Before you plant a church, it is wise to build a team. It might be a launch team developed once the planter is on the ground. It could be a core team sent out from a sending church. Some members may be committed for a short time to see the church launched, while others may move with a more long-term commitment in mind. What matters most is that a planter builds a team: “However the team gets together, by moving to a community together or by emerging from the community, a team is needed before a church can be planted.1
Perhaps the best-case scenario is to build a team of people who move with you to the community and that join you from the community—whether through partnership with other local churches or through initial outreach. This is the desire of Treasuring Christ Church as we prepare to plant in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
While there is no one church planting model in the New Testament, Paul frequently employs a team strategy in his missionary efforts. The church at Antioch sent out Barnabas and Paul to preach the gospel and plant churches (Acts 13:1-3, 14:21-23). Throughout Acts we find Paul in a network of relationships centered on advancing the gospel and strengthening the church—Silas (15:40), Timothy (16:3), Luke (16:10), and Priscilla and Aquila (18:18).
A church planter faces an overwhelming task. A planter is looking at moving to a new area, building relationships in the community, sharing the gospel, discipling new believers, finding a meeting space, training volunteers, preparing to launch, and more. Additionally, the planter should be growing in Christ and leading his family to do the same. While God faithfully sustains church planters in this difficult work, it almost always involves bringing people around the planter who share the same vision and are committed to make it reality. Building a team before you plant allows you to face this overwhelming task with a team around you from the very beginning.
No church planter is sufficiently gifted to do everything necessary to see a church planted. God designed the church to function through the diverse skills of his people. Church planting requires identifying and developing leaders with a variety of abilities to reach your community, establish the church, and help it grow to God’s glory. In other words, church planting necessitates building a team—whether through strategically recruiting people to your team before you are sent, or providentially connecting with people once you are on the ground.
Building a church planting team involves establishing criteria by which you recruit team members. Planters should avoid the temptation to get any willing person to join them. Rather, planters should seek to develop relationships and evaluate potential team members with some key criteria or characteristics in mind. The following categories are not exhaustive, but they provide a helpful starting point.
In addition to these criteria, stage of life and vocation are important to consider when looking for potential team members. It is healthy to have both married and single team members, as they will bring unique strengths, gifts, and capacities to reach different pockets of people. It is also vital to consider the vocational direction of your team members. Will team members fundraise? Will they be bivocational? Do they have a sustainable vocation for your context? Clear communication and honest expectations are essential for addressing these questions and criteria.
Once you have some criteria in mind for the kind of person you want on your church planting team, you must pursue them. Building a team will not happen overnight nor will it happen by accident. I suggest three ways to begin:
If the Lord does not build this team, it will be in vain. Seek him and his wisdom. Ask for discernment and favour as you talk with potential team members. Ask him to bring the right people to your team, both before you are sent and once you arrive.
As you identify or are approached by potential team members, be ready to share your vision and how they might fit into it. Invite potential team members into your home. Ask specific questions. Articulate clear expectations. If you have clear criteria in mind for potential team members, you can intentionally evaluate them in light of it and cast a compelling vision for how they fit into the work.
There will be some people you especially want to join your team who will not. There will be people not on your radar that will approach you about joining your team. There will be new believers whom you reach and disciple that join your team. There will be people who commit to your team early in the process and some who join at the last moment. There will be some who go with you from your sending church and some who join after you are sent. However God chooses to build your team, continue to patiently trust Him and pursue others.
1. Ed Stetzer & Daniel Im, Planting Missional Churches, B&H Publishing, Nashville, 2016, p. 236.↩