3 Cancers That Will Destroy Your Church Plant

March 14, 2016

Planting a church is not easy.

It takes a special kind of magnetic personality and focused energy to get one started from the ground up. All of the great church planters that I know have had this entrepreneurial personality trait in common.

Still, as Todd Adkins said in one of his recent tweets, “Church is not just a community with the gifted pastor, but a community of gifted people.” With these relational realities in mind, there are sicknesses that, when left untreated, can start to eat away at the overall health of the church plant.

I found some old notes from a leadership class I took from Dr. John Nixon, Sr. at Southern Adventist University which gives this post its basic framework. If you want to have a successful church plant, pay special attention to these three potentially church-destroying cancers.

1. Divisive People

Be extremely selective of the people that you chose to invite into your initial leadership core. Ralph Moore, in his book Starting a New Church, spells this concept out:

A new church can be a magnet that attracts disgruntled Christians who have a history of conflict in other churches. My observations over the years tell me that more new churches fold from an inability to confront disruptive people than from any other cause. My own life was miserable until I learned to confront in love. I would avoid talking to difficult people. This failure on my part inadvertently gave them free reign over the church.

How do you do this? Start by making sure your own motives are pure. Are you starting or joining a new a church because of a problem in your current church? Do your research before adding people into important leadership positions.

2. Misplaced Loyalties

The Adventist church doesn’t operate on a system where all tithe is kept in the local church to pay local staff (although some churches really wish it would!). Still, in some cases, you’ll have a heavy local donor(s) with flaws that are significant enough to hold the future of your church hostage. Dr. Nixon shared a very pointed question that applies directly to this:

What impact will ignoring any of the following issues have on a church plant?

1. Members feel obligated to cater to a person of influence.
2. Family relationships among the church leadership blurs the ability to act with consistency.
3. Moral issues are ignored in favor of “grace”.
4. Talented people are held less accountable for hurtful behavior.
5. The person damaging the church is not confronted for fear of retribution.
6. Siding with the person who is right, but goes about things in the wrong ways.

Gary McIntosh, author of a great book entitled There’s Hope for Your Church: First Steps to Restoring Health and Growth, gives insight into how misplaced loyalties might affect the success of the church behind the curtains:

Ministry has at least two dimensions: public and private…when everything looks right in front of the curtain but the church is not producing the expected fruit, it is wise to look behind the curtain at character issues.

What is your reaction to this statement? What experiences have you had that would validate it?

3. Destructive Conflict

Truth be told, even if you are facing the previous two elements, your church can still come through stronger. What determines whether or not this will hold true is the church’s ability to handle confrontation and conflict.

Some churches don’t deal with conflict at all, assuming that conflict is a sign of disunity or Satan working in the church. When, in reality, conflict is simply a byproduct of people holding differences of opinion. You have differences of opinion because of free will…and God gives that free will.

When churches avoid conflict, at some level, they are seeking uniformity rather than unity. You might be asking, “Wait, are you suggesting that you can’t have true unity without having some level of conflict?” I think so. What makes the difference is how conflict is handled. Is conflict in the church constructive or destructive? Here are some key differences between the two:

Destructive Conflict

  • Diverts energy from real tasks
  • Destroys morale
  • Polarizes individuals and groups
  • Deepens differences
  • Obstructs cooperative action
  • Produces irresponsible behavior
  • Creates suspicion and distrust
  • Focuses on attacking persons and their character

Constructive Conflict

  • Opens up an issue in a confronting manner
  • Develops clarification of an issue and seeks points of agreement
  • Improves problem-solving quality
  • Increases involvement
  • Provides more spontaneity in communication
  • Initiates growth
  • Strengthens a relationship when creatively resolved

Constructive conflict brings unity when people find common ground to work for a shared mission/vision. Destructive conflict avoids dialogue and the root of problems. So, you’re left with surface-level unity and compliance.

Many church plants start each year, yet few survive. Still, work on addressing these three elements and you can be sure that you’ll give the future success of your church plant a fighting chance.