Church Planting & Differentiation

Every new business needs to differentiate itself from all others. Else, why the need for a new business? Church planting necessitates differentiation.

These days, being different may open otherwise hostile hearts and minds. We face a rising generation more interested in healing hurts and sustaining resources than they are in traditional spiritual matters. We must wed evangelism to missional efforts if we expect to gain a hearing.

Differentiation Pitfalls

Sadly, our need to differentiate can result in our trying to “be different for the sake of being different.” Not much point in that as it can lead to silliness at best and hurtful mistakes at the worse. You should have both a theology and a cultural reason for everything that sets you apart from the guy down the street.

The other pitfall is that occasionally overpowering urge to simply ‘knock-off’ the ministry of some admired leader? BTW, does a copycat truly differentiate? Is there anything godly about that behavior? This one can spell real trouble.

Spiritual Integrity and Differentiation

When I say trouble, I mean trouble of a spiritual nature. Paul wrote about this kind of action to the fledgling church at Corinth, “…Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? 4 When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?”

According to the apostle, cookie cutter Christianity (magnified when it occurs in a leader) is worldly behavior. And, he says it is a pathway cut out by a sinful nature.

What exactly is he getting at? And, how does that apply to a church planter?

Whenever we copy someone else we are practicing a form of humanism rather than listening to the creative voice of the Holy Spirit.

Differentiation, Innovation and Needs Met

Far better to present problems and opportunities to your core team and then prayerfully seek a new way of doing things than to copy someone else’s revelation. God is creative and he will give you new and creative ways of doing things that actually fit in your community if you give him half a chance.

One Meaningful Exception

The only exception to this “Do Not Copy” rule would be to clone your mentor for the first few months out the gate. Doing so helps remind you of where you came from and who you are—it gives you a guiding star for making well-reasoned changes that will certainly differentiate you from your mentor over time.

People around us are spiritually hungry. Many are antagonistic toward church as they’ve known it. Some are hurt. Offer something fresh and you’ll touch many lives.

What makes you different?

How does your church stand apart from others? Please share unique opportunities that lead to productive communication with the culture around you…



12 thoughts on “Church Planting & Differentiation”

  1. Thanks for this article Ralph – I enjoy reading these regularly. I thought I’d mention that sometimes what might be deemed “copycat” is more about finding someone who articulates what’s on your heart but you weren’t able to clearly or fully express it until you heard about their ministry.

    I found that when I was first introduced to coaching as a leader that what I sensed in my heart about leadership and leadership development was finally articulated well and clearly by another, and I could go with that model as a starting point for my own coaching. The same has been true about some elements of the SOMA family of churches and the way they emphasize Missional Communities and DNA groups (or what others call ‘Triads’ or ‘LTG’s).

    Maybe that’s what you meant by “cloning your mentor”, which I appreciated as the meaningful exception. 🙂

    Thanks again for your writing and encouragement!

    1. Thanks Dave,
      To me, “cloning your mentor” is very different from knocking off a copy of something you haven’t thought through. I encounter this when people defend a model of church against clear examples in the New Testament. Ifa person clones a mentor, they most likely worked through their thinking in a give-and-take fashion. They know what they are doing because they know “why” they do it. A copycat is a pragmatist hoping something that worked for someone else will work for them. Too often that is a ticket out of pastoral ministry…
      Thanks for the input!

  2. Randall T. Ishida

    Being different ? For me may mean going against the “marketing” campaigns that are plaguing Christianity in America these days for “bigger and better”

    It would be a feeble attempt at best to “copy” what my mentor/pastor(s) have done in preaching/ sermons etc. But I could be imitators of their Kingdom building approach to The Gospel.
    I have not come from a Christian family and was not saved until I was brought to my knees with all sorts of aggregious acts. So my approach to teaching theology is not from seminary or bible college.. relational theology is my school .
    Not meaning I don’t study theology.. but I need to apply it as the “shoe fits” different cultures and generations.

    We’re all wired differently and the gifts we are given to build Jesus’s Churches may manifest itself to different cultural groups in various ways.
    Revelations come from solid doctrine of the gospel through “life experiences” and contextualizing that to make converts “first” and then to “copy” Paul in making disciples that make disciples to the fourth generation.

    I hope to infuse the DNA of my church/Pastor’s Kingdom vision … and in a way I am copying its founders vision.. but isn’t that vision and command given to us by Jesus ?
    The younger generation being media entrenched … I’m talking about the I-gen .. social media has such an influence on them .. (interaction) for them to sit and listen to a sermon.. well to most it would just be an”talking head”.
    I believe that’s where smaller churches.. (when I say small I’m talking up to 20-30 max)
    Would benefit and instead if your “sermon” it may work to give a short 15 min message and then discussion.
    And being a nomad without any one established building works for me.. taking church to the community and then “building” a community of disciples not just converts.
    Letting go and trusting in The Lord has to be in front of all ego and accolades.

    Recently we moved a micro church from town to another area far away, to evangelize to 2 men, one very young and the other caught in a legalistic teaching church.
    Our prayers are for discipleship not just conversion. But in being able to move and be mobile we are building community… we meet in the middle of a shopping complex.

    So I agree and disagree at the same time.
    I desire to be a carbon copy of my pastors precepts (I could never be a copy of his personality) and that is to be the same as Paul precepts …. ergo to be a copy of the Author of our faith ~ Jesus.

    1. A carbon copy of precepts, not personality or actions sounds like what Paul was asking when he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ…”
      Good insight! Thank you.

  3. As a home church, apart from the venue, we find that what we bring to the table, our life experiences, make us different. Both my wife and I come from broadcast radio and the graphic arts. We’re artistic techies that came to saving faith in middle age and seem to connect well with both older and younger generations. Our OOB personalities seem an attractant. Being ourselves and opening our lives has been opening doors. Living the Greatest Commandment has been the key to making connections while living the Great Commission. Loving people for who they are, where they are has been slowing building trust. Trust that builds a relationship.

    1. Love it. You must be bivocational???? Bivo with intention guarantees a lifestyle and allows for growth via relational evangelism rather than a quick fix. Wish you would write more. Maybe even do a guest blog… Hit the Contact button if you would be willing to write something about your comments above.
      Thanks much!

  4. Leonard Lawyer

    How I’ve learned to “do” church takes the Word of God to people who would not normally attend a traditional church. This includes ex cons, those active in the underworld and even some whose needs have somehow not been met by traditional church. I believe what makes this work is a trust built upon a friendship developed over many many years.

  5. I have been an entrepreneur in education, counseling, business, and church life and suggest we who want to be spiritually relevant to a new breed of people study innovation and organizational change agents. That was a minor in grad school. The discussion there is a lot about Disruptive Innovation and what it takes to have a successful start up, both of which I see in the current move of the Spirit. The need for disruptive innovation designed to make advances in Christian outreach and impact demanded and that usually takes a lot of wisdom to lead. It goes directly, I think, to the issue of differentiation. As a Family Therapist I often teach and coach on the topic of emotional and spiritual differentiation which is a mark of maturity necessary for Christian leaders. It has been studied and taught on at great length by System’s Coaches.

    1. Systems coaches are great. But, it is practitioners like you that make it happen. Think Hewlitt and Packard, Edison, Ford, Jobs and Wosniak, Ghengis Khan, the Wesley brothers. Doubt that many of them had time for coaching…

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