I often hear about new church plants in the city, and I remember a plant I visited in the East Village that unfortunately only lasted about a year and a half. The planter had recently moved from the midwest and had only been in the city for a few months before launching a weekly worship service. They had a great theater space, and I went to their launch service. As I listened to the sermon, it was clear that something was “off” about it. The bulk of it was a story of the planter and his wife when they first visited New York City. They had a powerful conversation with a homeless woman on the train whose faith amazed them, and it gave them a desire to plant the church. As he told the story, it was like he had never seen a homeless person before. If you live in NYC, you know that it’s almost a daily experience. It quickly became apparent that this planter had moved to New York, but his cultural context had not.
Usually I am not a big fan of the dumbo-drop of a church planter into a new context with a short timeline for starting a church. I’m not saying that some planters shouldn’t do it or won’t be successful. I’m just saying I’m not a huge fan.
When you think about it, here is a general expectation often put upon church planters:
1) Raise about $1 million (for an urban setting in a 3-5 year plan toward financial independence. This usually includes talking to everyone you’ve ever met, family, friends, churches and asking them for money – no pressure if the church plant fails)
2) Move to a new city (moving is always stressful; and it’s more difficult when moving to a urban setting; it’s even more difficult if you have children)
3) Live in a new culture (many planters I’m familiar with are from the midwest & move to a city to plant. The scope of learning a new culture can be underestimated, since we’re still in the United States. But if a missionary is going overseas, we assume that they will have to spend some time leaning the culture)
4) Start a new organization from the ground up (find office space/work from home, hire staff, purchase equipment, build functional systems, build teams, develop leaders, make a discipleship plan etc.)
5) Launch weekly worship services, weekly small groups, and service opportunities (all three of these by themselves are more difficult in an urban setting and a suburban one. Finding a meeting space is always a struggle. Storage and transportation is a constant issue. Don’t even get me started on the cost of all these things. People also have smaller homes/apartments).
So, here’s my plea: slow down. Spend time just getting to know the culture. Don’t multitask. Learn the culture first and then plant the church. If you try to do both at the same time, both could suffer. It might mean waiting a year or two before you start the process of planting. You may have to get a job outside of church, or be on staff at an established church in the city. It will take humility and patience. My experience was being an intern for 3 years before being on staff at a church in NYC. However, when I was hired, my NYC experience was a huge asset (to ready more about my story, click here). Here are a couple examples I know of others who have done this:
Chris Travis moved to NYC and taught middle school math at a public school for two years before starting Everyday Church.
Recently I’ve been hearing about more and more churches that are equipping planters by allowing them to be “church planters in residence.” I hope this trend continues and grows.
Were you a planter that moved to a new city to plant a church? What was your experience?