All church planters want people to come to theirchurch. We who have started a churchfrom the ground up all share that in common. The first official gathering of Refuge Church was a home bible studywhich consisted of six adults and our three little kids. I remember that we all had that mix of emotions that all church planting teams have. On the one hand we felt courageous and unstoppable. We felt that since God had called us to thiswork there was no question that we were going to see Him bust down the gates of hell in our midst. On the other hand we were honestly a bit fearful. We went through those down times of asking God, “Why would you call us to serve You this way?” As if His choice of us for this work ever had anything to do with some kind of inherent goodness or talents we possessed thatHe needed!
With that mix of zeal and fear we launched public Sunday services for Refuge Church in Riverdale, UT January 10, 2010. We had a whopping 12 people show up! Still, we were just glad to see anyone besides our initial six that morning! And since that time we have seen the Lord grow our Sunday morning attendance to 120 people, start three vibrant house churches, and establish a ministry internship program for guys who want to confirm and get trained in their calling from God. All of this has happened in one crazy year! We stand amazed at God’s grace and glory for what He is doing!
The person all church planters want to come to their new church most is the person who doesn’t know Jesus as their personal savior. We long to see people come into our services belonging to the kingdom of darkness, but leave our services belonging to the Kingdom of the blessed God and His Son Jesus Christ! But the fact is, particularly for people planting churches in the United States, many visitors to our services will be people who are already Christians. In my experience planting and pastoring churches I have generally found that Christians who show up to your church fall into one of six categories. Below I have listed those categories and how I think the Lord has taught me to approach each type of person. My hope is that my experience will be of some value to planters who are processing how to best serve not only the lost, but the different personalities of Christians they will inevitably meet on their church planting adventure.
The first group of Christians who will visit your church are the Drifters. Drifters are Christians who you might think of as shopaholics when it comes to the local church. They wander from church to church never really committing or even intending to commit to a local church in any meaningful way. You can usually identify these
people by their, “What does this church have to offer me?” mentality.
I have had a lot of drifters stop by the church I pastor. It’s been hard for me to deal
with them upfront because, as any church planter knows, you are excited to have
anyone with a pulse show up at your church when you’re starting out! The thought of offending someone with loving truth is a tough pill to swallow because it might result in them leaving your church to drift on to the next place. I think Mark Driscoll has a good exhortation for us here. He compares drifters with cows. He says, “Cows are selfish people who wander from church to church, chewing up resources without ever giving back to the church until they kill it. A fence needs to be built around the church to keep the cows out.”
Sadly, my personal experience has only confirmed Driscoll’s perspective. I’ve come to the conclusion that drifters need to lovingly but boldly be exhorted to stop using the church, and to start being the church. That doesn’t mean that anyone who isn’t
serving like they’re in fulltime ministry needs to be rebuked. But when the Lord shows you that someone who has been coming around for a while has this kind of consumer mentality, the way to serve them is to disciple them. Teach them about the exciting fact that Jesus has a special place and way for them to serve Him through serving His people. Teach them that when they begin to prayerfully serve God’s church instead of consuming it that they will find the words of Jesus to be true: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Another group you will inevitably find visiting your church plant are the Disgruntled. These are the people who got mad at their last church because they didn’t teach their pet doctrines enough, celebrate communion enough, baptize in the right way, and on and on and on. They have come to your church sinfully hating their brothers, sisters, and the leadership of their former church. To make matters worse, they usually tell you that they have decided to come to your church because you are everything good
that their former pastor or church isn’t. In this sense they are sinfully making you the functional Jesus in their life.
These people need to be told a few things: First, they need to be assured that if they are looking for the perfect church with a pastor who will be perfect like Jesus for them that they have absolutely not found it. Second, they need to be encouraged to make sure that even if their motives for leaving their former church are biblical that their attitude is also biblical. The Bible says to speak the truth in love. Many Christians who are unloving claim this verse when they are challenged about their arrogance. They will tell you, “Speaking the truth is loving!” The problem is that if speaking the truth is
loving enough in itself, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have felt the need to inspire the added qualifier of, “in love.” The disgruntled are served best by planters who will tell them that they need to have the loving heart of Jesus in their attitudes toward believers who err, and not just the sound doctrine of Jesus on their lips.
Lastly, the disgruntled need to be given a clear understanding of what your church’s
mission and doctrine are, and they need to be told upfront that they are welcome to be part of the fellowship as long as they don’t become a point of divisive contention over the positions of the church. They don’t have to agree with everything, but they need to disagree agreeably, and they need to talk to their brother in every case of disagreement, not about their brother. If they can’t agree on these points, they probably need to be told that they will be happier somewhere else.
A third group of people you will meet in your new church plant are the Damaged. These are people who have been legitimately harmed in some way by churches and church leaders who are not living out the example of the Jesus they claim to represent.
For example, in our Christian community a formerly trusted local pastor was convicted of, and recently confessed to sexually abusing young kids involved with his ministry. This dealt a huge blow to the faith of those who looked up to him as their pastor and
faithful spiritual guide.
Thefallout from this situation manifested itself in brokenness and pain in the hearts of many people who felt used and betrayed. I spoke with one young man who had looked up to this man who admitted to feeling like he couldn’t trust any pastor after this experience. He was damaged spiritually.
These people need to be loved. They need to be provided with a place where they can sit under the word of God, have access to trustworthy pastoral counseling, and simply be cared for. They don’t need to be pushed and prodded to serve, forced to open up, or anything else. Jesus has sent them to your church to be a spiritual hospital, and that’s all you need to be.
The fourth group you will find at your new church plant are the Disassociated. These are people who grew up in the church and have somewhere along the way for various reasons disassociated themselves with the local church. Sometimes this is because of laziness. Sometimes this is because they never really received Jesus and became
The disassociated need loving pastors, leaders, and friends who will show them the love of Christ and welcome them. They need someone to love them enough to take
opportunities to make sure they really understand the gospel. Often times these people are cultural Christians and not born again Christians. They need to be deciphered in pastoral conversations and grounded in the gospel. If they are saved they need to be encouraged in their understanding of the church. They need to know that not only do they need the local body, but that the local body needs them. They need to be connected with appropriate contexts and relationships of discipleship.
Another common group of Christians you will find at your new church plant are the Diners. We can’t be unloving, but we have to be honest about the fact that some churches simply don’t do a good job feeding the people the Word. This produces
Christians who are genuinely saved, but incredibly malnourished. The diners are those Christians who show up at your church looking for the nourishment that’s been missing in their previous church experience. Many times the diners have an inability to pinpoint what’s been lacking in their spiritual journey thus far. They know they are hungry, but they don’t know what they need to eat.
This is where you come in. These people need to be fed the Word of God. They are like newborn babies who have been deprived of milk. Like a good parent Jesus wants you to feed these malnourished baby believers with good Bible teaching so they can grow up to realize their full potential in Christ.
Additionally, diners need to be taught not to become part of the disgruntled. If they aren’t, they will probably wake up to the fact that what they were missing at their last
church was the teaching of the Word, and get upset. When this happens diners often move out of the restaurant into the war trench of the disgruntled. It is your job to encourage them to love the church they came from, to pray for the church they came from, but to in no way look down on or act self-righteously toward the church they came from.
The last group of Christians we’ll highlight that might show up at your new church plant are the group I call the doghouse. These are Christians who have been kicked out of their previous local church. They come to your church looking for a place to blend in and lay low either because they are rebellious, or embarrassed.
This is a delicate group. Don’t assume anything about people who are in the doghouse with other churches. Sometimes they have been kicked out for legitimate reasons such as teaching heresy or living in open, willful, and unrepentant disobedience. Other times these are people who have suffered abuse at the hands of legalists. They’ve been kicked out of their church not for biblical reasons, but perhaps for things like hanging out with non-Christians, not dressing a certain way, or not abiding by any other
number of anti-biblical manmade rules.
The doghouse is a hard group for lazy pastors and church planters to handle. This is because it takes prayerful time and investigation to figure out which type of person in
the doghouse you’re really dealing with. You’ll have to get the pertinent sides of the story from directly involved sources, read your Bible, get godly counsel, and pray for God’s wisdom as to what to do.
So when the investigation is done and the verdict is in, what do you do? If it turns out that they were simply victims of legalism you need to welcome them to a church that will be a safe environment for them. You need to show them the grace of God and be a pastor they can count on. If they are found to have been legitimately removed from their former church, you need to tell them in a loving but frank manner that they cannot come to your church either. If you let them assimilate into your church instead of feeling the consequences of the unrepentant sinful behavior they engaged in at their previous church you will short-circuit God’s plan of correction in their lives. That might feel gracious at the time, but it is in fact very unloving.
Church planting is tough. Sometimes it means dealing with tough people and tough situations. As church planters we have to remember that Jesus put us where we are, in connection with the specific people who come our way for a reason. Sometimes He wants to lovingly rebuke people through us. Sometimes He wants to love the hurting through us. No matter what the situation, we can do our job with confidence knowing that God is going to enable us to do what He has called us to do. I’ll leave you with some words that the apostle Paul gave to a young pastor who had been part of his church planting team:
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” (1 Timothy 1:12)
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy