Unexpected Lessons in Church Planting

I get asked about church planting a lot, which is funny since I planted a church over 20 years ago… when I was 23 years old. The term Church Planter seems to infer more than one… I was done at one; succeed or fail, one church was it for me.  

Cape Cod Church has been a blessed story. After five years of meeting in an office space with a handful of people we were able to purchase our first small property (with the help of an army of churches from the BBFI). As the years passed we expanded, added services, parking lots and people. In April of this year we completed a five year relocation plan, celebrating in our new facilities with nearly 1,400 people what was in many ways the culmination of a dream God had put in our hearts. In the six months since the opening of our new facility we have welcomed nearly 2,000 visitors, seen over 200 people commit their lives to Christ and begun to lay the foundation for what we are praying God will do over the next 20 years.

This is a good moment to step back and reflect on what I have learned about church, church planting, and reaching the un-churched in a secular setting. 

1. God uses leaders 

I am not against teams (I wish I had had one), and I am not fond of the "honor" culture that elevates "The Man," but I do recognize a reality: God uses a man and his unique gifts to do a job. It's not every man, and it's not always easy to pick out which man he will use, but still, he uses a man to lead a church. 

2. It takes time

I took too much time, but that was me, a slow learner. Still, church planting is the creation of a living thing with all of the characteristics of a growing child. It takes time to grow and mature and become what God intended. We are getting better at helping church planters shorten the time to start a church, but realistically, planting a healthy church takes more than 12 months - it takes years.

Planting a healthy church takes more than 12 months - it takes years.

3. Buildings matter

My experience has been that buildings (rightly or wrongly) confer a credibility to the very people we are trying to reach. A building can be the most key evangelistic tool a church has, even a modest building. Of course buildings are not everything, as evidenced by the hundreds of empty church buildings across America. 

4. Letting go of baggage

Innovation often pivots on the ability to let go of a practice past it's prime to embrace something new.  Church planting requires a flexibility to innovate. What worked in the past, in a different place, or in a settled situation may need to be adapted, altered, or even eliminated in the church plant. The challenge is to always remain faithful, knowing what to release, and what to forever hold tight.  Far too often  innovation has become a laughable combination of copying the latest guru and one-upmanship, where hipsters try to "out-hip" one another. True innovation is more about frightening risk-taking and less about our contemporary hip factor.

5. Language and culture

It may surprise some that I don't think the Northeast is a particularly hard place to build a church. Every culture has its language: a way of experiencing, seeing, and hearing. Learning that language and speaking it well is a matter of respect and wisdom and it sits at the heart of effective ministry to any group of people. When we try to force our "foreign" language on a group of people we should not be surprised when they respond with bewildered silence. The language and culture of the church is foreign to our secular culture. We have to master a new language, translating the truth of God's word and hope in Christ into language that can be heard in our unique cultures.

Ben Feldott is founding and Sr. Pastor at Cape Cod Church in East Falmouth, Massachusetts planted in 1991. He is a graduate of Baptist Bible College. He and his wife Tammy have three children. The church website is www.capecodchurch.com