Over the last 15 years at Trinity City Church in Adelaide, I have sent off four waves of congregation members to plant new churches. From one pastor to another, I’d like to share what God has taught me about through the process. Here’s five key points I’ve learnt regarding how to send, and keep on sending:
You need to motivate people by vision
Like in any relationship break-up, it’s harder for those who are left behind than those who leave. So first, make sure that terminology about ‘leaving’ is never used. Use ‘sending’, and ‘being sent’, to acknowledge the contribution of the sending gathering, as an expression of active partnership. Then, whenever you talk about it, keep putting the vision before both groups. The job of the leader is to keep lifting people’s eyes to our shared vision. When a group is sent off, the temptation is to look within and to feel sorry for yourself. Keep their eyes lifted. Now, this will mean that you will need to help the sending gathering to have a vision for what they can now do …
Rev up the Remnant
When you send people off to start a new church, it’s imperative that something about the sending gathering gets tweaked. Some change needs to be made to their modus operandi. They’ll feel the loss of other church members, and the job of the sending pastor for the sending congregation is to ‘Rev up the Remnant’ so that they don’t feel like ‘Leftover Losers’. That will mean you’ll need to change the vision / purpose in a positive direction for the sending gathering: a new target group? A new structure? A new reason for being. This is a really hard thing, but make sure that all the creative missional thought of the church is not channelled into the new church plant. The sending allows a new opportunity to re-think the purpose of the sending congregation. Getting that clear, and putting it before the group, and getting them on board is key to the sending congregation not languishing, or dying a slow and painful death. Even doing something like focussing on getting people trained in ‘story-telling evangelism’, and creating a few key evangelistic events which you’ve never really tried before might be enough of a change.
Don’t let all your key people go
Mission-charted, entrepreneurial people will want to go to what’s new. By the time I’d reached our third plant I’d learned that this needs managing. Each time we’d planted, we’d sent off larger groups. By the time we reached the third plant, people self-selected and we sent off 100 of our core team. That’s a sure fire way to decimate your sending church, and ensure that it takes years of recovery before they can plant again. If I had my time again, I’d have worked much more closely with the planting pastor and had a ceiling on the number we sent, as well as who we were encouraging to stay behind for the sake of the sending church. I think that there’s an argument for retaining the best of your people because the harder task is staying and re-orienting what’s existing. Of course, to do this requires the thought-through agreement of the planter and the sender, and the full backing of the senior pastor. There needs to be a high level of trust and communication between both pastors, and implicit agreement. For example, if any of your people come to me, I ring you and tell you, and we both have the same message when it comes to encouraging them to either go or stay.
Keep everyone informed
Prior to the sending off, make sure everyone is on the same page. Give updates in church. Talk through your decisions and also be open about the decisions yet to be made. Get maximum involvement from the congregation. The more they can own it for themselves (both senders and those being sent), the more they’ll not feel it’s a fait accompli from on high.
When you send people off, do it well
Maybe do it over a weekend, with a celebration praise night the night before. Then, on the Sunday, get the whole congregation involved. Lay hands on everyone. Make a big deal of it. Then, afterwards, get both churches praying for each other and giving regular updates. Get both churches celebrating each other’s milestones. Send out prayer points via Facebook groups, or email, or whatever works. Take pictures and videos of the faces involved, telling the other church what to pray for. That will help encourage the sense of partnership, and help ‘maintain the love’.
Christ Jolliffe is the senior pastor at Trinity Church Aldgate, an experienced church planter and part of the Trinity Church network in Adelaide.