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You ARE called to plant…Caveat #3: Is it Working?

June 29, 2012

I believe we have overspiritualized “the call” and that a lot more planters than we give credit for should plant churches.  However, there are several qualifiers to this.  This week I’m addressing 3 qualifiers.


I was in my head-to-toe pajamas, eating Domino’s pizza, sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom when my life changed forever: I met E.T.  You know, that puppet alien brought to us by Stephen Spielberg in one of the greatest films of all time.  I hung on every line E.T. said and still get chills when I see his last words: “I’ll be riiiiiiggghhht heeerrreee.”  Boom—cinematic genius! (If you haven’t seen E.T. you should be ashamed of yourself.  And no, I don’t throw Reese’s Pieces in my yard expecting E.T. to come visit me … that often.)

At the end of the movie, Elliot takes E.T. to the mountaintop to set up a communication device with his fellow puppet aliens back home.  When he gets it all set up Elliot exclaims, “It’s working!  It’s working!”  And indeed it does, because E.T.s family comes and gets him in a funny looking spaceship that paints rainbows.

As you begin the process of planting you need to ask, “Is it working?”  Before you go all-in to plant the church, take baby steps to figure out if God is telling you “no”.

When I was a little kid, my mom made me join the swim team.  I hated every second of it, and I’m not sure I’ve forgiven her yet.  But there was one horrible experience about it that wasn’t her fault at all—it was entirely mine.  It was a typical swim practice and we were swimming millions of laps.  It came my turn to dive in and somehow I got confused about what end of the pool I was in—it was the shallow end, yet I dove in as if it was deep water.  Then next thing I knew—SMACK!—my head cracked on the bottom of the pool.  I was a little dizzy and bloody—at least I did found a way to get out of practice!

I think too many church planters are like me at swim practice: we dive in for all or nothing, and sometimes they crack the bottom and come up not knowing what happened.

Take baby steps as you plant a church before you are 100% committed to see if it is working.  Jim Collins, in Great by Choice, says that great companies fire bullets, then cannonballs.  He means that in a great organization we don’t put all our eggs in one basket before we know if it will work or not.  Instead, take small steps towards the goal, and if they are working, take larger steps.

Before you argue that this means you don’t have faith or aren’t trusting God, go back to the story of Jonathan: 13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

The plan was a bullet.  Their response was another bullet.  The attack was a third bullet.  Then they launch the cannonball: 15 Then panic struck the whole [Philistine] army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.  16 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. …20 Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 21 Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. … 23 So the LORD rescued Israel that day…

Find ways to “shoot bullets” to see “is it working?”

  • Raise just a little money
  • Recruit some launch team members or staff
  • Evangelize some nonChristians to see if they buy into the vision.

If you can’t get early victories, it is likely that God is telling you “no” to church planting.  Now it could be that he’s just telling you “no” for this time or telling you “no” for the role you’re pursuing.

Even if it’s working, that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  It doesn’t mean there won’t also be some small losses along the way.  But continue to ask “Is it working?”  If it is, you’ll likely be able to launch a church effectively.

What early victories showed you your church plant was working?  What early victories do you encourage future planters to look for?
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