Church Planting Guide for Beginners
Starting a new church or ministry is one of the most rewarding and fruitful things you can do to advance the kingdom, but it can also be very challenging. After planting multiple churches and youth outreach centers, I can tell you from experience that you will need all the information and support you can get.
There’s always a need for good Bible-teaching churches (Matthew 9:36-38; John 9:4; 4:35), especially since each church plant will reach a unique group of people. Your ministry will draw people other churches can’t or won’t. Remember, it’s the church that is to come against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). If you feel the Lord is leading you to start a new church, rest assured there’s probably a need only your ministry can meet.
Are you called to start a new church? Starting a new church from scratch, with no people, is very difficult. Jesus compared it to a women going through birth pains. It can be one of the most exciting things you will ever do, but there will also be times when your faith will be tested like never before. The devil will fight you every step of the way and cause you to doubt your calling; are you doing the right thing, did you really hear from God?
If you are not called to plant a church it will be a devastating experience. However, if you are called to start a new ministry or church, you will be able to withstand the difficult beginning stages and build something that will display God’s glory in the region he has called you to (Ephesians 3:10-11 and Matthew 16:18). Remember, you have the promise that whatever is born of God overcomes (1 John 5:4 and 4:4; Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11). For further reading about the character of church planters see Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission.
Church planting requires faith. If you have been called to plant a church, you are headed for a tremendous venture of 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.” In other words, you are going to be building something out of nothing.
You simply have to step out and do it. You might get a group of people right away, but often you will have many services where you wonder if anyone will show up! This requires real faith and will determine if you are really called to plant a church. This is where both persistence and hard work pay off (Hebrews 6:11-12, Romans 12:11). If you work hard and persevere, God will help you birth a glorious church through His grace.
Church planters must have a spiritual covering. It’s very important you have a spiritual covering to help support you and your family. There will be times when you need encouragement, counsel and the strength of someone outside yourself and your family. Paul was sent out of the church at Antioch while they remained as his covering (Acts 13-14). This can be in the form of a local church that is sending you out and covering you with prayer, and/or being a part of a ministerial fellowship.
It’s also a good idea to have a small group of pastors you meet with regularly for prayer, fellowship and support. When starting a new church, both my fellowship and a group of men I met with for prayer really helped sustain me through the difficult birthing stages of the church, and through times of personal struggle and doubt.
Church planters must have a solid foundation. If your spiritual foundation isn’t strong, it will be easy for the devil to get the best of you and destroy the work God is wanting to do through you. Let me put it this way, 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 mate is supportive. It’s almost impossible to build a new church or ministry if your mate 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 mate. You not only 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. At the risk of sounding non-spiritual, you need occasional times when you get away from the church crowd so you can simply enjoy each other and grow in your relationship and intimacy.
- Spend time developing your relationship with Jesus. It’s easy to get so involved in ministry that we neglect our personal time with God. Sometimes read and study the Word simply for the enjoyment of it, not just to find a message for Sunday morning. Spend time praying and worshipping to draw nearer to Jesus, without it being motivated by the people and the ministry (Luke 10:38-42).
Getting Started: Church Planting Basics
Pray. Jesus said, “No one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first bind the strong man” (Mark 3:27). “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). No great work for God has ever been accomplished without much time in earnest prayer, and Jesus knew this truth. That’s why in the midst of many ministry opportunities Jesus “departed into a solitary place and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). If you can get others to join with you for times of corporate prayer it will help even more. Great power is released when the church comes together to pray. (Matthew 18:18-20).
Appoint a board of directors. If possible, find people (deacons, elders) from outside the church to serve on your board in the beginning. For example, you might start with a couple of pastors you know and trust, along with yourself. Authority is a lot easier to give than take back if you happen to pick the wrong person! Once your church has been in existence for six months to a year, and you have people who have proved themselves faithful to your ministry, then you can begin to appoint people from within your local body to positions of leadership (2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5).
Prepare your constitution and by-laws. The constitution and by-laws are 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. Check out our Sample Church Bylaws.
Incorporate your new church or ministry. One thing you will want to consider when starting a church or ministry is whether to incorporate with the state where your church is located. If you decide to incorporate, you will need to contact the Secretary of State to obtain the correct Articles of Incorporation forms. Incorporation is not necessary, and there is some debate over whether a church should incorporate, but we personally believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Do some research on the subject and then decide if it’s right for you and your ministry.
Obtain tax exempt or 501(c)3 status. This is what exempts your church from federal income tax and gives your supporters tax credit for their donations. Unlike federal ID and state exemption numbers, the 501(c)3 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.
Decide on a name for your church. Ask the Lord to guide you when selecting a name for your new church or ministry. It’s a good idea to try to incorporate your ministry focus into the name if possible. Try to avoid using names that are similar to the ones being used by other churches in your area. If you ask Him, God will give you just the right name for your ministry.
Find a place where your church can meet. Where should your new church or ministry be located? That is really up to you and God. If we “acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will direct our paths” (Proverbs 3:6). If you don’t already know which city or area you want to start the church in, pray over a map and then ask God where He wants you to go. We must understand we seldom know with absolute certainty which location to choose, but we must exercise faith. Paul, even after having a vision, was said to have “concluded” that God had called him to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16:10).
As for a meeting place, you can start the church in your home if you wish. There seems to be a trend toward house churches these days, and meeting in a house is an inexpensive way to get a core group together before you commit 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.
Set up a church office. In the beginning you will probably work from home. As soon as possible you should 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.
Prepare a 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 (which will give you a chance to establish the new ministry). 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.
Put together 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 just 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).
Advertise as much as possible. If you have the money to pay for newspaper, radio and/or television ads, do it. 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. Local newspapers also offer free news releases for new churches and special events. Also, the Internet is loaded with free classified ad and bulletin board sites like Craigslist, for example.
If you can raise enough money, it’s a good idea to purchase a mailing list for your area and then send out flyers or post cards. You will need to get your 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 put an outreach campaign together for you, but it can be very 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!
Find workers to help with your first church service. If you can, arrange to have ushers, greeters and children’s workers for your first service. Of course, if you don’t have a core group of people to start with it’s 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 the ground floor of a new church plant. Advertise the need for workers by putting flyers in Christian bookstores, music stores, and on free Internet sites like Craigslist.
Plan special events for your church. Special events can be a great way to stir up interest in the community, along with blessing the congregation. Use guest speakers, musicians and any other type of ministry you think will encourage your people. Be creative. Special events are a great tool for your people to use to draw new people to the church. I like using music because it seems to reach people in a way that a lot of other things won’t. Use as many different styles of music as you can. Using diverse styles of music enables you to reach different kinds of people. Make sure the people you bring in to minister are the best, and most importantly, can operate under the anointing. Your church will begin to build a reputation for bringing in quality ministries. For further reading see The Church’s Responsibility to Visiting Ministries.
Follow up on visitors and members. Follow up is extremely important. It seems it’s not practiced much anymore, but Jesus taught it (Luke 15), and Ezekiel condemned the shepherds of his day for not doing it (Ezekiel 34). If someone visits your church the first service, or even after you’ve been in existence for a while, follow up on them. Send them a personalized letter and/or email right away. Call and schedule a visit either in their home, meet them out for coffee, etc.
Also, if a member misses two or three weeks in a row someone should follow up on them. In Luke 15 Jesus states that people will fall away (Isaiah 53:6) and we should go after them. You never know what people may be going through – they could be discouraged or under spiritual attack. Let’s put personal ministry back into the church!
Don’t give up!
Remember, planting a church is not for the faint-hearted, 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 any progress, don’t give up! For further reading see Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by Church Starts.