Four Stages of Church Planting Development

By Bobby Wood

Development is necessary for any profession, and church planting is no different. Who wants a heart surgeon who has never operated on a heart before or a contractor who’s never picked up a hammer? Church planters need training and growth just as much as anyone else.

With the prevalence of podcasts, books, and blogs, a new church planter may think he has it all figured out by absorbing information into his brain. However, competence in your field takes time. A new church planter would be wise to realize that he doesn’t know everything at first. Failing to do so may cause catastrophic consequences for a planter, his family and his church. A mature planter will go through some, if not all, of these stages of development.

1. Unconscious Incompetence

This is the stage where everyone starts. You don’t know what you don’t know. You have no clue of what questions should even be asked. One of the worst mistakes a planter can make is not realizing that he doesn’t know anything.

A planter who is in this stage doesn’t know he’s in this stage. If he assumes he is consciously competent, he may make critical mistakes and possibly blow up his church plant early on in the process. In this stage, a planter should spend time to learn as much as he possibly can from those in ministry and other peers who have already made the mistakes themselves. It is possible for a planter to come to his senses but it will probably be extremely difficult.

2. Conscious Incompetence

In this stage, a planter realizes that he doesn’t know anything. Maybe a planter starts making mistakes and finds his back up against the wall. He realizes that he is absolutely dependent upon Jesus. Without God, he will fail, and he is conscious of it. To some degree, every pastor should be in this place. This is where a planter truly understands his weakness, and God can work through that weakness for His glory and grace.

In this stage, a planter will learn at a much more rapid pace because he realizes how much he doesn’t know. Unfortunately, failure and poor decisions are often catalysts to help a planter get to this place.

3. Conscious Competence

This is a healthy place to be and is often the sweet spot for a planter. He starts to learn and operate out of a confidence in Christ and in the ability God has given him. In this stage, a planter, in a humble way, has enough self-awareness to acknowledge his strengths and weaknesses and can operate out of those strengths for God’s glory.

4. Unconscious Competence

This is often someone who has been in ministry for a long time. He can do church planting in his sleep. Normal tasks are more muscle memory than they are conscious effort. Someone in this stage will operate out of competency but couldn’t explain how he does it.

John Maxwell once said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We can keep our heads in the sand about what we don’t know or we can humbly work to challenge our preconceptions and grow in new areas.


Bobby Wood serves as Lead Pastor at Redemption Church in Ogden, Utah.

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