To Launch Or Not To Launch

If you are a church planter or associated with church planting you probably already know what is meant by the term, launch. You may even know about Nelson Searcy’s book titled, “Launch,” and the strategies associated with this particular model of church planting. You understand that to launch is to spend nine months to a year or more preparing for the first service, pulling out all the stops to gather a “critical mass” or as many people as possible to kick off your church with a crowd.

You may also know that over the last few years some have become what we might call, “launch averse.” Books have been written and I guess seminary classes have been taught and I don’t know where it all comes from, but the younger crop of church planters mostly seem to think the idea of “launching” is practically heresy. They think it is something of the past at best or something akin to false teaching at worst. In my opinion, this  new aversion to launching most often leads to the obvious… a failure to launch. Hmm. And while it seems obvious to me that a failure to launch would not be a good thing, many seem to disagree.

We were attending a church planter retreat when my wife innocently said to one of the other wives something about being thankful to God for the success of our recent “launch.” The other gal said, “Oh my husband is very against the idea of launching.” I had failed to inform my wife that many young planters don’t much like the way I do things. It seems like most church planters, particularly under the age of thirty, have a bad taste in their mouth about anything associated with launching. They are mostly all about planting in a much more gradual kind of way.

The worst thing I’ve seen and heard on this subject, though, is when someone tries to say that the idea of “launching” is not a biblical way to plant a church. This is baseless. Check Pentecost. Check the first church plant. They started with quite a crowd… a crowd of unsaved people who showed up to a worship service and were surprised by God. There was prayer and preaching and a movement of God that happened in the context of what could only be called a service of worship. If Pentecost was not a launch (and a great model for church planting) I’m not sure what you would call it. Pentecost certainly wasn’t a small group Bible Study that just kind of grew over time. No, the first church plant team/core group itself was comprised of 120 adults and their first service ran in the thousands. Come on, guys.  Don’t try to tell me a big launch is not biblical. God has proven at least once that He can plant a church from a crowd.

And how can we ignore what has actually worked before our very eyes? Unless an observer is so jealous that they tend to discount the most impactful church plants of the last three decades, they are going to find that virtually every one of them began with a  successful launch. There is no doubt in my mind that if we did a study of all the churches planted in the last thirty years, and narrowed it to those that survived past five years, and especially to those that thrived, we would find that almost all of them launched with a reasonable crowd.

My first plant launched with 118 in our first service (from a core group of about 20 before that day). Seventeen years later, and six years after I left, the plant is thriving, making disciples and changing the world. While I was there, we saw hundreds of professions of faith in Christ and well over two hundred baptisms. More recently, my second plant launched with 166 (from a core of about 25). We are thriving. Lives are being changed. People are coming to Christ and being baptized and discipleship is happening. We are nine months old and are baptizing nine this Sunday. What makes you think launching with a crowd is such a bad thing?

How did we get 166 people to show up to our first service? We worked our tails off. We spent tons of money to get the word out (so worth it!). We walked up to doors and we formed relationships with neighbors and leaders in the community. We used social media. We held fun preview parties to introduce ourselves and bless folks we didn’t know with good things like Chik-fil-a and BBQ and even gifts (why not?). We served the community. We prayed our guts out that people would show up and God would move. In short, we got a crowd in the doors on launch day, because THAT WAS OUR GOAL. And not unlike Pentecost, God showed up when the church assembled for the first service. He continues to show up every Sunday and thankfully there are some people there to experience it. Some of the individuals we are baptizing now were there that very first day. But listen, they would not have been there had we been averse to the idea of launching.

Back during my early days of planting our first church, eighteen years ago, pretty much everyone knew you had to launch, but lots of them just couldn’t quite pull it off, to be honest. They tried the launch model, but just never got the crowd to show up. They either didn’t try hard enough or they didn’t have what it took. (That’s called personal responsibility.) As a result of not being able to get a crowd together, they virtually all failed. Back then, a failure to launch was a failure to plant. Everyone knew this. We were motivated by it. But today, many are not launching out of principle rather than inability or weak effort. In my opinion, this just doesn’t make any sense. Do you not believe God works in hearts through the church assembled? Do you not think it would be a good thing if your community showed up at your worship service?

I am not saying that this is the only way. There are exceptions. God may lead some planters differently, and something else may work. There are certainly places (and cultures) where I don’t see a launch working at all. My goal here is to say to some of my young planter friends, “Hey, maybe the launch model, done right, is not such a bad thing after all.” I hope I at least made someone think. For the record, those who will be planting within the Go Church Family Network will be encouraged to launch rather than not launch. Why? BECAUSE IT WORKS.

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Pastor Mark

I have planted churches in Missouri and Washington state and am the founder of the Go Church Family Network of churches.