Dean Kevin Martin was responsible for church planting in the Diocese of Texas under Bishop Claude Payne. He is now Dean of St. Mathew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas. He was recently in Toronto, speaking and leading seminars. Assistant Editor Elin Goulden interviewed him for good idea!
GI: Kevin, why do you consider Church Planting so important?
KM: The number one reason that church planting is important is that it’s demonstrable that church plants are the church’s most effective tool for reaching unchurched people.
Over the years I’ve consistently found it to be the case that the new church plant, by its very nature, is the most incorporating Christian community. If it’s done well, a new church plant will start off at a good level, can double in two years, and can double again in five years.
When you start a church plant, you can often reach groups of people who are never going to get reached by an existing parish. For example, in the Diocese of Texas, there are a lot of people working in the high tech industry in Houston. We started a church plant among them with a pastor who came from that kind of background, and whose heart was to reach them. After a while, he created a congregation with people in it that you normally wouldn’t see in the Episcopal Church–bright, articulate people who are very knowledgeable about technology but have no sense of spiritual roots or of spiritual need, and he created a whole church around these people.
GI: At a time when churches are closing, why are we talking about starting new ones?
KM: All parishes run through lifecycles. Some will regenerate in their lifecycles, but some congregations have just lived out their lifecycle and are going to close. Among Anglicans, our last great church planting endeavour was after the Second World War. All of those churches have run through a predictable 30-40 year life cycle. Most are on a downward part of the cycle and in need of revitalization. Many of them won’t make it. The effect will be a drop in the numbers.
New congregations are like new children. In the Diocese of Dallas, which experienced 12% growth over 10 years, if you took out the new church plants, the numbers would actually have shown a decrease of 5%. So the new church plants carried the growth. That’s why I’m a big believer in new congregations. If you don’t, as your churches go through their lifecycles, many will eventually die off and there won’t be new ones to replace them
GI: Could you take us step by step through the sequence of a church plant?
KM: A successful church plant follows a fairly logical sequence. First there is the conceptual phase. A planning group drawn from churches in the region along with diocesan staff, ask questions such as:
1) “Who’s out there?” What are the demographics? For example, in Texas we found that only 3% of the target population were Anglicans or expressed any interest in joining an Anglican church. But 22% of the unchurched population said they would attend a mainline church if a member asked them to go.
2) Who’s the team leader? This person has to connect with the group you are trying to reach. It helps if they come from that target group.
3) In five years, what size church do you want to plant? If you’re planting in a large area, why would you plan for a small church?
During the second stage, you need to train your leaders and begin to plan strategy:
1) What are the 3 or 4 core values around which the church is going to be built? These are the areas of ministry which are going to be the focus of the church plant.
2) Five years from now, what are the developmental staff you will need? Fund them now and put them in place around the team leader.
3) Gather a core group of lay leaders around the leadership team, about 15-30 people. More than that is not helpful because they tend merely to reproduce what they’ve always done. Fewer than that doesn’t give enough of a financial boost. This core team is taught the core values around which the church is going to be created, and those ministries are created and practiced.
The third phase is the official launch. You can do a telephone campaign, go door-to-door–whatever works–to get the word out. The important thing is to launch the first Sunday with as many people as you hope (eventually) to have regularly. In an urban church, this would be over 200 people. You don’t start until you can get at least that many on the launch Sunday. The advantage of starting big is that on that first Sunday, everybody sees the church at the size they’re aiming for.
There is tremendous pressure from the bishop and the church planting team to launch early. But we found that the longer you delay the official start, the stronger the church will be when it eventually gets going. The lead-up period, in my experience, should be at least six months and preferably nine months to a year.
GI: What kind of person do you need to start a church plant?
KM : You have to be a team leader. But they have to have two other characteristics that will get them over the difficulties and challenges involved. First, the church planter has to believe that people out there are lost and need God in their lives. How they express that can take different forms, but they need to have a passion to connect people to God. They are normally impatient with the unwillingness of the established church to go after the unchurched.
Secondly, church planters absolutely have to believe in their heart that they were called to this work. It is hard and exhausting work, and it’s often discouraging, and there are tough moments, including not knowing whether the stewardship will be enough. So they need that deep conviction.
Church plantings provide instances of miracle after miracle, of God providing every need. In existing churches, quite frankly, we often don’t need God to do much, because we have our systems and history and heritage to fall back on. But in a new church plant, God has to show up every Sunday or there’s not much happening!
No matter how skilled or gifted a person is, if they don’t have those two fundamental things, they’re just not the right person to be a church planter.