The “Good to Not-So-Great” Model of Church Planting

Many pastors and churches today look to secular management/business books and theories when considering how to help their churches grow. While there may certainly be ideas and approaches in these books that can be helpful or useful, what “works” in business does not always translate into “success” for churches. First off, “success” as defined by the secular, business world is not typically what Scripture defines as “success” for the body of Christ. It’s not just about numbers and dollars. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Second, we should be careful not to confuse “our vision” for the church with what God has called us to and for.

One of the current favorite models is from a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. The part of his model that most people remember is his bus analogy. It’s all about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, and also about getting the wrong people off the bus, if necessary. (The “bus” being the business or organization.)

What happens when this model gets applied to church planting and growth? The following is a transcript from an seminar for new church planters given by a pastor/church planter in the PCA.

The first part of the seminar addresses how church planters should handle staffing in a new church:

Who needs to be sitting at the table? You gotta to have the right people in the right seats and the wrong people off the bus is the best way to describe it. You need the right people around the table to accomplish the mission that you really want to do.

And it’s not about fairness. It’s about who’s passionate, who’s missionally geared, and who’s qualified and energized to actually move this thing forward. So it’s not. One of the big mistakes we make is this: we mix ministry with benevolence. And it’s a bad idea. It honestly does not work, in my experience.

The question is: who’s not keeping up for various reasons. If somebody is sitting around the table, who’s sitting around the table that you actually would be secretly relieved if they quit. Or somebody that you’re constantly having to work around them to get something done, but you’ve left them there because you feel like, well, it’s benevolence, right?

We’ve done it at our church in horrible ways.Like I said, I’ve made all these mistakes. You know, we’ve, somebody is sitting on the bubble, not sure if they’re committed. What do we do? Hey, let’s let them teach Sunday School. I mean, that’s just disastrous. Or, I know, we’ll make them a community group leader. Oh my ga!

Here’s a person that’s not committed to,you know, they’re on the bubble and you’re going to thrust them into some type of community. How’s that gonna work? Well, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t work very well.

Freeing somebody up, releasing them sounds mean, but actually what you’re doing is you’re actually freeing them to do what God has called them to do. God has not called them to this. He’s called them to something else.

Maybe you need to walk them along into finding what God has called them to do and get them out of this one thing that is causing you this kind of heartache.

Maybe that approach can work when considering staffing questions, but what happens when you apply the same approach to the congregation?

You need the tenacity to keep the vision for your church from being hijacked. … PCA people are not very healthy. Or the ones that we get aren’t. That our ability as a church to hold them has been very small. That’s what we have discovered. That you need to have the guts to tell people who need to leave to leave.

And I know that that sounds ridiculous especially in the face of finances and numbers. Because a lot of these people that will come, they’ll be tithers. I mean, that’s the difficult thing. But you need to also know that you shouldn’t coddle troublemakers who want a church just like the last one they attended.

And we find this over and over again. And it’s especially true of people who come from PCA churches. One in their past that they want, that their expectation is that this church is going to be just like the last one they attended. Or that this PCA church is going to be just like every other PCA church that they may have gone to in the deep South. And they come to our church and we’re nothing like that on almost any level.

We’re not southern Presbyterian. Intentionally, I might add. There’s lots of things about that that sort of spill itself over and this ability to be able to allow people to move on even to encourage them to move on. …

It’s the ability to know who you are, to know what your vision is and to hold on to that tenaciously, and not let be hijacked or derailed by somebody who comes with a competing one who thinks that they know better what this needs to look like. …

There has to be a kind of tenaciousness to cling to your vision and to let these people go. Because I’ve not found, I mean there’s some, but marginal success at trying to reform them or trying to draft them over to your vision when they have every intention of not doing that, of wanting you to be whatever they want in the process.

Is this really the way the body of Christ should behave?

4 thoughts on “The “Good to Not-So-Great” Model of Church Planting

  1. Already Reedemed in Texas says:

    “There has to be a kind of tenaciousness to cling to your vision and to let these people go.”

    I thought tenaciously clinging to our own visions was called Idolatry. At least that’s been my experience in my Christian walk. I thought being a member of a church was (at least partially) about discipleship, growing together in grace and corporately seeking/worshiping the glory of God. But maybe that’s because I’m just one those people who need to get off the bus…


  2. sedgegrass says:

    This is a topic that needs wide and deep discussion in the PCA right now. The new planting model, while professing to be more about a nitty-gritty ministry to the city, is often enamored by it’s esoteric philosophy and becomes self-satisfied with having the ‘right’ intellectual vision. This is a departure from a ‘shepherd-leader’ model of the church. It seems some younger PCA ministers, with good intentions, have taken on the ‘peace and personal affluence’ of many church members by directing them outward. A truly effectual church must begin on the spade hardened ground of it’s members’ hearts- a messy and time intensive endeavor that only the faithful application of the Word can accomplish. Changed hearts, truth tellers, fetters thrown off, loving arms, broad-shoulders to lean on, forgiveness, nurturing the bruised reeds- this is what a lost world needs to see. God send us Shepherds!


  3. Mark B. says:

    I recall some comments made by a pastor about ten years ago while we were chatting on a mission trip, (he was a successful church planter), he said that he had decided to never accept a call to an established church because he would have to deal with elders that he hadn’t trained and ordained, and they might have different opinions…That type of viewpoint didn’t sit well with me then either. As to the person quoted above; if people from PCA churches are coming your church and you think: “PCA people are not very healthy. Or the ones that we get aren’t.” and you think they need to be shown the door, why exactly do you think that it is a PCA church you’re planting?


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