Church Planting: A Layman’s Perspective

I will be the first to admit—I am far from an expert on church planting and the role that laypeople can play in that mission, which is perhaps not the best way to start an article on the subject. That said, I have been blessed to have served in three different congregations over the past 12 years where planting has been central to the call of the church, resulting in its becoming a personal passion for me. Let me tell you my story, and some lessons learned along the way.

My wife and I were born and raised in different parts of Canada and met after college. Colette was raised in a Catholic home on the Canadian prairies, where church meant visiting twice a year for Christmas and Easter. I grew up in the United Church of Canada and I gave my life to Christ as a young teen, but then spent my teenage years and early twenties not walking with the Lord. While we shared a mutual belief in God and a desire to raise our children in a Christian home, it wasn’t until a relocation to Western Canada that our lives were impacted as a result of a church plant.

The River, a small Mennonite Brethren plant in Calgary, Alberta, started in our local lower-school gymnasium about the time we arrived from Toronto in 2001. I was climbing the ranks of the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo, and Colette was busy with our two young sons with whom God had since blessed us. It was there that we were loved on by Pastor Curt Snell and his wife, Sharon, and Colette gave her life to Christ. Her unbelievable zeal for the Lord created an awakening in my own faith that had been dormant for a while, and soon we were hosting Alpha in our home, and experiencing the fellowship of an incredible group of believers. It was during this time that we felt led to expand our family through adoption, and were blessed with a beautiful baby girl from New Orleans. God made His presence known in some amazing ways those two-and-a-half short years in Calgary, and when the call came to return to Toronto for another opportunity with the company, we departed with reservations about being able to find another church home like The River.

Of course, God had it covered, and in 2003, when we walked through the doors of a Southern Baptist plant called The Sanctuary in Oakville, we knew right away that we had found a new home. “A Growing Group of Friends, Giving Ourselves Away, Building the Kingdom of God” was the mission of The Sanctuary, planted by a dynamic trio of pastors led by Jeff Christopherson. It was incredible to see the heart for the Gospel that this team had, and their urgency to share the Good News and plant new churches. Like The River, The Sanctuary met in a school gym, so mobilizing a team for weekly setup and teardown required volunteers, which became our introduction to “Body Builders.” From there, we began helping in other areas, Colette in the children’s ministry, and I counted the tithes and offerings. Soon we were attending a weekly small group, where we dug into the Word and built close friendships. In the fall of 2004, the phone rang. It was Jeff, with something that he wanted me to consider. The Sanctuary was now planting in two other communities, and the three pastors realized it was time to establish a management team to help guide and enable the growth of the church. He asked me if I would be willing to serve, to which I responded of course, anything I can do to help. But he had one other question for me: Would I be willing to chair? I told him I would need to take that to the Lord, and after prayerful consideration, accepted the role.

Leading a team of laypeople, mainly business people, accountants and lawyers, along with the senior pastors, was one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences I have ever had in my life. We often used the analogy of being on a roller coaster, with ups and downs—and lots of times, not having the track in front of us until the very last moment. We struggled with all of the hurdles that a young church with a bold vision would encounter: We had laypeople come and go, as the pace of multiplication was too aggressive for many, as well as turnover in the pastoral staff, as we dealt with challenges both big and small. Through it all, God was faithful, and He led us to plant eight sites across the greater Toronto area from 2004 to 2010. Today, Jeff Christopherson and the original leadership team from The Sanctuary are leading NAM’s Canadian/Northeast U.S. church planting efforts, as well as a dynamic Toronto church planting organization to reach Canada’s largest city for Christ.

While it’s hard to sum up all of the lessons learned in a short space, here are three key points on the role that laypeople can play in church planting:

1) It's a team sport!

Being a church planter can be the loneliest job on the planet, with the burden of success or failure resting on your shoulders. But remember that the Great Commission to share the Good News is not just a commandment for pastors. The other 99.9 percent of us who were not called to vocational ministry, are called nonetheless. Find the people who understand this concept; they are in your small groups and seats on Sunday morning.

2) Draft the team!

Finding the right laypeople with whom to surround yourself, either as prayer encouragers or as part of your leadership team, is not an easy task. Here’s the equation that best describes “the formula” as you draft the team: A+C/K. “A” is for availability, and I don’t mean consistently showing up at board meetings, but is this person open to hearing from the Holy Spirit and willing to act on that prompting when the direction seems countercultural? “C” is for capability, which is vitally important in the church planting movement. You want a leadership team that brings diverse talents to the table, with a bias for action and the skills to complement you and one another. And finally, A+C needs to be on the foundation of “K” for a kingdom mind and heart. That is the crucial denominator in the equation. In church planting, God may ask you and your team to run some plays that just don’t make sense in a business environment or the world’s economy. If you don’t have laypeople who understand that and embrace it, they will not be long for the team.

3) Keep score!

I’ll wrap up where I began: though not an expert on church planting, God has allowed me to learn a few things from my experiences with some incredibly gifted brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, my family and I live in Plano, Texas, and are members at Prestonwood Baptist Church, where Pastor Jack Graham and Teaching Pastor Jarrett Stephens lead with planters’ hearts!

By Michael Crouse