Church Planting Guide for Beginners
Planting a church is one of the most rewarding things you can do to advance the kingdom, but it can also be very challenging. After starting multiple churches and youth outreach centers, I can tell you from experience you will need all the information and support you can get.
Why start a church from scratch? Although church buildings of all sizes sit on many street corners in the United States and beyond, there’s always a need for new places of worship. Whether a lofty cathedral or a dusty barn, each church reaches a unique group of people that existing ministries can’t. If you feel the Lord leading you to start a church, there’s probably a need only your ministry can meet.
If you’re starting a church from scratch with no support the process will obviously be a lot more difficult. Jesus compared it to a women going through birth pains. Your faith will be tested like never before as the enemy finds new ways to get you to doubt your calling. Are you doing the right thing? Did you really hear from God?
If you’re not called to start a church it will be a devastating experience. If you are called, you will be able to withstand the difficult beginning stages and build something that will display God’s glory in the region. Remember, 1 John 5:4 tells us whatever is born of God overcomes. To learn more about the character of church planters read Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission.
Do you Have a Solid Foundation?
If your spiritual foundation isn’t solid it will be easy for the enemy to destroy the work God is wanting to do through you. Make sure your marriage and relationship with God are strong before you start any ministry. Here are a few things to consider:
- Make sure your spouse is supportive. It’s almost impossible to build a new church or ministry if your spouse isn’t behind you. It’s very difficult for others to get behind your vision if your mate isn’t. We’ve seen many churches destroyed because the wife or husband of the ministry leader didn’t really want to be part of it. Be honest with each other before launching out into the deep!
- Set apart time for you and your mate. If you have children, you need regular time with them as well, but you can’t be all that you need to be for your kids or the church if things aren’t good between you and your spouse. You need time to pray, worship and study the Word together, but you also need time to enjoy each other and just have fun. Plan a weekly date night and periodic times when you get away overnight without the kids. You also need some time away from the church crowd so you can enjoy each other and grow in your relationship and intimacy.
- Spend time developing your relationship with God. It’s easy to get so involved in ministry that we neglect our personal time with God. Sometimes read and study the Bible for the enjoyment of it, not just to find a message for Sunday morning. Spend time praying and worshipping without it being motivated by ministry (Luke 10:38-42).
The Power of Prayer
No great work for God will ever be accomplished without spending time in prayer (Mark 3:27, 2 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus knew this truth and in the midst of many ministry opportunities He “departed into a solitary place and prayed” (Mark 1:35). Getting others to join with you in corporate prayer will help even more. Great power is released when the church comes together to pray (Matthew 18:18-20).
Church Planting and Faith
Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of the things that are visible.” If you’ve been called to start a church, you will be building something out of nothing. You may have services where you wonder if anyone will show up. This requires faith and will determine if you have what it takes to plant a church. That said, if you work hard and persevere, God will help you birth a glorious church through His grace.
There will also be times when you need encouragement and counsel from someone outside your family and congregation. Paul was sent out of the church at Antioch while they remained as his covering (Acts 13-14). It can be a pastor, local church or ministerial fellowship. It’s also a good idea to have a group of pastors you meet with regularly for prayer and fellowship. When starting a new church, my fellowship and a group of men I met with for prayer helped sustain me through the difficult birthing stages of the church and times of personal struggle and doubt.
Naming the Church
Ask the Lord to guide you when selecting a name for your new church. It’s a good idea to incorporate your ministry focus into the name if possible. Try to avoid using names that are similar to ones being used by other churches in your area. If you ask Him, God will give you just the right name for your ministry.
Appointing a Board of Directors
In the beginning find people from outside your church to serve as board members. For example, you might start with a few local pastors you know and trust. Authority is a lot easier to give than take back if you pick the wrong person. Once your church has been in existence for six months to a year appoint people from within your local body to positions of leadership (2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 1:5).
Constitution and Bylaws
Church constitution and by-laws are the governing documents for your ministry. You will need to prepare these right away and be sure to include a statement of faith. If possible, get a few samples from other churches or ministerial fellowships to use as a starting point.
Incorporating and 501(c)3 Status
If you decide to incorporate, you will need to obtain the correct forms from the Secretary of State where you are starting the church. Incorporation is not necessary, and there is some debate over whether a church should incorporate, but we personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Research the subject and decide if it’s right for your ministry.
501(c)3 status exempts your church from federal income tax and gives your supporters tax credit for their donations. Unlike federal ID and state exemption numbers, 501(c)3 status is more difficult to obtain and requires a fairly expensive application fee. Before you can apply for federal tax exemption, you will have to prove your church has been in existence for a period of time. It’s usually best to get an attorney to help with this if you can afford one.
If possible, have another church or fellowship cover your ministry for the first year or so while you use their exemption status. After you’ve been in existence for a while, apply for your own letter of exemption. Once again, there is some debate over whether a church should obtain tax exempt status, but we personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Each church must decide if 501(c)3 status is right for them.
Finding a Place to Meet
If you don’t already know which city or area you want to start the church in, pray over a map and ask God where He wants you to go. If we “acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will direct our paths” (Proverbs 3:6). We seldom know with absolute certainty which location to choose, but we must exercise faith. Paul, even after having a vision, “concluded” that God had called him to preach in Macedonia (Acts 16:10).
Temporarily meeting in a house is an inexpensive way to put a core group together before committing to a permanent location. Another alternative is to rent a hotel room or banquet hall. Hotels will typically allow you pay by the week or service and will usually offer a discount if you meet every week. If you have the funds you can rent a retail, office or warehouse space.
Setting up a Church Office
In the beginning you will probably work from home. As soon as possible lease an office space until you find a permanent meeting place for the church. Try to set regular office hours so people will know where and when they can contact you. Buy or borrow a computer if you don’t already have one, then design your stationary, business cards and flyers for the opening service. Also, make sure you have a local phone number (a cell phone can be used for this) and a post office box.
Ministry Support Letter
Finances are typically limited when planting a new church. It’s sad to say, but the more money you have the better your chances of getting a good start. Unless you have a group of people who are willing to support the ministry financially, you will have to raise funds. Sit down with your spouse and/or core group and make a list of every church you are familiar with, along with every individual believer and couple you know. Once you’ve put together your mailing list, write the first draft of your support letter.
Make sure the support letter is both professional and personal. Let your potential supporters know you would appreciate any help they can offer, and that God will bless them for their generosity. Suggest they give a one time gift to help you get started, and/or a monthly commitment of support for six months. Pray over the letter and mail it out. Call the people on your mailing list to let them know the letter is coming and also to explain your vision. Be bold! Remember, you are building something great for God.
Building a Core Group
If you are planting a new church in an area you are familiar with, make a list of anyone you think might be interested in being part of your new ministry. Write, call and visit them. Share your vision with them and challenge them to get behind it. Be positive and excited. However, be careful about soliciting people who are already committed to another church. If you can get just a few people who are even remotely interested, set up an organizational meeting.
At the organizational meeting pray, allow them to get to know one another, and make plans for your first service. Don’t be discouraged if no one seems to get behind your vision. Often God wants you to take leadership and just start, exercising your apostolic authority. I have never had the luxury of planting a church with a core group of people. Even if it’s only you and your family, you can go on to build a strong work. It will take time, hard work, persistence, prayer, and determination. Regardless of who you have with you, proceed with faith that God will do what you are believing Him for (Romans 4:18-21).
If you have the funds buy newspaper, radio and/or television ads. Most people don’t have very much money when starting a new church. If that’s the case, tap into any free publicity you can get. Most Christian radio and television stations offer free church news or public service announcements. Also, take advantage of free classified ad and bulletin board websites.
If you can raise enough money, it’s a good idea to purchase a mailing list for your area and send out flyers or post cards. You will need to obtain a bulk mailing permit from the post office, which will greatly reduce the cost of your mailing. Give yourself plenty of time before you do the mailing to apply for your permit. There are also companies that will develop an outreach campaign for you, but it can be costly. Years ago we did a mailing by purchasing a list of addresses and printing 6,000 post cards on our personal printer. We saved money, but we put in many hours of hard labor!
If possible arrange to have ushers, greeters and children’s workers for your first service. Obviously, if you don’t have a core group of people it will be a little more difficult. You will also need some type of worship, but having a full worship team from the beginning isn’t always possible. Take advantage of the advertising ideas listed above to also solicit people who might want to be involved in a new church plant.
Planning Special Events
Having special events is a great way to stir up interest and bless the congregation. Use guest speakers, musicians and other ministries that will encourage your people and the community. Blending diverse styles and ministry focus enables you to reach different age groups and types of people. Make sure the ministries are first class and can operate under the anointing. If you do, your church will build a reputation for bringing in anointed, talented ministries, teachers and music groups.
Contacting Visitors and Members
Follow up is extremely important. Jesus taught it in Luke 15 and Ezekiel condemned the shepherds of his day for not doing it in Ezekiel 34. Follow up on everyone who visits your church. Send them a personalized letter or email right away. Call and schedule a visit in their home, meet them out for coffee, etc. Also, if a member misses two or three weeks in a row someone should contact them. In Luke 15 Jesus states that people will fall away and we should go after them. You never know what people may be going through. They may be discouraged or under spiritual attack. Let’s put personal ministry back into the church.
Never Give Up!
Planting a church is not for the faint of heart, but it is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do to advance the kingdom. Even when it seems like you’re not making progress, don’t give up! For more information about starting a church read Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by Church Starts.