Disclaimer: The above title sets the bar WAY too high for this short blog, but I was asked to share an outline of the kinds of things we did to pull off a successful launch for our most recent church plant. Note: I believe our first church plant (18 years ago) had similar success for similar reasons. In other words, I’ve seen these principles work first hand, twice.
In order to successfully launch a church, the goal MUST be understood. The goal of a launch is to gather a CROWD. Why? So they can hear and experience the Gospel! And so they can potentially be led to become a part of your new church (some by salvation, others to become harvest laborers). Secondarily, you need a crowd because people in our Western context are just gullible enough to think a crowd means it is worth their time. In other words, critical mass is a thing, like it or not. And while any planter worth his salt will hope and try for a crowd filled with at least a few (hopefully many) unbelievers, I do not agree that they are all that matters nor that you should try to avoid drawing anyone else. (See the first blog in this series for more on that.)
The goal of a launch is simply to gather a crowd of people who might wind up becoming a part of your church. I believe the planter and his team must have a “whatever it takes” (within ethical/biblical boundaries) attitude if they are going to pull this off, particularly in cultures where most people simply do not go to church (i.e. the PNW). If you are squeamish about the idea of building a crowd, the first thing you need to do is figure out a way to get over it… because I can tell you this doesn’t just happen. I’ve heard people say, “Anyone can get a crowd together.” This makes me laugh. If you think it is so easy to get a crowd to come to church, please don’t bother trying. Instead, if you want to succeed at getting people to actually get in their cars and show up, you’ll need to be ready to work your rear end off. (Or you can limp in like so many others, try to add incrementally to a small group Bible Study and see where that takes you over the next three years.)
A second philosophical consideration before I get to the actual “what we did,” is that we are not talking about padding the “pews” for the first service. In other words, having a mission team of twenty college students there who will be gone the next week does little good in terms of what we are discussing here. Having a bunch of folks from your Sending Church there that day or even for a few weeks, is possibly worse than worthless (although they could help in the kids area or something like that). We are talking about building a crowd of actual prospects. When we launched last year with 166 in attendance, no one was there from our Sending Church (other than the 10 adults who had come into our core group a year earlier). This was by design. There were maybe three or four denominational leaders in attendance. Perhaps a few well-wishers had come from other churches in the community, but not many. At most, I would say twenty people were what we would call “fluff,” meaning they were not true prospects for the church. This is one of the reasons we have continued to average over a hundred since then. This is important. A launch of 150 doesn’t mean much if half of those were short term fluff. You’ve just got to get a crowd of true prospects from your community to show up on launch day to call it a successful launch. This is NOT easy, but it CAN be done.
A third consideration is being READY for them when they show up. If you do not have something great, SPIRITUALLY and in every other way (such as excellence/power in music/worship, great preaching, safe/effective children’s ministry, adequate connections ministry etc.) and if God does not “show up” (you know what I mean), you are also wasting your time, because they will not come back. Have I ever mentioned that there are a lot of things to get right in church planting? Another blog (or book) could be written on what has to be in place at the launch if anyone is going to come back the next week.
Boy, there’s a lot to say, but I need to cut to the chase of what I was asked to do, which is to briefly outline some of the things that we believe led to a successful launch for Go Church – Ridgefield. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things one has to do in the early stages of planting a church. Ha! Not even close. [Even as I sit here thinking about all the stuff that had to happen, I am blown away that we have somehow made it to this point. Step by step.] These are simply the major things we did related to gathering a crowd for our first service. The following took place over about a four-month period. (Before that we were focused on building our core group, finding partners, raising financial support, etc.)
1. Several Prayer Walks (with T-shirts on and ready to talk if anyone asked.) In fact, there is no way to emphasize enough that prayer was the biggest key throughout this time and was the reason for our success. God DID STUFF.
2. Door Hangers to invite people to preview parties. Talking to people who were outside. We hung door hangers three times, about a month apart, covering thousands of homes. Much could be said about the “how to” of door hangers. I think one reason these were important is that it got us out on our feet in our community.
3. Promotion: Yard signs, social media, publications and every other way we could find to promote the Preview Parties. We promoted these almost as if they were mini-launches. Again, our goal was to get people there and we succeeded.
4. Three Preview Parties. I like doing preview parties rather than preview services and this worked in both of our plants. One was catered by chik-fil-a, one was held at a local pizza place and one was catered BBQ at a coffee shop (which we rented out for the night). All were held at very recognizable public places (NOT a home). Two were very well attended (over 100). One felt like a bust and yet three of our strongest families came out of that one so God knew what He was doing. We also had follow up events at our house for people who were potentially ready to be a part of us. Note: Very few were added to the core at this stage, but our interested contacts list grew substantially. Many were saying they would see us at the launch. We followed up, carefully.
5. Building Relationships With Neighbors. Huge. As a part of this, we started a Facebook Group in our neighborhood and it just went crazy. Practically everyone joined. This continues to be an engine for making friends and finding ways to BLESS our neighbors. We do not use it to promote our church and, in fact, are very careful not to do so, but the relationship building has been awesome and several neighbors have attended Go Church because they know us.
6. Our Core Group participated in some Community Service Events where we helped with projects in our community. I am not sure how effective this was, but at the least it earned us some favor with city employees. Regardless, it was good to do. Honestly, we could have done more of this, but our core group began to run out of energy at some point.
7. As the planter/pastor, I am big on Community Involvement. I have joined various leadership groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, a leadership team that is focused on revitalizing downtown, attended meetings related to the school system, etc. I have worked to be on a first-name basis with most of our city leaders including the Superintendent of Schools, the City Manager, the council members, the mayor, the previous mayor and quite a few other VIP’s. One “person of peace” really helped me a lot with these connections. I attend any open meeting I can find. I encourage. I thank our leaders. I try to be a blessing. I’ve even given thank-you cards stuffed with a gift card to quite a few people to thank them for their service, both in the schools and in the city. I shake hands. I give out my business card. I know their names and share mine however many times it takes. I wear my Go Church shirts a lot so they remember who I am and what I do. Much of this relationship building stuff is difficult to explain in a paragraph, but this right here is a huge part of what led to our church being known and people giving us a try. A planter should understand he is the face of his church plant, at least for some time. Be a good face.
8. Setting up a booth at our Community July 4th Event, meeting hundreds of people. We were able to be approved to set up an information booth (I had to say the right things to pull this off) where we gave out prizes, took people’s information down and followed up, talked about the vision of the church (including hard questions) and handed out professional looking brochures to promote the launch. We did not just say, “Hope you attend our church some time.” No, we promoted the LAUNCH, specifically. The location. The date. The reasons they didn’t want to miss it. This is key. You don’t build a crowd with generalities. The what, where and why has to CONNECT in their heads and still only a small percentage of those genuinely interested will actually show up.
9. Three different Mass Mailers focused solely on promoting the launch date and location. Understand that just any post card would not have done the trick. We did not send out generic, non-impactful mailers, but we worked to find something that communicated… something catchy or maybe even funny that caught eyes and developed interest. Our best draw was probably our meeting location so we used a picture of it, but that’s another story. We sent full color postcards to the same 5,000 homes three times over about two months. The focus of these postcards was on the launch event. Why? Because we remembered our goal… to gather a crowd. Again, the reasons for that goal are found in the previous blog. (In short, if people show up for an authentic service of worship where the Gospel is proclaimed and God is present, we believe amazing things can happen.)
10. Social Media. This was also huge. I personally spent a ton of time promoting and answering questions through social media. Boost stuff on Facebook. Spend the money. Follow up with people who are interested. It works.
I will stop at ten, but this is by no means all that we did to build up to our launch. Much of this is also nuanced. It is not just what we did, but how we did it. It’s about who we were. We also learned who our community is and we connected with them. You don’t just show up with a team from Kentucky or Florida and start doing this stuff on day one. There is so much more to say about what needs to be done before you even think about trying to launch a church. You need to exegete your community to know what is going to work. You need to develop a strong core group or launch team. This blog makes it look like a simple little checklist, but that is not the case. You can do all of the above in the wrong way and fail miserably. More importantly, if God isn’t behind it, you’re dead before you start. So take this blog for what it is worth. This is some of “what” we did, but the real story is that God called and God blessed and God gave the increase. Soli Deo Gloria!