Beware: Church Planting Pitfalls


I just came away from a wonderful two-hour reunion with some old friends. We hadn’t seen each other for about three years.

The wife is approaching the highest level of Alzheimer’s. The husband is 85-years-old and showing few signs of slowing down. Their family is full of love for the Lord and for each other.

Years ago, my wife and I watched him come to the Lord in a MiniChurch that his wife invited into their home. The first night he had a little too much to drink. The second week, he played the guitar while we worshipped. A few months later he announced that he had given his heart to the Lord.

Their grown sons and their families soon followed into life with the Lord and ministry. Their daughter was already walking with Jesus.

Today’s meeting stirred many fine memories of the times we’ve shared!

Bad Times In The Beginning

Driving home was another story. For some reason, I began musing on what life was like, for our family, when we first moved from California to Hawaii to plant a new church.

We left behind security, even notoriety. According to the Barna Group, the first church we planted had grown into one of the 20 largest in Los Angeles by the time we left it.

I could always find some of my surfing friends “checking out the waves” overlooking Torrance Beach whether it was morning or late afternoon.  My wife and I had a host of friends. We knew the people where we shopped and our kids had strong ties to others at school.

We left it behind for an unknown future where we faced the following difficulties..

  • Culture Shock: We thought we knew Hawaii but really had only a tourist’s understanding and stood out as obvious newcomers—this wasn’t always pleasant. It turns out that after a brief “honeymoon” everyone gets depressed when moving to a new culture.
  • Shallow Relationships: Our core team intentionally split up to engage the folks in the new church. This meant that we didn’t even have each other to lean on. As we were making new friends there were no deep relationships. Everything remained “surfacey” for many months.
  • Extreme Busyness: Some stuff had to get done and whoever knew how to do it, or whoever had the authority to sign contracts had to produce, no matter if it was your day off or time you had committed to your family.
  • Self-Induced Poverty: We elected to keep our house in California and purchase another in Hawaii. This reduced our weekly family restaurant night to Jack In The Box (if we had enough money.

Get Real With Your Expectations

If you set out to plant a church, you will do so because God called you. There is no other good reason. And the good news is that he will bless your efforts. In the long-run you’ll have friends like those I enjoyed this afternoon.

However, in the meantime you will go through the stuff I wrote about above—and then some.

The old cliché, “Forewarned is forearmed,” comes to mind. If you expect all the enthusiasm that leads up to moving to travel with you to a new location you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, someone gets to you with a warning (me, right now) it will all go down easier.

During our first week in Hawaii some old friends who were missionaries to the Middle East sat Ruby and I down and explained culture shock. They told us that we would not fit in for awhile. They also predicted that our emotions would peak after around 60 days then bottom out after five months. We learned that we would slowly emerge from depression until the first anniversary when we would backslide emotionally. They predicted that after two years we would be as happy in Hawaii as we had been in California. We hit every marker just as they had predicted.

I could even look back to when we had left the desert-hot San Fernando Valley for life in a beach town. We had gone through the same loneliness and depression with that move. It would have been easier to take if someone had been able to warn us that it was coming.

So, if you are planning to plant a church be aware that doing so will bring its pitfalls. If you know someone about to plant a church (or join a church-planting team) pass along this article.

Forewarned is forearmed!





1 thought on “Beware: Church Planting Pitfalls”

  1. Greetings. Very informative and we agree forewarned is forearmed. I would like to add that planting churches in a foreign country as some form of “missionaries” is fraught with a few other pitfalls, like not having the same kind of food, shopping, life perspectives from church members, etc. These all weigh heavily at times with us and the people we have supported in doing church planting in overseas cross-cultural environments.

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