When I went through coaching and training as a young church planter, it was engrained in me: “You can’t grow by transfer growth: you can only grow through evangelistic growth.”
It made total sense, because church planting is all about reaching those that are far from Christ. I never wanted to be accused of sheep stealing. So it was a core value of mine that we would not take people from other churches.
This was both a practical and righteous perspective when growing a launch team, from my perspective at the time. I remember early on that I would run into people that were interested in joining the launch team and I would prohibit them from even considering it. “Go back to your church!” I would scream at them. Okay, maybe I didn’t scream it at them, but I did point them back.
Here is what I discovered over time.
#1. The unintentional core value that I was setting up was far worse than what was on the surface.
Sure, it was noble to point people back to their church. However, I had screwed it to embrace that pastors owned people or that churches owned people. You can’t steal something unless someone owns it. In the moment it seemed fine. But later on when people would leave the church I planted, I was like “I can’t believe that pastor or that church stole my people.” Yuck! This is a horribly toxic attitude.
#2. The Body of Christ is not the local church I lead. The Body of Christ includes all believers and local churches.
It took me some time to see that one of the ways we could truly be The Body of Christ was to help people in our churches have a missional mindset. This meant helping people to process through where and how God was leading them to use their gifts and abilities in the Kingdom of God. Yes, this meant that sometimes people would leave to go to another church. Sometimes it meant that they would leave to plant a church down the street. Other times, it meant that going to a church closer to them would allow them to invite their neighbors easier.
Likewise, it sometimes meant that people would come from other churches short-term or long-term to become a part of what God was doing through our church.
#3. People moving from church to church isn’t always consumeristic.
Anyone that was part of the church plant I led knows that one of my pet peeve words is “church shopping.” When people showed up at the church and said “Hi Pastor, we’re so glad to be here today, we’re church shopping,” I would throw up in my mouth. I hate the phrase because it screams church consumerism. The idea that the church is a product or a show that you simply evaluate if you like it and if you do, irritates me.
I share this so that you understand where I’m coming from in deploring church consumerism. The key however, is understanding that not all church moves are consumeristic. Some are missional. Helping to explain this to people is important. Also helping people to process thorough this is critical. If we are all honest with ourselves we’re all consumeristic and selfish.
So if we feel that God is moving us on, then part of that discerning process will be to talk with others and see if God is confirming this through wise counsel. Sometimes we’ll realize that we’re thinking of moving on for Godly reasons, only to find out we should stay put. Other times we hear from our close friends who would hate to see us leave that its God’s will.
I think of the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:36-38 as he made the missional move to leave the Ephesian church. People were crying and weeping. It was hard I’m sure, for him and for others; but, it was what God desired, so he obeyed. I’m sure this decision was not easy and was made with much prayer and wise counsel.
#4. Healthy church movement is contingent on healthy Pastor relationships
Pastors in a community that don’t have healthy relationships with people moving from church to church is satan’s playground. If trust and communication among pastors is absent, it allows people to easily hop from church to church in consumeristic and destructive ways.
Pastors willing to work together and talk to each other can help all the people in their community make wise decisions on where to attend, serve, and give. This takes great humility from the pastoral community. It also takes intentionality. Pastors have a lot on their plate, and have their attention focused on their flock. To add another meeting or phone call or lunch appointment with a local pastor can, on the surface, seem wasteful. Yes, there do need to be boundaries, but scheduling in time with area pastors is really important.
I challenge church planters to consider how they can lead and pastor an entire city or community of people: not just the people who show up on Sunday. And part of shepherding people, even indirectly, is having healthy relationships with other pastors.
#5. Not everyone who wants to join your church is going to help you.
Just because someone is coming from another church, doesn’t mean they are coming with a missional mindset. They may impress you with all they are hoping to offer. They may even make you feel good deep down inside, because they subtly or overtly let you know that you and the church you lead is so much better than the church down the street. Who doesn’t like to hear, “Your preaching is powerful and speaks right to me, it’s the real meat…not like the milk I’m getting down the street.”
I would argue that any flattery or comparison to another church is a red flag. If they share with you how they have all of this talent, especially any talent that involves being on stage or in leadership, you should be doubly skeptical. It likely means that something is going on where they came from. Not always, but usually. I have yet to have someone show up and say “I have the gift of giving or the gift of mercy and I’m feeling underutilized at my current church.” It always seems to be underutilized on the worship team or on the elder board. This is where I want to refer you to the importance of #4.
A quick call to the pastor of the church where they are coming from will help bring to light what’s really going on. Sometimes responding to people coming from other churches “Oh I know Pastor so and so, we just had lunch last month” will tell you a lot by their reaction or the look on their face.
It’s not a perfect world, so you won’t always have a relationship with the pastor of the church they are coming from. You may not also have any way to really find out their motivation. This is why I suggest that you move slowly with people who are coming from other churches. Allow time to see if they are there to engage or just fulfill some selfish motivation. All this to say that you can’t automatically celebrate every person that shows up on your door step.
Here are some quotes from a recent podcast I did with Jon Ferguson. You will hear some of these principals expressed here:
“I literally was turning people away in the beginning, like “no, you have to go back to your church, this is a bad move”. And what I was realizing was, what I was doing was actually setting up a core value that then I would own people. That if anyone ever left my church, then another pastor was actually stealing from me. And it really gave a bad perspective on people in mission that somehow churches own people, and honestly it was a pretty toxic thing in my own early years, even up to my first 5 years of church planting.”
“How you establish yourself in the beginning is an indicator of how people perceive you and perceive their relationship with you. I think holding on loosely is so important, because you may be the shiny new thing right now, right? But you’re not going to be really soon. And people are going to be leaving your place for other places. And you gotta early on figure out how you’re going to handle that.”
“You do need to dig in and find out, ‘What’s the motive behind them leaving and wanting to be a part of what you’re doing, or what God’s doing through you?’ What’s the motive behind them leaving the preceding church? Because if there is some inter-relational disconnect, or if there’s some division, or if they’re leaving because they don’t like this or like that, chances are, 6 months down the road, they’re not going to like this or that about what you’re doing too. And so you’re better off to make sure they resolve that in their current context, rather than them bringing that to you.”
“We’ve all been a part of new churches when somebody comes, they love it for 6, 9 months. Then they’re complaining to you about the very things they were complaining about from their previous situation. So definitely encourage them, challenge them to deal with that as much as they can. And if you know the pastor of that place, even better, because you can work together through that.”
“You know, even though Community had been around for a long time, when I moved into the city to help start a new location in the city, I became a church planter again. Even though I’d had 20 years of experience in ministry. And one of the first things I did was start to connect with local pastors to kinda say ‘hey look, you guys are in the city–‘ we had been in the suburbs prior to that time– ‘you guys have been in the city for a long time, tell me how not to be “that guy”… that comes in with the bravado and thinks he’s got it all together.’ Well all you’ve got to do is probably plant in the city for about 6 months and all the bravado is gone anyway, right?”
“I remember being frustrated as a young church planter– I’m reaching out to pastors, and they don’t want anything to do with me and I’m like ‘gee’ and I had so much judgement– until then I was the established church, and you know, the church planters are coming and I’m, you know, doing my egotistical eye roll, “we’ve got it covered, no need to come here”… and so I encourage church planters like yeah, reach out, some pastors are going to embrace, some might even be skeptical, but that’s ok, just try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment, anything that you can do.
What I’ve found is that I needed to continue those relationships. Cause I used to tell the other area planters and pastors “the longer we don’t spend time together, you grow horns.” it’s just automatically like ‘oh, they’re selling out’ ‘they’re not teaching real theology’… and then I’d sit down and have coffee like “I really like you, we’re both trying to do the same thing.”
“Assume the best. Why not? Go into it assuming the best. You’ve probably been in those situations where, maybe you can tell somebody wasn’t assuming the best about you and you’re like, ‘is there something that I did to give you the impression that maybe I don’t want to send somebody to your church plant?’ Assume that maybe I do! And you’re coming to me thinking ‘I’m going to have to apologize for this” and I’m going “No this is awesome! how else can we help?”
Jon Ferguson is the co-founding pastor of Community Christian Church in Chicagoland where he provides leadership in new ventures. In addition, Jon led in the launch of NewThing, a church-planting movement, whose mission is to be a catalyst for movements of reproducing churches that includes over 1000 churches and sites in the US and abroad. Jon continues to lead in NewThing as one of the North American Apostolic Leaders. Jon help start and is an influential leader in the Exponential Conference.
He has co-authored Finding Your Way Back to God, with his brother Dave Freguson, which was recognized as a Resource of the Year by Outreach Magazine for 2016. Their follow-up book, Starting Over – Living Beyond Your Regrets, was released in 2016. He has also co-authored The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church Through Creative Collaboration and Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement.
Jon holds a BA in Christian Education from Lincoln Christian University and an MA in Spiritual Formation at Wheaton College Graduate School where he is an adjunct professor.