During the conference-sponsored New Church Leadership Institute
, participants heard, “There is no direct correlation between a pastor sitting in his or her office to adding new people to the church; there is, however, a direct correlation between the pastor being out in the community and adding new people to the church.”
“Clergy, think of yourselves as being appointed to a community—appointed to a community in which the building exists,” said Jim Griffith, event facilitator and one of the denomination’s top experts in personal discernment and leadership. The NCLI event was also facilitated by Jim’s wife, Kim Griffith, a church planter and coach.
During this informative training organized through the Congregational Development Ministry of the Louisiana Conference and held Jan. 21-22 at First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, clergy participants learned helpful information about their leadership styles and discovered “what it takes” to start a new church.
A highlight of the training was a section outlining the “essential behaviors” of any church planter. “These behaviors, across the board, tend to be observed in successful church planters. But perhaps the most important ingredient is this: A church planter has to have ‘grit.’ Planting a church is fun, it’s fantastic, and there are huge mountain-top experiences. But on some really tough and challenging days, you’ll be sitting on your kitchen floor, bawling your eyes out. And ‘grit’ is the thing that will keep you going,” said Kim.
“Grit,” or the ability to “stick with things,” was the topic of a TED talk by Angela Lee Buckworth that was shown to participants during NCLI. Buckworth, a former teacher in the New York public school system, did an extensive amount of research when she returned to graduate school, focusing on why some students stick with school—and why some students do not. Her research showed this—having the top IQ or being the most talented person in the room is not the key ingredient to finishing school or sticking with any project. Instead, it is the day in and day out efforts, working really hard to make our goals a reality, that result in ultimate success. People who truly understand that life is a marathon and not a sprint are more likely to finish what they start.
In addition to possessing the “grit” needed to keep forging ahead, certain essential behaviors have been observed in successful church planters, said NCLI facilitators.
Having a deep-seated faith (“to survive the daily spiritual warfare”); constantly seeking new knowledge and being a lifelong learner; possessing a strong work ethic (“any ministry is hard work”); employing perseverance (“you will be told—over and over—that you can’t accomplish your goals”); and possessing above average communication and people skills (“you will be sharing the Gospel with people who are new in the faith and who have a variety of understandings of the Gospel”) are all essential behaviors seen in successful planters, according to the Griffiths.
Even if clergy are not planning a new church start, congregations are always looking to reach new people. “If you are going after new people, the best thing churches can do is to start new things,” said Jim.
Those new things should be ministries that take the pastor and the laity outside of the church building and directly to the people in the community. “Consider something like curbside or drive-through prayer or ashes. Establishing meaningful events outside the church is the goal.”
When asked by the participants if they had any words of wisdom on reaching millennials, Jim said, “Millennials are interested in people who will listen to them and share conversation over dinner. They are drawn to people who love them, who are interested in them. Churches that care about where they live, play and serve. ”
One daunting piece of advice passed on by these experts in the field is that any church planter should plan to make 10,000 new contacts in the community during the first two years of the church plant. “And in the beginning, you are doing it all on your own. Holding yourself accountable to making these contacts, having these conversations is critical to success.”
A major concern for church planters—and for any clergy—is avoiding burnout. “If clergy do not exercise health behaviors or have a healthy support system, they will burn out quickly,” said Kim, who added that “creating a healthy culture in your church” is very important.
“In 2000, I had every intention of making my new church start a success. Before I knew it, I was on call 24/7. I had young kids at the time, and was never fully present for them. My kids helped me to understand that establishing boundaries with the congregation are important for any pastor,” said Kim.
Healthy guidelines to follow regarding receiving and answering phone calls include:
- Let your phone go to voice mail (“unless it’s your spouse!). Listen to the voice mail and then call the person back after gathering any information you will need to return the call.
- Post and stick to scheduled times to return phone calls and emails.
If a member of the clergy has inherited a church culture that expects the pastor to be available 24/7, get the support of the head of PPR and make changes in the culture by changing your own behavior. “If you don’t answer your phone immediately, people assume you are busy,” said Kim.
If funerals and weddings fall on Saturday, “shift your day off and take it another day,” said Kim. Some weeks are harder, so take more time the next week.
Also, every hard-working clergy needs a support system. Being a member of a covenant group of fellow clergy gives you someone to talk to when you need it and to hold you accountable, prodding you to do your spiritual practices and take the appropriate amount of time off, she added.
Of course, for the first two years of ministry, a church planter has to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done, said the Griffiths.
Rev John Cannon, Director of the Conference Congregational Development Ministry and Acadiana District Superintendent, had this to say about the event: "The NCLI gathers pastors for a conversation on the skills and behaviors most essential to reaching out to new people and to invite them into some new expression of the church--whether that is a new church, a second site for an existing church, a new worship service, or even a non-traditional faith community that will gather away from the church building. This is part of our Conference's larger effort to make disciples of Jesus Christ in faithful and creative ways."
“I thought coming to NCLI would be about learning what I needed to become a church planter. It covered those essentials and so much more,” said Rev. Ashley McGuire, pastor of St. Francisville UMC. “I left with a much better self-understanding of how I’m hardwired as both a child of God and as one who leads the planting of God’s church. Whether I start a new church or begin something new in the churches I serve, NCLI provided both a mirror and a lens that gave me a necessary and novel way of approaching relationships and mission in the seasons of ministry to come.”