3 Secrets I've Learned From 30 Years of Church Planting

Thirty years of church planting can teach you a lot of hard lessons.
Thirty years of church planting can teach you a lot of hard lessons. (iStock photo )

It's been 30 years since I planted my first church, and I've learned a lot since then. I wrote my first book on church planting; I've worked denominationally in church planting; I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on church planting; I've consulted with a lot of other denominations and networks in church planting; and now I'm leading NewChurches.com—a resource for church planters and multipliers—alongside Daniel Im.

The fact is, I love church planters and I love church planting. That's why I want to share with you a few of the secrets that I've learned from my 30 years of experience. They have proven to be true across denominational traditions, so my hope is that these secrets will prevent unnecessary heartache and help you in your journey of planting and multiplying.

1. Evangelism is more important than administration until administration is needed for evangelism. The reality is you can plant a church in the western world today without sharing the gospel in a way that is transformative. In other words, many pastors have learned administrative skills that have resulted in successful congregational metrics. You may know how to structure a teaching series or the way a congregation worships, but not know how to evangelize a church into existence. To evangelize a church into existence, you need to start by planting the gospel through evangelism, which leads to disciple-making, which then leads to congregational formation—this is by far the healthier way to go about planting churches.

2. Failure is overstated, but most failure comes from personal issues. After decades of observing church planters, I've seen failure over and over again. You may have heard someone say that 80 percent of church plants fail in the first year—well, that's wrong; it's misinformation. I've talked with the people who came up with the statistic, and they know it's wrong and they don't even use it anymore.

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What we discovered though is most failed church plants are related to personal issues. The stress cracks in many marriages—already present before planting—tend to be magnified after planting. I've learned that you have to manage yourself, pastor your family, and prioritize the personal things in order to avoid failure.

Other personal issues can include an inability to manage money, anger issues, adultery, Internet porn, and ignoring one's kids. The list is endless, but each one is a prospective ministry killer.

3. Conferences can inspire and undermine you at the same time. Great stories at conferences are inspirational, but whenever you hear those great stories the temptation is to think that they're normal. So the next time you go to a conference, please don't compare yourself to those outliers that planted and grew their church to 6000 people in three years. The normal experience in church planting is under 100 people in attendance the first four years. Remember this: church planting is a long hard slog that leads to some beautiful and wonderful results—just don't let conferences become illusions that distract you from the real and wonderful thing.

Essential Church Planting Course

Because I love church planters and church planting so much, Daniel and I recently brought together church planting practitioners and developed a course to help you plant and multiply. It's called Essential Church Planting.

I can't tell you how many times I've met people who have gone and planted churches without taking courses on it or reading books on it. It's absolutely bizarre and absurd. Would you wire a house without having or obtaining knowledge of electricity, building codes and structural soundness? This is a word for someone who would do such a thing, and it isn't a nice one. So why, on such a crucial matter as planting a church, would someone choose to remain unlearned?


Instead, go to Essential Church Planting and get the first three sessions—taught by yours truly–absolutely for free, handouts and all. I think you'll be encouraged:

  • Module 1: The Secrets I've Learned from 30 Years of Church Planting
  • Module 2: The 5 Things Every Church Planter Needs to Know
  • Module 3: Church Planting Autopsies: Lessons from Failed Church Planters

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.

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