Strategies to Launch A Healthy Church


About this series...

 Welcome to our FOURTH post about organizational life cycles and, more importantly, how to avoid the normative decline and death that concludes the cycle. 

If you missed the previous posts, read them here:

In this post, we turn our attending to YOUR CHURCH.

As promised, this conversation (along with a few more) focuses on how strategy plays a crucial role in each phase of the Church Life Cycle.

First Things First: Stop Calling the Church An “Organization!” 

I constantly hear church leaders say, “Our church is an organism, not an organization!” I love that sentiment, but few things can or will stagnate your growth more than this sentiment

I caught plenty of flack when I led a church for some 13+ years. A pastor’s job comes with more expectations than any other role I’ve seen. My critiquers most frequently suggested, among other things, that I was too strategic and business-like. Perhaps they were expecting a “shepherd” — not the kind that fights against wolves or uses a staff, but one who sits calmly by picking flowers and petting them?

All my congregants were right to a point, though. I came from the marketplace, and while I understood our church was a beautiful organism, I also believed the organism demanded organization.

The Bodily Organism of Christ

The Body of Christ is an organism for sure. But the functions of any organism must be organized to grow and work well.

I love how Paul described the Body of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians and churches:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

–1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)

The Body of Christ is like any body, composed of pieces that come together, forming something greater than their individual parts. But here’s the catch, while each believer plays a unique part in the body, the body works best when it functions most effectively.

In Paul’s letter, he talks about specific body parts, what they do, and why they are all integral to the body’s health. In a way, Paul is amplifying the organization of the body. The body, as a metaphor, gives us the necessary implications.

Imagine your body as the Body of Christ, composed of multiple parts. Healthy people have healthy digestive, neurological, cardiovascular, and nervous systems (to name a few) working together in systematic harmony. Introduce a toxin or a virus, and the system enters some chaos.

Healthy church bodies are much the same. They are collections of unique parts that make up a body. Much like a person’s body, the better organized the church, the better the body functions.

If you see the church as an organism, I applaud you. If you refuse to embrace that all organisms require organization to remain healthy and grow, I would respectfully tell you that your perspective is the lid capping your church’s mission.

NOTE: I wrote a lot more about this here: 6 Organizational Requirements Growing Churches Embrace

Incorporating Strategy along the Church Life Cycle

Strategy is just plans and systems with an end in mind. In the case of a church, strategy is how we plan to accomplish our mission.

Church models are strategies. Every church has one, whether it’s documented or not.

As we traverse the life cycle journey, it’s evident that strategy plays an essential role in each phase. Equally, a lack of strategy and intentionality will create havoc in the cycle. The positive effects of great strategic planning affect the church uniquely in each phase. I think it best that we evaluate each stage individually and thoroughly.

In The Beginning of the Creation Phase

The Creation Phase is how every church, company, business, and organization begins.

In the beginning, there is no real organization. But there is passion, hope, and a vision.

We can easily look at any church or organizational success in the Creation Phase and see how strategy drove progress. Success rarely happens by accident. Perhaps a great example for us church leaders is the earliest phase of creation: God’s creation of the world.

As the story goes from Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV), “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Initially, there was no organization, but there was a vision: Humanity in the image of God and a place conducive for life perfected. To get to this desired destination, God behaved strategically and intentionally, first creating light, then land and sky, and ground and the seas. Next, God allowed fruit, trees, and vegetation to spring forth. Then God introduced the cycle of days with a greater light for the day and a lesser light for the night. Next came living creatures in the seas and skies, followed by all that would live on land. And finally, humankind.

Look at that order of operation. This was highly strategic, intentional, and planned. Why did God work his plan in this order? To accomplish the grand creation of humanity, several steps needed to come first in exact order to create what was required for human life. It’s intentional. Well thought through. The order wasn’t accidental. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Where do you need to add more intention to your mission?

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Creation Phase Church Strategy

As mentioned in the previous post, strategy is relatively simple in this birthing phase. It’s primarily about systems and steps. Even rudimentary systems can bring some clarity to the chaos.

And that’s what creation needs: Clarity in the chaos. What strategies and plans must church leaders or planters introduce to see their churches through the Creation Phase?

Let’s divide this conversation into two creation segments, prelaunch and post-launch.

Church Strategy during Prelaunch

The goal for every church planter or campus pastor should be a healthy, thriving church. Unfortunately, too many church leaders are enamored with launching services over creating a sustainable church.

Last year, I spent some significant time with my friends and client, Rivertown Community Church (RCC). Paul Smith asked me to lead the launch process of their fourth campus just south of Tallahassee, Florida.

We formed a small launch team and began the process 14 months before our targeted 

launch date. Yes, you read that correctly. Why did we start planning that far in advance? Because our goal was to create a healthy, sustainable campus, not launch a location.

During prelaunch, here is how strategy is best used:

1. Form a Launch Team

At RCC, we created a team consisting of the to-be campus pastor, senior pastor, executive pastor, communications director, and me as the launch facilitator. This group gave us the decision-making authority to guide the process while providing access and resources from within the church to support the launch.

Collaborative work is often much more effective than individual efforts, as a team brings diverse experiences and thoughts that cannot be matched alone. 

2. Define Milestones

As I mentioned previously, we too often focus on a launch date. A better focus is launch conditions or launch milestones. If our goal is to begin hosting services, the date is our best focus. But we’re hoping to launch a healthy and sustainable church. This focus requires we create conditions conducive to health.

Milestones such as:

      1. Number of people actively participating in groups,
      2. Average weekly dollars given,
      3. Total financial resources in reserve,
      4. Number of people committed to volunteer teams, and
      5. Average number of people participating in community serving days.

Milestones such as these do two things for a church leader:

      1. Met milestones create the required condition for a church to launch well. There’s nothing healthy or sustainable about a church launching without volunteer teams, funding, and community in place.
      2. Milestone targets give church leadership the perfect answer to “So when are we going to start hosting church services?” The answer? “I don’t know. You tell me?” When church leaders present milestones as preconditions for launch, the weight of launch leadership spreads across the entire prelaunch team. There are few things more vision- and action-oriented than “we can launch this church whenever WE are all ready to launch this church!”

At RCC, our milestones were:

      1. Groups: 75 People in watch-party groups.
      2. Financial: $2,000 in weekly giving and $50,000 in cash reserves.
      3. Volunteers: Active participation in Community Service Days and commitments to fill the Guest Services, Pre-School and Elementary, and Production Teams.
3. Target a Timeline

Not just a “launch date.”

A robust timeline allows the launch team and growing insiders to understand how the plans will form. Below is the high-level timelines from our recent RCC campus launch strategy:

January 2022

      • Send communications to active RCC families and individuals who live closer to the projected new campus location than other current campuses to share our hopes to launch something new.
      • Send communications to all RCC attendees introducing our desire to launch a new campus.
      • Begin researching Sunday meeting locations for use later in prelaunch and post-launch.
      • Establish giving systems for the new campus.

February 2022

      • Schedule 3-4 Information Meetings near the new proposed campus.
      • Develop curriculum plan for Launch Team Community Groups.

March 2022

      • Begin forming Community Groups.

April 2022

      • Begin community awareness campaigns by promoting the first service day, website, and social media (FOR Wakulla).
      • Monitor Community Groups. Add new families and individuals to groups.

May 2022

      • Host the first Community Service Day.
      • Encourage Community Groups to attend an existing campus once a month.

June 2022

      • Define staffing needs and volunteer team size.
      • Host Community Service Day.
      • Secure facility for Sunday utilization beginning in August.

July 2022

      • Host Community Service Day.

August 2022

      • Host Community Service Day.
      • Move Community Group Watch Parties to Sunday morning in the facility. No music. Just a short message followed by group discussion.

September 2022

      • Host Community Service Day.
      • Recruit and begin filling Volunteer Teams.

October 2022

      • Host Community Service Day.
      • Begin Volunteer Team Trainings.
      • Vision Dinner with Insiders.
      • Practice music and service experience with Production Volunteers.

November 2022

      • Beta Test full service with Volunteers on Sunday evenings.
      • Continue filling and training Volunteer Teams.
      • Vision Dinner with Insiders.
      • Announce Launch Date.
      • Create and distribute launch date invitations (physical and digital).

December 2022

      • Finalize Volunteer Teams, Processes, and Procedures.
      • Vision Dinner with Insiders.

January 2023

      • January 23: Campus Grand Opening

This is far from everything we did, but the flow remains very close. 

4. Evaluate and Course Correct

Plans exist to guide us forward. But they are not in stone. Plans can change as the environment or opportunity changes.

Having clear milestones allows you to track success against a goal, not a feeling. If the plan is effectively moving us toward our milestone goals, we can continue. If not, we can adjust as needed.

5. Ensure adequate systems

Throughout the prelaunch phase, we should develop and test all the necessary systems for a healthy and sustainable church. This includes accounting, finance, database, IT, calendaring, service planning, volunteer scheduling, and communications. Having these systems planned and in place before launch keeps church leaders focused on the many brought by post-launch.

Church Strategy during Post-Launch

A well-planned prelaunch typically gives way to a successful launch. Opening day is significantly less stressful after six complete beta tests, adequate volunteer training, and all other systems in place. Now, church leaders can focus on moving a healthy start into the Orchestration Phase of the life cycle.

How long a church spends in post-launch creation correlates to how strategically and intentionally the church behaved during prelaunch. Obviously, the initial chaos experienced during opening is dramatically reduced through beta services and volunteer training.

At this point in the life of a young church, leadership works to perfect the current methods and strategically project the systems that will be needed as the church grows. More specifically, the quickest way to orchestration is by perfecting the creation strategy. Keep in mind most of the plans were educated guesses. For example, you estimated Sunday attendance, the ratio of children to adults, and the number of cars. You build systems and plans based on these estimates but are now working from actual data. You’ve seen your parking plans in action. You’ve watched guests navigate your facility (and you’ve realized you need way more directional signs!). You know some volunteer teams are understaffed while others are in great shape.

The strategic path from creation to orchestration goes through adjusting to reality. This discovery process must be data-driven, not “it feels like” motivated.

Therefore, our final system in creation is adjusting and developing a dashboard to provide the necessary metrics for decisions. FYI, this is a secret to data. Metrics that are not actionable are unnecessary. Decide what metrics paint the picture you need to move the church forward.

Concluding the Creation Phase

Most of the work during creation hinges on setting up systems to make success more predictable. As Mike Tyson once said, though, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Creation plans are like pre-fight plans. After launch, you’re in the fight, and it gets real fast.

In our next post, we’ll examine how successful churches employ systems to orchestrate what’s happening to grow the church.

See you again soon,