August 9, 2013

How To Start Well in Church Planting (Part Two)

I had a great time speaking with Shauna Pilgreen last week at the Send North America Conference in Dallas! The following post (and the one before and after this one) is based on our talk, How to Start Well: Transitioning Your Family Into Church Planting, so some of these ideas are hers. You can find Shauna online at

In the last post, I shared Shauna and I's first three tips on transitioning into church planting. They were:

1. Prepare by developing a love for your new city.
2. Once you're there, study the culture.
3. Help your children transition.

Let's continue with two more tips today. But first, a sweet picture of the Pilgreen boys and the Hoover boys discussing Legos and Ninjago at lunch in San Francisco:

Christine: Make connections with people in your community
Church planting, when you boil it all down, is all about relationships. It’s not about strategies or models or locations or worship leaders or signage. It’s about meeting people, building relationships with them deep enough where, if they are not believers, you know their stories and their false idols and you earn their trust so that you can share the entire gospel with them. With believers, it’s about building relationships deep enough where you know their stories and you can speak grace into their lives and disciple them and become family with them.

So it’s all about relationships.

There were many times in our first year where we tried to do outreach events and they flopped. My husband and I learned quickly that church planting, especially in the closed-off culture we live in, would happen one relationship at a time. We had to alter our preconceived notions of what we thought church planting was going to be like and commit to putting in the hard work of starting and maintaining relationships.

Because God starts a church with people and it grows one relationship at a time, you have to figure out two things and both of them require you to be an initiative taker.

The first thing you need to figure out is this: How am I going to meet people?
  • Consider where people are gathering and go there! And when you go there, strike up conversations with strangers. When we planted, our kids were 5, 2, and 6 months. I went to Chick-fil-a and sat in the play area or to the park and struck up conversations with every mom around me. It’s easy when they are in your life-stage because you know what they’re thinking about and how to talk about things they’re thinking about.
  • Figure out the questions to ask and use them over and over and over. Also figure out the questions that lead to deeper conversation. In our town, everyone is transient so a typical question is “How long have you lived here?” and “What brought you to the city?” That enabled me to share about my husband’s job and our church and ask questions about their spiritual background in a totally natural way.
  • Join clubs or organizations that connect you with a group of people that you’ll see regularly, things like sports teams or the PTO or a book club.
  • Go meet your neighbors. That’s a super easy one. If your neighborhood or apartment building has community parties, go to them.
  • Get to know the people at the places you frequent most, like coffee shops, grocery stories, the post office, etc.
  • Coach sports teams or help your husband coach them 
The point is: go, do, and talk to anyone and everyone. Be friendly and don’t be afraid to be “weird” or awkward. Sometimes it will fall flat, but sometimes you will have a great conversation and make good connections.

The second thing you need to figure out is this: How am I going to develop deeper relationships with the people I’m meeting?
  • Invite them to spend time with you. Invite them into your home! There is nothing like hospitality to take a relationship to a deeper level.
  • Serve them in some way
  • Figure out ways to naturally turn conversations to spiritual matters. My favorite way is just asking questions and finding out about their religious or spiritual background. When they ask, “What kind of church is your church?” you can answer with the gospel: “We are a church who believes..”
Shauna: Nurture your marriage and family
Church planting requires so much of the planter because he is starting something from scratch. Gone are the days of a church office, church budget, and set hours and salary. And on top of that, a new culture is taxing on every part of you and your family.
Ben would return home some days defeated after searching venue after venue for a church location. His office was on his back as he would set up at Panera, Starbucks, and other staff member’s living rooms. In my mind, my struggles were equally complex. I couldn’t get grits at our grocery store and breakfast sausage was $5! I would forget that I was carrying my groceries home and buy one bag of groceries too many to cart the 3 blocks. Our little one’s arms only got stronger on those days.

For you and me, each of our family dynamics look different, including how we manage them. (i.e. bi-vocational, two-income family, special needs children, pregnant) Regardless, we are called and equipped by God to care for our families at home.
If you’re church is going to be successful, if you’re kids are going to make the transition well, if you’re going to keep your sanity, then hold hands with your husband and then take the hands of your children.

Begin with nurturing your marriage. The DMV and your neighbors can wait.
I’ve seen firsthand that it works best when you surrender to God’s leading and affirm your husband’s callings by embracing his hand on the journey.

Here’s why:
You’re married to a start-up man.
A risk taker.
A thrill seeker.
A heavily burdened man, yet heavily driven man.
A man holding something very fragile. (God’s church)
A missionary with missionary hours and a missionary office in a 8-5 society.

There’s a drastic difference between the established church pastor and your church planting husband. Not only does your husband preach, care for the congregation, and lead a staff, but he also advertises, fundraises, strategizes, and stresses. He will face opposition, have sleepless nights, question his calling and be very concerned for you and your family.

Here’s what you need to know:
You’re start up husband needs a stable wife!
A constant supporter.
A steady comfort.
An always pray-er.
A verbal encourager.
A supplier of his needs.

Next, set the mood at home to “haven.”
This isn’t just for stay-at-home moms or crafty moms. It’s necessary for every ministry home. Create the kind of environment that your husbands long for at the end of the day. If your friends ask what you need before the move, tell them a gift card to TJMaxx or Target! Do what’s necessary to make home a haven. And add some lingerie to that cart! This can be done in any setting. I’ve done so in a downtown San Francisco apartment with stark white walls and in a rent house on the hill.

Begin new traditions that seem to fit your new place. Create routine that sets a rhythm for traffic flow in and out of the house and gets things on the calendar.Quickly build your retreat place - that place where you go to spend time with God. Establish rest times. What days will be family days? When will your husband observe his day off? When are “no phone” times?  
An old tradition that made the move is movie and popcorn night. That kept some stability for us. A new tradition is picnic night on Thursday nights. That helped us embrace our new place. What can you do to set the mood?

When home is happy, ministry can be healthy. 

What would you add to our list? Stay tuned for the final three tips in my next post!