The Rev. Bill Beyer, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Clayton, N.C., and the Rev. Mike Merker, pastor of Jordan Lutheran Church, Apex, N.C., shared the following church-planting ideas with the LCMS Council of Presidents at its Nov. 15-17 meeting in Raleigh, N.C. The two congregations were started in 2001 and 2008, respectively, as new mission starts in the Synod’s Southeastern District.
The two pastors shared the following:
- Have a plan. Planting churches is expensive. Be courageous but also prudent. “You’ve got to have your act together,” Merker said. “You’ve got to put your money where it’s worth putting.”
- Make yourself available. Get to know your community’s history and culture, its background and its narrative — e.g., Beyer said small-group ministry did not work in his community because worship was important, even for people who had no regular church connection. (Merker echoed this sentiment.)
- Be patient with the choice of your first worship location. A storefront in an unoccupied strip mall might fit your budget, but it may also send the wrong message from a community-relations point of view. When asking about worship space, do not take a “no” personally, Beyer said. Keep asking. Beyer said he did not imagine his first worship space would be an old-fashioned roller-skating rink, yet it proved an ideal location. For Merker, his congregation’s arrangement with Regal Cinemas (National Cine Media) happened “only because I was willing to hear no again.”
- When people ask you, “What are Lutherans?” and “What do Lutherans believe,” what they are really asking about is worship, Beyer said. “That’s what they really want to know: ‘Why should I come to your church?’ They won’t make a commitment until they’ve seen your worship.” Holy Cross’ worship is “more participatory and more liturgical,” Beyer added, and people “come to see.”
- Establish your niche in the community (e.g., an Open Arms center such as Holy Cross developed).
- As the pastor, provide vision — but listen.
- Do not assume that people, even if they have had a past relationship with a church, are baptized or know Scripture. Ask if they have been baptized, Beyer stressed, and do not be surprised if, after worship one day, someone says, “Pastor, thank you for preaching from the Bible. I really don’t know anything about it.” Many of the people he encounters in his community are highly educated, Beyer observed, yet they are not familiar with the Bible. “They are yearning for a relationship with God,” he added.
- Relationships with other pastors — district, circuit, in the community — are critical. “I’m overwhelmed by the support I received,” Beyer said. (Merker echoed this sentiment.)
- At two years, key leaders will leave. You may not believe it will happen to you, but it will, Beyer said. Be prepared for the event.
- Church plants are not date-based — they’re marker-based. Merker said “pieces of the puzzle,” or “markers,” must be in place before each step. Merker gave this example: Setting a first worship service before a launch team is prepared, or entering the community with advertising before there is anything taking place, can be “a recipe for a disaster.”
- Preach Christ crucified, because people don’t know it.
Posted Dec. 14, 2011