7 Top Issues Church Planters Face, Issue #3: Launch Team Development and Mobilizing Volunteers – by Ed Stetzer

This is part of a series of posts on Church Planting. This post originally appeared on Ed Stetzer’s blog, The Exchange. You can view the first post in the series here. Ed Stetzer is the President of LifeWay Research, a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

7 Top Issues Church Planters Face, Issue #3: Launch Team Development and Mobilizing Volunteers

The church planting experts and church planters cited building a launch team and mobilizing volunteers as major challenges. Now, remember, the sample and methodology helps determine some of the answers and issues, so be sure to read the caveats in parts 12, and 3.

When starting churches such as those we have discussed, core (launch) team size becomes more important in larger, well-funded starts where more defined ministries are provided at the start. Mobilizing volunteers is an issue regardless of size of the launch team. Whether it is the well-funded, full-time planter or the part-time, bi-vocational planter, both expand their ministries’ impact through volunteers.

The research project, headed up by Todd Wilson and the Exponential team, that serves as the basis of this series identified five key considerations in launch team development and mobilizing volunteers.

  1. Healthy Launch Teams are Mission Critical When Seeking to Start in the Way We Discussed. — In his book, Planting Fast-Growing Churches, author Stephen Grey identified 21 differences between fast growing churches and struggling ones. Among these was the importance of healthy launch teams. Grey found that 88% of fast-growing churches had a launch team in place before launch compared with only 12% of struggling churches.
  2. Church Planting is a Team Sport — When a planter and family moves into a community without team members, the risk factors increase. The difficult becomes even more difficult. For “parachute drop plants” where the planter has few existing relationships, team building and volunteer mobilization can be slow and difficult.
  3. Pre-Launch Tasks vs. Relationships – Most planters are good at relationship building. However, planters report that they spend a disproportionate amount of time in the pre-launch phase focused on administrative details (e.g. facilities, marketing, equipment, legal issues, etc). These administrative issues compete with the time needed to build relationships and teams. The paradox is that strong teams can help with the endless details associated with launching a church. However, unavoidable administrative details limit a planter’s time available for relationship and team building.
  4. A Core Group of Believers is not always a Good Thing — This may sound like a contradiction to #2 but hear me out on it. When partner churches provide core teams, it can be a win. But a planter must be aware of the challenges. Having a team of volunteers in place before the planter arrives has its pitfalls. Often the team expects the planter to adapt his or her vision to fit the team’s desires rather than submitting to the planter. The planter needs to provide visionary leadership and the partner churches’ volunteers must be prepared to operate differently while helping the plant.
  5. New Church Core Teams Experience Fallout — A painful reality of the early days of church planting is that core team members leave. Many planters report discouragement resulting from the loss of good friends from their core team. Losing half of the planting launch team within the first years is common. Planting is hard work. Weary volunteers can end up searching out existing, stable churches to call home. The planter should be emotionally and spiritually prepared for relational losses.

Awareness of the issues and intentional strategies are critical for launch team and volunteer mobilization. Planters tend to put too much confidence in their ability to relate to people as the solution to every challenge in church planting. More is needed, specifically a plan and the development of leadership skills.

Next blog I will be addressing Issue #4 on the top issues planters face: Systems, Processes, and Cultures. More “Conclusions and Observations” are also coming at the end of the series. Thanks again to Todd Wilson (Director of Exponential) for his partnership on the top issues project.

By Ed Stetzer