Saturday, December 10, 2016

Always Forward looks back on church planting mistakes

The Always Forward podcast is settling into a rhythm of podcasts every 1-2 weeks, and now officially has had five episodes of about one hour each.

As with the other podcasts, Thursday’s Episode 5 — inaccurately labelled “The Top 10 Mistakes Church Planters Make” — features the ACNA’s canon for church planting Rev Canon Dan Alger and Rev Shawn McCain, who are respectively planting churches in the Diocese of the South and C4SO. One is a cradle Episcopalian and Trinity School for Ministry grad, and the other a latecomer to Anglicanism and Nashotah grad.

The “10” mistakes turn out to be about 7.5 — two of the 10 are identical, and on a third they take opposite positions. In order of presentation:

  1. DanPlanting without assessment or training (Dan). Assessment allows the planter to understand his strengths and areas where he needs additional team members. Assessment is particularly recommended for married couples, to help the spouse — typically less involved in planting and the plant — to understand planting and their roles in it.
  2. Pretending you have all the answers (Shawn), i.e. an inability to say “I don’t know.” The latter turns out to be a great way to identify opportunities for others to step up to responsbilities.
  3. Premature launch (both Dan and Shawn), a very common mistake (and one identified by many church planting books). The pressures to launch public worship will be high, but the church needs a critical mass to sustain public worship — and to have enough people in the pews to connect with visitors — for it to work. As an alternative, the launch team can pray and even commune privately as they prepare for launch.
  4. An “over-obsession” with contextualization (Shawn) or A failure to contextualize (Dan). For the former, the church should know what it is, why and not pander to the community. For the latter, the church can make major mistakes if it doesn’t understand its community. Both agree that the church must be ready to explain what (and why and how) it is to new members from the community.
  5. Handing out leadership roles too quickly (Dan and Shawn). The prospective leaders need to understand and buy into the vision, and the pastor needs to size up the prospective leader before handing over responsibility. During the pre-launch and early launch phase, the emphasis needs to be on the church and not on “leading”, power or control. (Both men also argue that early one, there should also be no vestry or formal lay control with the planter reporting to the bishop and the diocesan church planting dean/canon).
  6. Not communicating expectations (Shawn). If people don't do what you want, it’s often because you didn’t tell them; if you let them down, it's often because you didn’t tell them what to expect. Or as (Dan quoting) former ACNA church planting canon Alan Hawkins says, “Unmet expectations = pain.”
  7. Planting a worship service, not a church (Dan). A church can be successful in terms of ASA (average Sunday attendance) and giving, but not be accomplishing the mission of the Church. 

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