I was terrified to plant a church. Part of that fear was not knowing how to do it. I had a myriad of unanswered questions. One of those questions was two-fold: “When to launch?” and “What needs to be in place before we launch?”

Basically, “What is my timeline?”

First, I picked a date. I wanted to launch in August of 2016 to create as much momentum before the blistering Phoenix summer when people flee to Flagstaff for the weekend. But, we weren’t ready.

We weren’t ready because I was not ready, emotionally or organizationally. Fortunately for me, I had guys to point this out. We pushed our launch back to January 2017. From there, we (our launch team, coaches, and myself) could reverse engineer our timeline.

Launch Day

We launched on January 8. January 1 is not a good day to launch in Phoenix. I doubt the morning after New Year’s Eve is ever a good day to launch a church! Launching in January still afforded us time to build and have another typically “bigger” Sunday for Easter before the summer vacations started. Momentum is a good friend for a planter, and you want to build as much of it as possible before hitting a known “slump.”

Preview Services and Christmas Eve

Once our launch date was established, we set dates for three preview services. We invited our friends from the gym, our neighbors, and anyone who had expressed interest in our church to these services. I preached on our values and described what kind of church we would be. We front-loaded the relationship and let any new folks know exactly what kind of church this was.

I didn’t want to waste their time, and I didn’t want them to waste mine. We spaced these a month apart (October, November, and December) to give us time to fix issues and make it better. Feedback is always important, but it is absolutely critical at this stage.

In Phoenix, Christmas Eve services are huge. More non-Christians will attend Christmas Eve than Easter. We didn’t want to miss a great opportunity to invite our lost friends. While attendance at our preview services was 87, 64, and 67, on Christmas Eve we had 126! That was super exciting and encouraging for our teams. It helped build momentum.

Right Seat, Left Seat, Drive

Mathew, one of our prospective church-planters who spent time in the military, taught me this terminology. I think it is a great handle for this stage in the timeline. After our preview service dates were set, we coordinated with our sister church, Valley Life | Surprise, to bring our team to

  1. Observe (Right Seat),
  2. Assist (Left Seat), and
  3. Lead (Drive).

This is how we on-ramped our teams. There were a lot of other one-on-one meetings and opportunities for service and leadership development at our sending church, Valley Life | Tramonto. But, this was how we started leaving the nest. By this time, the leaders of our six service teams were identified and tasked with leading their teams to learn their respective tasks. Those six service teams were Worship, Kids, Connections, Communication, First Impressions, and Finance.

Community Groups and Staff Meetings

At this point in the process, we were placing people on teams. In community groups, we would ask people about their passions. We said, “For now…” often. We asked people to “pick a passion and a chore.”

Early on, when placing people on teams, we said “for now” often. We asked people to pick a passion and a chore.Click To Tweet

In a church plant, it is all hands on deck. “For now” assumes an off-ramp for both leaders and followers. You will most likely have people doing things that 3-6 months later they don’t want to do anymore or you don’t want them to do anymore. Embrace the flexibility. Flexibility doesn’t mean weakness. Tires are rubber for a reason. It’s replaceable and doesn’t tear up the rest of the car.

Also during this time, groups were asking every week, “Who do you want Jesus to save? Who are you inviting?” The whole church must be on one mission, and groups are a great place to be burdened for our “pre-Christian” friends.

Staff meetings essentially consist of your six service team leaders. They are probably all volunteers. They all have schedules and families. It will seem like you are asking much of them and you will be. Ask anyway.

If they take on the role of a leader, they should embrace leader things. Weekly staff meetings are leader things. You are praying for one another, helping one another fill their teams, offering suggestions, and growing and developing as a team.

During this time, I highly recommend going through Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as a staff. It will help you create a team everyone can trust. If you can’t trust your team, you are hobbled. Don’t be.

Core-Group Phase

This phase is the smallest. This is your first community group. These are the folks that God has sent to you as the planter. You have cast a vision, and you probably didn’t cast it well. But, God in his mercy used it and called people to come and help. At every stage, it is important to give people your heart. But, at this stage it is crucial. Vision and passion for the mission must ooze out of you. People shouldn’t be able to spend much time with you at all without getting some of the vision on them.

Vision must ooze out of you. People shouldn’t be able to spend time with you without getting some of it on them.Click To Tweet

You are meeting weekly, asking and answering, “Why are we planting this church?” They are buying into your vision for the church. They are counting the cost. Give them all the information you can. “It’s gonna cost us this much money for the first year. That comes to $XXXX each Sunday. If we have this many people, that comes to $XX per person.” Let them pull out their phones and do the math and figure out how committed they are.

And pray and let the Holy Spirit do work.

Cody Deevers

Cody Deevers

Cody Deevers is the pastor of Valley Life | Arrowhead. He is a regular writer for LifeWay Pastors.