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A Challenge for Change

Sharyn Spradlin

Have you noticed the increased number of sandwich boards directing you to the newest church in your community? Does it seem that the collection of door hangers inviting you to a new worship service has also increased this year? If so, you're not alone. According to George Hunsberger, Professor of Missiology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, 24 percent of churches in the United States have been planted in the last 15 years! And the movement is growing each year.

Not every church start makes it into a mature church for various reasons, but in our work as church consultants we've discovered that one thing is common among all church starts. They begin with a sense of hope and commitment that breathes life into everything they do. It's this passion that we hope to learn from.

Perhaps you're part of a church start or an established congregation. No matter what kind of church you're in, you can glean ideas from church start leaders who have a fresh perspective on vision, strategy, and most importantly, a reminder of Christ's call to reach non-Christians. The following are eight important lessons new church starts can teach all of us.

Begin with God's vision for your ministry. The commitment to a new church start requires vision. Having God's vision is having a picture of the future. Vision is the direction, purpose, and focus of the new work. Many church movements have been started because God gave a dream or vision for what he desired.

Protecting the vision and purpose from distractions is a priority with church starts. Many pastors and leaders of these new churches are working at another job, married with a family, pursuing further education, and beginning a church. These leaders work to remain passionate and focused on the vision amid the details of expectations and responsibilities.

Build with people. Volunteers are critical to a church start's success, and it's the area young churches struggle with the most. Sound familiar? Although church starts have fewer people, a new church has the advantage of focused momentum. People's commitment to the vision and purpose of the church and the desire to see it become reality motivate many toward service.

Church start leaders understand that the biggest key to having an effective volunteer team is authentic, vulnerable relationships. As one leader said, building those relationships means "pouring your guts out for people as you build an outreach to their community." Another leader said, "Never, ever do anything alone -- do it for them, with them. Let them shadow you, then watch them... mentor them. You must be deliberate about relationship; it's not going to just happen naturally."

Some estimate that it takes two to three years to build a team of volunteers that'll carry the vision and passion for an effective church start. Helping volunteers understand the vision and purpose helps them gain ownership to serve wholeheartedly.

Fine-tune your strategy. Vision requires a strategy. Strategy is a way of approaching, fulfilling, or achieving your goal. A vision may inspire and emotionally move a person, but there's also the need for a method to reach that vision.

When those committed to the vision and purpose of a church start begin to take ownership of the vision, the authentic relationships are bound together by experience and the experimentation to reach the culture. It's the "whatever it takes" attitude. These people are deliberate in their relationships, yet they're flexible in their methods.

Be flexible. "Where are we going to meet?" becomes the first test of experimentation and flexibility for the new church start. Should we meet in a home? Will we have enough room? Should we rent a facility? When should we move to a building? These are some of the questions that perhaps cross your mind when you imagine starting a church or even as your church continues to grow in numbers. Of course, churches must have a place to gather, celebrate, and worship, but exactly when and where that happens requires flexibility.

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