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Church Planters Need to be Like Kevin Kelley (part 1)

September 6, 2012

Kevin Kelley is a freak.  And I love him.

Unless you’ve read Scorecasting you’ve probably never heard of Kevin Kelley, so I’ll introduce you.  Kevin is the head football coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The methods he employs as coach has gotten this 350-person school to win 3 high school state championships in the last 8 seasons, and ranked in the top 100 high schools nationally.  So what’s his secret that has turned this tiny school into a Goliath in high school football?

Kelley’s team doesn’t kick the ball.  Ever.  No extra points, no punting, no kickoffs.  When kicking off they do an onside kick…every time.  In a recent game highlighted by Sports Illustrated they were playing a big game in front of 8,000 people, with the local news broadcasting live from the game.  What happened?  Pulaski Academy got up 29-0….before the other team touched the ball!

His fans refer to Kelley as the “mad scientist”, but really he’s perfectly rational.  See, he has run the numbers and has realized that mathematically, kicking decreases his chances at winning.  So he doesn’t do it, ever.

From Scorecasting:

According to Kelley’s statistics, when a team punts from …deep, the opponent will take possession inside the 40-yard line and, from such a favorable distance, will score a touchdown 77 percent of the time.  Meanwhile, if the fourth-down attempt is unsuccessful and the opponent recovers on downs inside the 10-yard line, it will score a touchdown 92 percent of the time.  “So [forsaking] a punt you give your offense a chance to stay on the field.  And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring a touchdown increase 15 percent.”

And that’s just the beginning.  Kelley knows the state high school stats for average 4th down conversions, average punt, average kickoff return, average yards per running and passing play, and pretty much anything else that influences whether or not you should go for it on 4th down.  And oh yeah, it’s been 2 years since one of his teams punted…and that was just because his team was up by so much he didn’t want to score.  (the irony?  The other team ran it back for a touchdown, further cementing Kelley’s belief that punting is detrimental to a high school team’s chances of winning.)

The reason I love Kevin Kelley is that he is both completely rational and completely insane at the same time.  He is rational because every decision he makes on what play to run is based on the math.  The numbers don’t lie, you can’ manipulate the data, and ultimately the numbers (on the scoreboard) determine the champion.

But he is also completely insane.  Not literally of course.  But in football, everyone knows…you have to kick sometimes.  Sometimes it’s just better to punt away or kick it off deep.

And everyone’s wrong.

I’m going to do some follow up to this post with a couple specific ways that church planters need to be like Kevin Kelley.


Why this Blog?

August 30, 2012

There are not enough resources for church planting.

The reason I say this is because I didn’t think I should start a church.  Maybe a better way to say it is: I didn’t think I could start a church…at least one that wouldn’t crash and burn.  I had gone to Bible College, I had worked in a new church for several years, and I had a passion for the lost.  I had experience, passion, gifts, knowledge, but there was one thing that kept me doubting the idea that I should plant a church.

The problem is that all the resources on church planting spoke to people who aren’t like me.

Before we planted I read every book, listened to every seminar, and attended every conference I could.  I was determined that if our church did fail, it wouldn’t be for lack of knowledge.  But everywhere I turned—literally, everywhere—these church planting resources seemed to be tailored to a certain person.  Remeber the image da Vinci came up with that is supposed to be the ideal man?  It seemed I was reading about the ideal church planter.  That “ideal church planter” was extraverted, the life of the party, drew a crowd wherever he went, and sounded like he could sell air and become a multimillionaire.


We used the resources, we employed the coaching and we did the assessments.  But as our church has grown from my family of three to 443 this Easter I have realized that it’s not that those other resources are bad; but they are incomplete.

Recent research has shown that 50% of church planters have the exact same DiSC profile.  This is who the typical church planting resources speak to.  But 50% of church planters have random DiSC profiles of how they think, act, and respond.  There are no great resources for these people.  By not resourcing these people we are hurting the kingdom, limiting their impact, and at the end of the day letting people go to hell because we aren’t planting more churches.

I began to think of the way we planted as contrarian.  It’s not that we re-invented church.  But we didn’t fit the mold of what seems to be the typical church plant.  And it’s worked.  So I want to equip the 50% of church planters who feel like they don’t have the resources available to accomplish the vision God has placed inside of them.  Through this blog and eventual book I hope to encourage other people like me to plant churches, lift up the name of Jesus, and rescue people with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Don’t be Different for Different’s Sake (part 2)

August 23, 2012

My last post was on not being different for different’s sake.  This is the follow-up to that. See, the Contrarian Church Planter does whatever will best reach people, whether it’s been done that way before or not.

I think if David was a church planter he would’ve fit this description.  David as we know was a man after God’s own heart.  But David was himself.  He wrote much of my favorite Scriptures, the Psalms.  Recently I read Psalm 59 again and I know I’ve read it before but I must have scanned it too quickly because I never picked up on something until recently.  The first part of this Psalm he praises God and explains that people are trying to assassinate him.  In verse 11 he asks God not to kill his enemies and I’m thinking, “That’s nice of David, because Jesus later says to love your enemies and David is asking God not to kill these people who are trying to kill him.”  Wrong.  Because David proceeds to explain: God, I want you to keep them alive so you can torture them and cause them as much pain as you possibly can, all in view of as many people as possible—just to show what happens when people oppose the righteous.  In fact, God, can you go Jack Bauer on them and electrocute them, pluck out their eyebrows one by one, shoot them in areas that won’t kill them, and take them just to the brink of death so they can suffer. (That’s my translation.  But read it for yourself and you’ll my translation is quite accurate!)

We read this and think, “Holy crap!  David needs to lighten up!  show a little grace, man!”  But consider: maybe the reason David was a man after God’s heart wasn’t because he was perfect, as he obviously wasn’t. Maybe the reason God loved David’s heart is that it was completely honest and open before God.

See, David, wasn’t concerned with doing things the right way.  He just wanted to pursue God whatever it looked like, being completely open and honest.  As church planters we could learn something from his authenticity and genuineness.

Don’t be Different for Different’s Sake

August 20, 2012

The Conventional Practice of church planters is to do it like it’s never been done before.  We see this in our names, our strategy, even how we offend people. Sometimes this is good.

But sometimes this is a problem.

Have you ever heard of the Me Monster?  Comedian Brian Regan talks about the Me Monster, how if you’re at a dinner party there’s always someone ready to story-top you.  Regan says he made the mistake once of mentioning he got 2 wisdom teeth taken out.  But as soon as he finished someone interrupted, “That ain’t nuthin!”  and he proceeded to tell about how he had 4 wisdom teeth taken out, and they were impacted, and the roots were like trees, wrapped around their jawbone.  Regan recommends, “Never tell a 2-wisdom teeth tale.”  Then he adds, “That’s why I’d like to be one of the 11 men who have walked on the moon.  Because you can just sit back and let all the Me Monsters tell their stories about how great they are…and you just casually add between bites, “yeah, well….I walked on the moon.”  Boom!  Ain’t nobody gonna top that one!

As church planters we must beware of the Me Monster, of wanting to make a name for ourselves because we know how to do it like it’s never been done before.

Have you ever heard someone give an awkward testimony?  I don’t mean awkward because they’re not good at sharing in public; I’m referring to the person who is telling about how they came to Christ, but as they go into detail about the sin Christ saved them from, you’re not sure if they are really repentant, because it sounds like they would love to go back to that sin at a moment’s notice?   With testimonies, there is a fine line between being proud of your sin and being proud of the one who saved you from sin.

Similarly, in church planting there is a fine line between being different to reach new people with the Gospel, and being different for deferent’s sake. See, a lot of church planters saw a church that was ineffective because it used the deadly phrase, “We’ve never done it that way before.” That phrase is uttered by churches on a hamster-wheel-death-march to obscurity and irrelevance.  So the church planter’s temptation is to do the opposite: to say, “We’ve never done it that way before…so we must do it that way!”

New Blog Schedule

August 19, 2012

Just a quick head’s up that I’ve been trying to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  But I’m scaling that back to Mondays and Thursdays, with an occasional extra post throw in for fun.

Contrarian Resource #4: Vault Conference

August 17, 2012

How do you plant a church for people who don’t like church?

That’s what the Vault Conference is all about. Vault is put on by my friend and mentor Vince Antonucci in Las Vegas.  I had the privilege of working for Vince for 4 years at the last church he started, Forefront Church in Virginia Beach.  Since then Vince has started Verve in Las Vegas.

A lot of how I think about church planting is because of Vince’s influence.  So while I have not attended Vault, I think working with Vince for 4 years was quite sufficient to know that Vault is something you don’t want to miss. (Besides, it’s in Las Vegas!  If the conference stinks, you can take the money you’ve fundraised to the Blackjack table and see if God has a contrarian fundraising plan for you!)

You can read some big Vault announcements on Vince’s blog here.  Sign up today!


Is it Possible to Dream TOO Big?

August 15, 2012

Precursor: To be honest I’m not 100% sure of this post.  However, it’s something I’m working through and would love your thoughts…

I don’t remember too much about 4th grade.  I remember I loved to play kickball.  I remember one time I smarted off to my teacher and she pulled me into the hallway and chewed me out.  But one thing that is crystal clear in my mind is the Garfield poster on the wall.  It was I guess the 4th grade equivalent to those motivational posters in executives offices in the 90s.  it had a picture of Garfield grinning at you like he’d just eaten an entire lasagna, and underneath it said, “Aim for the stars…because if you miss you’ll still land on the moon.”

I guess it was supposed to be motivational, but it just left me wondering, “Why does Garfield eat lasagna anyway?  He’s a cat!”


The conventional wisdom in church planting says that you have to dream big, have a big vision, dream the impossible.  Having a crystal clear vision of the future is essential to successful church planting, we are told.  We even see this confirmed in business books that are helpful for church planters.  Have a BHAG.  Cast a compelling vision.  And on and on and on.

All of that’s fine, but here is my contention: we need to dream small.  So many church planters have a big vision of changing an entire city or of planting 1000 daughter churches or of planting a church that will grow to 6000 people.  I think we need to dream a lot smaller than that.

Wait a second you say.  What about Martin Luther King Jr?  What about sending a man to the moon?  What about pioneers who started what are now world-changing churches?  Didn’t they have dreams that were so huge?  Yes, they absolutely did.  But 2 things we need to realize about big visions:

First, those things were already visible.  They weren’t visions that were out of nowhere.  Kennedy wasn’t telling a 3rd world country to shoot for the moon; we were already in the space race, he just took the next step.

Second, launching a church is the big vision! 1 in 3 churches fails within 4 years.  After 1 year 70% of small businesses are still alive, and 50% after 5 years.  If your goal is to launch a sustainable church, period, that is your big vision.  Church planters get in trouble when we stack big vision on top of big vision.

I think it’s better to dream small for 3 reasons:

  • It sets you up for reality.  1 in 3 church plants fail, and that is the most generous number I’ve found.  So just launching a church that lasts is a huge goal.  Most churches in our country are under 200 people.
  • It enables you to praise God for going big.  If your vision is a 6000 person church you aim to become one of the .01% of largest churches in America.  If that’s your vision you won’t ever be able to thank God for what he’s achieving at your church because it’s smaller than your dream.   By dreaming small you are able to thank God.
  • This way you don’t overpromise and underdeliver.  You gain credibility as a leader, so people will follow you.  We have all seen leaders who overpromise and underdeliver—we call them bad salesmen.
So what do you think?  Do you see church planters sometimes dreaming TOO big?