80% of all church plants fail.
I was sitting in the back of the room, furiously taking notes and trying to keep up with what the speakers were saying. And they just said, “80% of all church plants fail.”
I mean it was perfect timing really.
It was the middle of July, and I was attending a national conference for our church denomination. Literally one month prior my husband and I had agreed that come September we would give up our church jobs (where we both were working as ordained pastors), move to a new city, start a new church, become bi-vocational (which is a fancy word for getting second jobs because the new church we are starting would not be paying us) and do something that neither of us had any experience in doing.
Oh yeah…small caveat, I had found out that morning that I was pregnant with our second child. No biggie.
“80% of all church plants fail, but don’t worry, there are things you can do that will help guarantee the success of a new church.”
“Oh, thank God,” I thought to myself as I scribbled away. The relief was pretty short lived, though, as I realized I was not able to check off many of the boxes: have a proper assessment done, have a sending church, have a team ready to work with you. No, no, no. We didn’t have any of that. We literally got a phone call in which we were asked if we had ever considered planting a church: we said no but felt God tell us to say yes and within a week had agreed to turn our lives upside down for a vision that God seemed to be rapidly unfolding before our eyes.
“There is really no reason to reinvent the wheel. We know how to plant churches now,” the guy said. “We should stick to what we know.”
I looked around the room wondering if it is possible that anybody could be feeling what I am feeling. Oh dear God, I’m a crazy person. Can this be remedied?
Obviously not, you would know if you have read any of my other blogs.
The session ended, and I made a beeline for the main speaker.
“What if we don’t have any of that?” I asked. “What if we didn’t do an assessment, but we have already agreed to start a new church… what if we are moving in a month across the country and giving up everything, but don’t know if we are a good match for church planting? What do we do?”
“Uh, I don’t really know what to tell you,” the speaker said, looking extremely uncomfortable. (I mean don’t chaotic strangers who run up to you and act like they heard nothing you just said make you feel super warm and fuzzy?)
“We know God is calling us and has told us to do this. We just didn’t take any of the steps you talked about,” I tried again.
“Uh, well you could probably do an assessment, but I don’t know that it would help you at this point.”
The look on his face was one that I would grow accustomed to seeing regularly over the next few months as I tried to explain what my husband and I were doing. And, to be fair, I can understand “the look” from an outside perspective.
We had not taken any of the proper steps, good steps that were set up to enable and empower church planters. We had not been trained, nor were we really equipped to do the job ahead. We didn’t meet many of the qualifications other than having a love for God and for people, and we were jumping head first into something that many prepare months and years ahead of time for. Plus, on the flip side, we had a really great life. We had really great jobs at a really great church. We were part of a community we loved. We were parents to a beautiful baby girl with another on the way. We were well on our way to becoming debt free. We were happy, and we were comfortable.
So why were we doing this? What changed?
Maybe you have the look on your face right now, too.
First, God told us to say yes to this new adventure. We had sensed for a few months that God was calling us to something new. We didn’t know what this meant and at first we thought that perhaps God had a specific job for us to do in the church we were at. We spent three weeks praying and fasting, and at the end of those three weeks it became clear that God was asking for something more than that. Although we still didn’t know what this new thing was that God was calling us to, we began to pursue different options and literally saw every door close — even doors we ourselves thought would be good doors to walk through. It was not until every door closed (some that required us closing them ourselves, trusting that God had said no even though the door was still open) that this last option was presented and we heard God say, “Yes.”
Second, after we said yes, God began to give us pictures, literal pictures. We had pictures of a new kind of church and a specific vision for this church. God gave us pictures that illustrated how we had been operating and how He would like us to operate moving forward. We began to have a dream for something we believed was much bigger than ourselves and something that came from God’s heart.
Third, on a personal note, God began giving me desires of my heart that I never knew existed…or that I had long forgotten about. Suddenly comfortable seemed like a bad taste in my mouth, and I wanted more. I wanted adventure, I wanted to go big, I wanted to risk it all for the chance that God would show up. When I gave up comfortable, I began living the reality that God had to show up every day or I was done. In some odd way, I found life in this. I felt an excitement for following God that, to be honest, I had not felt in years.
But without explaining all that, and maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, I got “the look.” The speaker turned to talk to somebody else and I turned to walk out of the room. As I walked away I could feel a smile growing on my face. The class I had just attended confirmed everything I needed to know. That despite the odds, despite the fact that the best church planter of our conference obviously counted me among the crazy I still couldn’t say no.
Succeed or fail, church or no church…let the chips fall where they may. I believed deep down God was speaking to me, calling me. I made a decision that day that no matter what happened with our new church, that even if the only thing that happened was that Kris and I were obedient I would not count it as a loss. I would see the success as two people who were willing to give up everything to follow Jesus.
Now, obviously I would like my church to succeed. (I’m not an idiot.) Obviously when I committed to this new church I promised that I would do everything I could to see the new church come to fruition. But our story truly begins with Kris and I hearing God speak, counting the cost and deciding it was worth it.