When pastors Paul and Andi Andrew made the decision to move with their kids from Sydney to New York City to plant Liberty Church, they only knew two people in the city.
That was 2010, and just a few short years later, what started as a dream has flourished into a dynamic, growing community that is making a difference in NYC and beyond. Here are 10 lessons they learned in urban church planting while starting Liberty Church in New York City.
10 Lessons in Urban Church Planting
1. Churn. Although people tell you to expect turnover as a church plant, we discovered in New York City that it was multiplied, since millions of people move to the city just for a season of their lives. It was our biggest surprise, and as many as 30 percent of our core members left last year not because they didn’t love Liberty Church but because they were moving to another city.
Here is an example of a common question I receive:
My church is not growing. People come, but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should, but they do not stay. Any thoughts, please?
I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time, I know they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.
Based on research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every 10 churches in America are growing at a slower pace than their communities—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.
Through the feedback I’ve received on my blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90 percent that are not growing into ones like the 10 percent that are.
Recently, Leadership Journal interviewed me about social media, publishing it under the headline: “Not Tweeting? Repent!" So, in light of the fact that I basically called pastors sinners for not being on Twitter, I thought I should share some tips for getting started in social media.
One of the reasons why Saddleback Church has grown over the years is because we have maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When there is a church that loves, it attracts people like a magnet.
When a church really loves, really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you’d have to lock the doors to keep people out. Because Saddleback is a loving church, we continue to reach out and we continue to grow.
Growth is automatic. All living things grow, and if a church is alive and living, it will grow naturally. The question, if a church isn’t growing, is, “What is keeping it from growing?” If you remove the barriers to growth in your ministry or in the church as a whole, it will automatically grow.
Discipleship is cycling to the top as a priority for many pastors. Many churches are trying to change their culture to one of making disciples. But how would you actually implement a change of that magnitude—especially on a sustainable basis?
I’m a men’s discipleship specialist, but what we’ve learned working with 35,000 churches also applies to discipleship in general. What follows is a plan I shared with a pastor recently. Of course, you can adapt this in many ways:
Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. My thought is to keep the plan as focused on discipleship and as simple as possible. The following represents a plan to help each person understand and implement discipleship for themselves and others in three ways (salvation=call, growth=equip, service=send).
One of the best ways to grow is by hearing critiques about yourself from peers and mentors in relationships you trust. But not all criticism is constructive, and even when it is, it can still be hard to receive.
How you do you know which criticism should be taken to heart and which should be dismissed? And how do you respond to each in a way that promotes growth?
I think there are three things to remember when it comes to dealing with criticism in your life.
Discipleship has become quite the buzzword. Books, conferences and writings abound on the topic. Most churches understand the need for discipleship but many are struggling to create effective discipleship strategies. Here are 5 reasons why your discipleship strategy may be stuck:
1. You Don’t Actually Have a Strategy. Most churches claim to have a discipleship strategy. Midweek meetings, Sunday school classes, small groups and other gatherings are frequently mentioned when asked to describe the strategy. Meetings don’t entail a strategy. Churches need a discipleship plan that encompasses everything they do based on their congregation’s specific biblical needs. Leadership teams should ask, “What will it take for our people to take the next steps toward maturity in Christ?” A specific plan should be created based on the answer to this question.
In article in a 1972 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, the Rev. Billy Graham was quoted as saying, “The vast majority of American young people are still alienated, uncommitted, and uninvolved. There is a deep vacuum within them. They are searching for individual identity. They are searching for a challenge and a faith. Whoever captures the imagination of the youth of our generation will change the world. Youth movement of the past have been perverted and led by dictators and demagogues. Perhaps the American young people will be captured by Christ.”
Rev. Graham hit it on the head. He did not go into great detail about the symptoms of the youth crisis. He did not detail the issues of pornography, suicide, depression, self-injury and hopelessness, but he did highlight the core issue. He reminded us that their problems are spiritual in nature.
As president of the ministry my dad, Jimmy Evans, founded, I’ve been serving him for almost a decade. This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of MarriageToday, so I’ve been along for a good portion of the ride. From day one, MarriageToday has always focused on equipping the local church to succeed in the area of marriage. My dad, who has been a pastor for 30 years, frequently says, “The local church is the hope of the world.”
We sincerely believe that. We see our broadcast ministry as the “Air Force” in the battle to save marriage and the local church as the “Army,” with its massive supply of ground troops. We absolutely know that we can’t win this war without strategizing with each other.
The rise of the Internet, new media and mobile technology has ushered church communications into a new digital era. As a result, churches have worked hard to create a flawless user experience, engaged social networks and search engine-optimized websites. But while churches are working hard to keep up with the changing digital culture and reach emerging generations, I fear we’ve left behind a large group of people.
Meet the “unplugged.”
Myth: The unplugged are all senior citizens.
Truth:The unplugged are not just those eligible for the AARP. Simply put, the unplugged are those in our churches who are not regularly visiting the Internet or socially engaged online. They think Facebook is a mystery or a joke. They may have an email address, but they rarely access it. They tend to be employed in vocations that don’t require frequent computer use. To label any one age group as the unplugged is a vague generalization that dismisses the idea that everyone needs access to information despite their tech level.
So, how do we keep up our online strategies while still caring for the unplugged? Think hub and spokes. I look at communications as a bicycle: two wheels move the bicycle forward (online and offline). Just like you use Facebook, Twitter, email and other tools to bring everyone back to key points on your website, use platform announcements, signage, posters, people and other efforts to point the unplugged toward one central hub that hosts all your communication pieces.
Tips for Creating a Central Hub
Designate a central area in your church where all your communication pieces can be found (ie., an information kiosk or visitor center). If this doesn’t already exist somewhere in your space, it’s time to create one.
Determine whether the space should be staffed or stand alone by considering the pros and cons of each option.
Place the hub centrally in your space and visible from as many areas as possible.
Begin With the End in Mind
Undoubtedly, you’ve spent much time thinking through and strategically addressing your online audience. If you haven’t already, consider creating content that can translate easily from web to print. Each page on your website exists because it presents valuable information to the curious churchgoer.
Display the information found on the website on printed cards, recycling web text and adapting the information as needed for an offline audience. Remove the hyperlinks and include any titles of documents to pick up, the name of a person to contact or how to register.
For dynamic online content that changes week to week, such as calendars, blog posts, email campaigns and prayer requests, compile a stapled booklet of printed copies and make it available as a weekly or monthly touchpoint.
Maintain a Simple Event Registration Process
Keep the offline registration process simple, universal and immediate. Rather than coming up with a different way to register every time, create a one-size-fits-all system that people become familiar with, and point them to the same system for every event.
Each time you announce an event from the platform, be sure to have a universal event registration card in the seatback that can be completed and placed in the offering plate.
One church leader recently told me about a huge push they were doing for an event. They had promoted it, then set up stations in their lobby for people to sign up immediatately. A seemingly brilliant idea! The only problem was that all of their stations had MacBook Pros. People wanting to sign up kept looking for a mouse, a click button and couldn’t navigate the “two finger scroll.”
“We walked away knowing that we ‘over-teched’ the process for our audience,” he said.
Use Face Time
Never underestimate the power of a staff member’s personal invite or time spent casting vision for involvement. Communications is every staff member’s job. Full buy-in from your senior leadership is vital for the rest of the staff to jump on board.
Convince senior leaders of the need to be involved in the communications process, as well as the need to promote and use it.
Be sure they are familiar with any systems of recruitment or registration. Do this well in advance.
Craft clear objectives for weekend service conversations between staff and congregation members. Make sure they communicate volunteer needs for upcoming church-wide events, event attendance goals and other pertinent important points.
Some Final Cautions:
Don’t reinvent the wheel. The unplugged typically represent a small percentage of your overall audience. Create a simple, sustainable way for them to have access to the same information the “plugged in” do.
Avoid conflicting systems at all costs. Someone will always want to post a sign-up sheet for something, even if you’ve created a thoughtful process for collecting registrations. Conflicting systems only confuse people and weaken the system.
Remember, it takes both wheels spinning together to make the bicycle move forward, and it takes an online and offline system to move the people in your church toward the unique calling God has for them.
Jon Rogers works with numerous organizations, specializing in communications, graphic design and social media. He is a Creative Missions missionary. Adapted and used with permission from churchmarketingsucks.com.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of planting another church. In April 2011, our church-planting team and a core group of believers launched Grace Church outside of Nashville.
The methods of planting may have changed, but the motivation has stayed the same.
Needless to say, I love church planting. Yet church planting is different today than it was 25 years ago when I planted my first church in Buffalo, N.Y. We started that first church plant in Buffalo just going door to door. In other churches, we used direct mail, telemarketing campaigns and just about any other way to get the word out.
Almost any time I mention numbers related to church life, I anticipate some responses about the value of numbers and congregations. In the 1980s, this type of discussion came primarily from more liberal churches that weren’t growing.
Some of these leaders felt that declining membership and attendance were likely a sign of health. The members who really cared about the church were the ones who remained. They could make the biggest difference without the more nominal members remaining as obstacles.
I believe the most overlooked key to growing a church is this: We must love unbelievers the way Jesus did. Without His passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.
Jesus loved lost people. He loved spending time with them. He went to their parties. From the Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He was called the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). How many people would call your church that?
Jesus loved being with people and they felt it. Even little children wanted to be around Jesus, which speaks volumes about what kind of person He was and what kind of pastor He’d be. Children instinctively seem to gravitate toward loving, accepting people.
Books and seminars on leadership dominate pastoral reading. And that is good. The axiom is true that an organization or a church does not rise higher than its leader.
But do leadership and ministry equal the same thing? I do not think so. Ministry includes much more.
When I am looking for an example or prototype for ministry, I first look to Jesus. How did He minister? What kind of a minister was He? If He is the Chief Shepherd (Pastor) and I the undershepherd, what kind of pastor or minister am I to be? If I am to follow in His steps, what were His steps?
Let me lift from His ministry a brief moment that encapsulates Jesus’ pastoral concern. I do not pretend that this pericope represents the totality of truth about Jesus as our model for ministry, but I find in it three essentials that serve as an example for us.
If your church has plateaued in its growth for a while or shows signs of being unhealthy, things may need to change, and the pastor is the point person to produce positive change in any church’s culture.
Having said that, leading a church through change is difficult, and sometimes it can be detrimental if you don’t consider some important questions before starting the process.
Three aspects of change you should evaluate before shaking things up are:
Whatever your goals are for the rest of this year, I’d like to encourage you to include at least one goal that helps other churches.
Helping other churches is a multiplication strategy. If you can help someone else do what you do well, you’ve doubled your effectiveness. More importantly, Genesis 12 indicates that we are blessed to be a blessing.
Helping others has always been God’s intention for His people, particularly for leaders.
For the first 15 years, my ministry had been built on an invitation model. In essence, I was saying, “If you come to my camp, my conference, my church, or if you will read one of my books, I can share truth and hope with you.”
But in 2003, my philosophy began to change because God began to amplify the Great Commission in my heart and He began to refine my demographic.
Up until that point, I felt like because we were doing some outside-the-box events and hosting some aggressive conferences that some other churches might not have, our outreach model was effective—but even our outreach was inward. If they wouldn’t come where we were—and many would not—we had no way to reach and influence them.
A few months after we started New Song Church, I began to pray about how our little church could play a part in Jesus’ Acts 1:8 vision for the church. How could a young church like ours play a part in reaching our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world?
Fast-forward 20 years, and God has done exceedingly abundantly above what we could ask or imagine. By His grace, New Song has played a measurable part in planting 163,000 churches around the world. Those 163,000 churches have seen over 7 million come to Christ.
I recently asked myself, “How did this happen?”
What does your church do for people? Probably more than you’ve thought. Every Monday, scores of pastors are ready to walk away from ministry. It’s easy for us to forget how incredibly helpful the local church is in shaping and benefitting people’s lives. Let me encourage you about this for the next five minutes.
Last week I heard from a couple whose trajectory was completely changed by what they learned in New Song’s Financial Peace class. Today they have less debt, less tension, more hope, more discipline and more skills to apply to so many areas of their lives. I walked away thinking, “We have hundreds of families who are out of debt or on their way. Offering Financial Peace may be the greatest favor our church has ever done for people.”