Recently, Mark Sumpter (RHM – Presbytery of the Southwest) shared a story with us about an opportunity he had to learn about church planting from outside of OPC circles. Mark has a friend from Houston who is taking a church planting class at RTS Jackson. Mark was invited to tag along to a full day practicum at a new PCA church plant in Lafayette, LA. It was a very stimulating day for Mark and he shared a number of takeaways with us. This particular PCA church planter was a “means of grace” church planter which resonated with Mark from the outset of the practicum.
There are a number of interesting things to consider and compare to how we think about things currently. We pass them along not to make statements either way on the items but for consideration and discussion. We are grateful for Mark sharing his thoughts with us and pass them on to you (lightly edited for clarity):
This church plant started as a “parachute” plant—the pastor and his family moved in with no core group. After two years they have 80 people in the church.
Here are a few of Mark’s takeaways that he shared with some fellow pastors. The italicized is Mark’s paraphrase of what the church planter said:
1) How he started and what he did to meet community people
I understand that the church planting world tells us to aim for 300 new contacts each week! I, myself, probably have hit 100 in a week once or twice.
2) How he gathered the core group
I went to police stations, fire stations, school principals, counselors, city public service offices (mayor, city manager), YMCA (boys and girls clubs)… and more! My goal: listen, listen, listen…and listen some more. I asked them for referrals—others with whom I might get acquainted with our city of Lafayette. What issues are present in the city in the past 5 years, 10-15 years? Where are the religious and social dividing lines, (or maybe barriers)? What new growth do you see happening in the next 3-5 years… businesses, housing, schools, roads? From your vantage point, how have churches served this city well? How served poorly? People led me to people. We started to build a core of folks.
3) How he and his wife set up hospitality
Church planting happens in the context of hospitality. Hospitality is a team effort for your whole family. If it’s not a part of your home life now, make it a part before you enter church planting. There is a cost for your family in being hospitable. Show your wife respect and honor and give her heart-felt praise as she plays her role in your hospitality. You will have to have dozens and dozens of conversations, friendship-building time—simply times of allowing rapport, trust, and a genuine spirit of interest to be cultivated. Churches are planted on hospitality. Hospitality is the natural spill over from worship. God calls us and welcomes us. We call others and we welcome others.
4) How he is using podcasts to train people for ministry in the church
I have to think about the season of our culture. We are in and we will be in a season of lots of traffic, busy soccer schedules, and after school activities. I am preparing podcasts covering the outline of our doctrinal standards—I want our Bible study leaders, our Sunday school teachers, and others, like men’s leadership, women’s leadership, and youth leadership to get smaller bite-size lessons on sound theology. I will make up 4 or 5 review questions or thought questions to go with each lesson. I am finding I cannot meet with 2 or 3 small groups simultaneously. So I prepare these lessons and I will archive them for the future years. I (or one of my elders) will meet with these leaders and go over the review questions. Some of these meetings will be video conference or phone; some will be in their home.
5) On the matter of starting worship
I broke the rule too. What rule? We have this pressure to start worship too soon. I am an expository preacher. I am in the text of the Word and I am a sacraments man. But we are tempted to start worship too soon. We must be long on team building, team trust, and team-sharing. That takes time. I want to get to the service. But church planting requires that I stretch out as long as I possibly can the building up of the core group—we all need time to keep going over the direction of the church, priorities, and simply time to talk and try and cement our friendships. Once you pull the trigger on worship, you will be dependent on your core families and singles like never before. Do all you can to build trust, dependability, and faithfulness concerning your relationships before you start worship.
6) The necessity of prayer
It goes without saying (and I just said it!)…John 15:5 is our badge. Pray and pray. And then pray. Did I say pray?
Thanks, Mark for giving us a helpful example of learning from those outside our circles and using it to stimulate your fellow pastors in the southwest. We are glad to extend the conversation to our readers.
What stands out to you? What’s something positive that you could take away from Mark’s notes that make you think about how you are approaching church planting in your church or presbytery? If you are not a church planter (which is most of you reading this), how might something in these thoughts encourage you about seeing your church reach people in your town or city and being a part of that work?