Church Plant Failures

This article first appeared in GO WEST!

by Tom Lavigne

For much of the 22 years of my pastoral ministry I’ve been actively involved in church plants and with church planters. I’m often asked about what “Success and Failure” looks like in church planting. Some say that success can be measured in ABCs—Attendance, Building and Cash—but these three factors are far from the whole picture of a Spirit-led congregation.sad

I’ve seen churches that are small in numbers but huge in ministry effectiveness; groups with small budgets doing big things; plants with lots of money and quality space, but no people. I’ve seen some amazing successes and spectacular flops and I have some scars to prove it. To quote the actress Sophia Loren, “Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.”

So why do some plants fail? Geoff Surratt’s written a great series of blogs that summarize a lot of my own experiences with church planting. Geoff shares a three-part series including these three failure factors:

  • Planting alone; Resiliency; the Intangibles of Calling, tough soil, timing and grace.
  • Underfunded; Rigid models.
  • Unqualified leaders; Lack of understanding and respect for local context. Read the articles.

As an added bonus, check out Geoff’s book, Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing. Here are some of the humourous chapter titles:

  • Establishing the Wrong Role for the Pastor’s Family: “I realize that the church secretary can’t type, but she’s the mother of my children.”
  • Settling for Low Quality in Children’s Ministry: “If flannelgraph Bible stories were good enough for me, they’re good enough for your children”
  • Promoting Talent over Integrity: “We know he’s a thief and a liar, but no one can make the organ sing like Bob”
  • Clinging to a Bad Location: “We’re located under the freeway behind the abandoned Kmart.”

As I get older I appreciate more and more the words of Otto von Bismarck who said “Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience.”

I’d love to talk with you about your church planting ideas, and share some of my cautionary tales. My mistakes would feel much less painful if I knew someone was learning from them! Give me a shout at 1.800.596.7772 or tlavigne@cbwc.ca.

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