% of congregations experiencing medium of high level conflict every 5 years. [9] Brubaker cites studies in his book suggesting “a majority of U.S. congregations see significant conflict each decade.” [10] One can rightly conclude that handling conflict is a major part of being a good leader. His summary of leadership traits (self-awareness, inviting disagreement, self-defining, thinking systemically, knowing the environment)[11] are useful, overlapping considerably with Steinke’s ideas.[12]

Brubaker then goes on to say how changes can be brought about in governance structure and worship. Brubaker essentially advises leaders to acknowledge power structures and the loss that changes can bring, anticipate conflict, move slowly and non-anxiously and emphasizing the things that have not and will not change.[13] Final conclusions include the fact that, given inevitable change, conflict is virtually inevitable.  The goal then is to understand and manage change. Identified issues may be less important than systemic issues i.e. worship service and decision-making changes. Using the tradition to bolster the changes (say with church history or Biblical stories of change) is an effective technique to lessen the impact of change.[14]

Brubaker’s style is somewhat dry except for the occasional Biblical stories of change he includes. Those who revel in statistics and painstaking analysis will be in heaven here. His exacting style is perhaps more helpful as a reference book than as a “read it at bedtime” book. Hence, while quite valuable, the book is hence absorbed in small short doses. The work’s style lends itself to a research paper format more than to its current existence as a short book. Nevertheless, this is a book well worth a careful reading for pastors who wish to change worship or governance structure as their church’s membership either gro [1]David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 5.

[2] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 27.

[3] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 30-1.

[4] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 38. (Brubaker quotes another study here)

[5]David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations(Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 42ff.

[6] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 58.

[7] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 67

[8]Ibid., 80-81

[9]Peter L. Steinke,Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. (Herndon, VA, Alban Institute, 2006),101

[10] David R. Brubaker, Promise and PerilUnderstanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2009), 2.

[11]Ibid., 86-7.

[12] Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. (Herndon, VA, Alban Institute, 2006), Chapers 3, 6, 8.

[13] Brubaker, 112-117.

[14] Ibid., 120-121.

Mediation and Power

Many issues that a mediator deals with are not the real issues. Often times the stated issues are really a battleground for deeper issues, most often issues of power and control. Does it truly matter which person gets a $10 item in a personal property dispute? And yet at times divorcing couples spend more time debating who gets such an item than other items much more valuable. Who gets control over the item seems more important than the item itself.

Sometimes a mediator can address these issues directly, often times not. The best way to address them is to simply hold up a mirror to the disputing couple by asking questions or even offering solutions that may subtly point out the absurdity. Great care must be taken to make certain the couple does not take offense from such humor, however. A careful reading of individuals and their stress level is needed.