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“Go make a mess; I’ll clean it up” is an often-quoted exhortation I gave our 2012 Northwest District conference. My plea was simply an attempt to reenergize the longstanding passion and strong value of church planting in the Northwest.

While I’m not actually thrilled about cleaning up messes, I’m happy to do so when it is someone’s honest attempt to reach people for Jesus. The point is to get people to go, because eternity is at stake.

Since encouraging people to multiply churches, we have seen people respond and risk making messes. They are reaching people through planting new churches, simple churches and multi-site campuses.

We know that, when we risk and try something new, messes are inevitable, but they are opportunities for God to show up. We found that most messes are recoverable and that not all church planting mistakes are fatal. There is hope. Let’s take a look at a few of the common messes that occur in church planting, as well as some of the potentially fatal ones that are best to avoid.

Common Messes

Starting with too high an expectation

Knowing that God has called them to reach people, church planters easily overestimate what happens when they open the doors for the first time. Several Sundays after the launch, there can be a letdown. When attendance doesn’t meet expectations, people become discouraged and may want to quit. “Do not despise these small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10, NLT). A good coach can help the church planter re-examine and adjust expectations as needed.

Starting with the wrong team

Building a great team is paramount in any good organization, and church multiplication is no exception. One of the big challenges for most church plants is not having the resources to hire a full staff. Instead, they settle for those who are the most available and willing, regardless of skill set or ministry heart. Don’t be discouraged! As long as you articulate a mission that is worth living for, you can recruit the right people on your team.

Starting in the wrong location

Many church plants are unable to obtain the space they really desire. They move multiple times, tear down and set up, or meet in the back of coffee shops. It can seem like they are hidden and no one knows they exist. This is recoverable when they are reaching people. Empty churches sit on the corner of Main and Broadway. When people’s lives are being transformed, they will hunt all over town to find where vital, relevant churches are meeting. People will find the place, even in the “wrong” location, that is changing lives.

Potential Fatal Messes

Starting without an outward focus

A fatal flaw of a church plant is starting without an outward focus. People quickly lose their passion when the mission is simply to do church differently rather than focusing on reaching new people and expanding the kingdom of God. Turning this group of inwardly focused people outward is doable, but often fatal.

Starting too soon

Planters often have great passion and excitement to get services started. Making disciples in your community before launching public services is crucial. If you launch too soon, momentum is lost, and people become frustrated and leave. If you are patient, and if you are making disciples and seeing lives transformed, momentum grows into the need for a public service. We need to make disciples, not services.

Two essentials to avoiding messes are a clear vision and an outward focus of making disciples. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38, NIV). These words are still true today.

I am highly encouraged by the number of risks taken and the success we are having as a movement. Across the nation over the past five years, our church plant survival rate has been increasing significantly.

This gives me great hope and shows that our church planters are avoiding the fatal flaws, and that workers continue to be sent into the harvest field. Perhaps the biggest mess we can make is not sending people.

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is the former supervisor for the historic Northwest District of The Foursquare Church.