Are you a Church Planting Failure?

In the business world, it is both known and expected that entrepreneurs often repeatedly fail on the way to success. In the Church planting world, failure seems to suck the soul out of the church planter. I know of many church plants that have not survived. I have personally helped to shut down several church plants. And I have never seen a more beaten group of men than those who don’t survive church planting. Church planters, whose churches do not survive, often feel like complete failures and fear that they might never be effective again in ministry leadership. But this is not the truth.  Do you feel like a failure because the church you planted did not survive? Consider these words of advice:

Church Planting Failure

1.  Stop taking all of the credit for the Church Plant’s demise.

There are a lot of reasons that church plants don’t survive. When a church plant is successful, it is often the culmination of several things that come together at the same time. Sure, You made a lot of mistakes. But I have never met a church planter who has not made a lot of mistakes. Some of the most successful church plants have leaders who have made dozens of mistakes, and yet the church has still thrived. You didn’t single-handedly kill the church with your lack of giftedness or your leadership missteps.

2.  Your Church Planting experience is exactly what God had for you.

God’s definition of success and mine often don’t match. God’s plan for you did not include you being the next mega-church pastor. But God’s plan for you was exactly what happened in your church planting experience.

3.  Consider the lives of the people who were changed along your temporary church planting journey.

Is a “failed” church plant really a failure? Perhaps the way that we define success is all wrong.  Consider making a list of all of the people whose lives were changed as you attempted to plant the church. Is it not success that God used you to work in the life change for these people?

4.  Reflect on all of the things that you learned through your church planting experience.

It is likely that one of the greatest learning experiences of your life was your church planting journey. Make a list of all of the things that you learned along the way. What did God do in your life? In your marriage? In your leadership? How might God use these life lessons in your future ministry? Perhaps success for you has more to do with how God grew you than the church plant surviving.

5.  Your identity is not found in whether or not the Church plant survived.

Your identity is not “Church Planter.” You are a son of God, chosen before time, adopted into God’s family, with all of the rights of eternal inheritance. (Ephesians 1) You may be a husband and a father. You are not a failure. Your true identity has not suffered because your church plant didn’t survive.

6.  Your Church Planting experience is not the totality of or the end of your ministry fruitfulness.

I meet many men whose church plants have not survived that forget how effective they were in ministry prior to their church planting experience.  With this experience behind you, how much more can God use you having completed this amazing church plating journey.  You have not been thrown out in the trash. You have not been set on the shelf. You are exactly where God wants you. He has gifted you and will use you if you are willing. So find a church and use your gifts!

7.  Failure is not a permanent condition.  So pick yourself up and get going again.

Entrepreneurs know this.  Church planters need to know it as well.

 

What would you add to this list?  Feel free to comment!

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. Brian, ‘so glad you had the insight to provide commentary on this topic. So often, failed church plants are not only an exhausting experience, it leaves one with an attitude of “Well, I won’t do that again” – referencing the extent of the pain that goes with the experience. Your insights normalize the “failure” experience and corrects any perspective about success or failure. It’s God that takes the credit for success or what I call “a character-building experience” (or failure if you choose to think of it this way). I have joined with other pastors and have not succeeded at a church plant and it IS painful. That’s because in some ways it feels like a divorce from multiple people and families. When the church plant is ultimately dissolved, you say goodbye to many special friends and sometimes there is even blame going around, which doesn’t contribute to healing process. I always say that my experience was what God intended to move people (including me) in His direction and lead them to His ultimate will/providence for their lives, regardless of the failure or success of the church plant – as you state in #2 = “exactly what God had planned for you”. I can think of a lot of pastors and church planters who need to read this and share with you in your insights. Thanks again for your wisdom and for taking the initiative to share it.

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  2. great post! so encouraging and uplifting.

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  3. Thanks, Brian. Very encouraging.

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  4. -Our sense of personal failure is proportional to how much we think we are responsible had we been “successful”… This reveals the dangerous potential for the secret seed of pride to exist in those “planters” who are appear to be successful…

    – Here is the crux of all church planting dilemmas… If we would stop making our focus about “planting” churches rather than the biblical mandate to make disciples of Jesus, then no body would ever feel like failures. Jesus said He would build His church. Our mandate is to proclaim the Kingdom through incarnational witness and making disciples of Jesus. Reproducing what we know of as churches does not guarantee the making of disciples. Reproducing Spirit led disciples of Jesus Christ will bear the fruit of Christ’s Body being increased (birthing of new organic Bodies). When I was young I remember church leaders confessing that emphasizing and counting baptisms was a misguided way to look at church growth. That’s now happening with the church planting craze of our day. As long as we make our focus about church planting, we will be pushing carts with horses.
    It is the job/task/priestly-mandate of every follower of Jesus (disciple) to make disciples of Jesus. When we believe and teach that planting churches is the most effective way of growing the church, we’ve limited the effectiveness of Christ’s entire Body down to the professional and educated elite. Paul makes it clear the the offices/roles given to the Body are for equipping the saints to do three work of the Body, and that is not focusing on planting more churches, it’s making disciples.
    Traditionally more church meetings in more church facilities in more locations meant more chances to attract more lost in “get them saved”… But after that there is effectively no discipleship. Simply put, planting churches ≠ discipleship. Our focus must be on what Jesus mandated and trust His Spirit to build His church, and let it look like what He makes it.
    My heart breaks for people who’ve poured there sweat and tears into focusing on planting churches and “failed”, most having never really been discipled themselves. I have many dear friends in the US and around the world who have been hurt deeply by well meaning but misguided leaders and popular trends by focusing on planting churches rather than obeying our Lords simple commission. Some of them are like the ones addressed in your post, some of them have been damaged and wounded by what appears to have been their “success “…

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    1. Good post Brian, with helpful additional comments Guy.

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  5. Thanks for writing this, Brian. I experienced a lot of these feelings of failure and hopelessness when my third plant failed. I dealt with a lot of internal guilt and I had to live with a the voice of other leaders around me who were criticizing what they didn’t understand. This was a lot to bear. Closing my church plant was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through for many of the reasons you share. God has surprised me, though, because I’ve been able to enjoy a fruitful ministry since then and have been able to help a lot of other planters, now, as a result of that experience. I’m actually glad (now) that I was able to go through that because it has enabled so many others to succeed and persevere. Thanks for the encouragement.

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    1. Thanks for weighing in, John!

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  6. Great thoughts but on a practical level, the very leaders above us who would say these things to us will never hire us again or recommend hiring us because we failed. It’s a strange oxymoronic thing.

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    1. Marie, I do not see it this way at all. I often look to hire and recommend those who have “failed” at church planting. There is hope!

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