When my wife was having our first child, the midwife was very concerned because the baby was in the breach position. If the baby was to try to leave her body that way there would be real damage to the baby and my wife. In the birthing process leaving well is critical.
Leaving well in the birth of a church is important too! We want healthy, strong churches right from the start that have what they need to grow to full maturity. There is a lot of unnecessary pain and agony when the leaving is done poorly.
So, what are the important aspects to leaving well? I would suggest the following:
Communication: As a church planter is getting ready to leave the sending church, it is very important that she or he talk early, often and honestly with the lead pastor of the sending church. You cannot over communicate. In my experience there are lots of opportunities for misunderstanding which leads to confusion and hurt. Who have you asked to go with your plant? What do you want to take with you? When we send a church plant out I ask the church planter to let me know who he or she plans on asking to go and who is actually going with them. It helps me adjust my plans. We also like to communicate about the church plant from the pulpit in an exciting and vision casting way. If communicated well and tied to our vision then it can build momentum.
Timing: The "birth date" for a church plant is very important. We want the mother to recover well so she can have more church plants. The timeline should be mutually agreed upon. Planting churches too close together could weaken the sending church and slow the recovery. Done right in the middle of a big push at the mother church may confuse the focus. We have found sending a church plant out during a natural transition time - summer, right before the New Year - felt best.
Sending Support: Church plants have many financial needs, but given the tools they need growth can happen more quickly. We have developed the financial habit, as a sending church, to take 1% of our weekly offering and putting it in a church planting account. We then have money to give when our finances take a hit because of tithes and offerings leaving with the plant.
Planting a church is an exciting natural thing for churches to do. With these steps both baby and mother can thrive.
- John Elmer is the senior pastor of Syracuse Vineyard Church, NY and is the regional church planting coordinator for the Eastern Region. His wife, Gwen, is a teacher.