At this point in your life, you are ready to admit it: you are not a starter.
Some people are starters, and being a starter is cool. We tell stories of the legendary founders of companies, movements and, yes, the founders of our local churches.
For the last few decades, the role of “church planter” has risen to a prominent place in denominations, seminaries and church culture. Most legendary megachurches are still led by their founder. These are people seem to have a magic combination of entrepreneurial drive, teaching skills and timing.
The Church needs starters. We need John Wesleys who will ride from city to city, organizing new communities. We need Hudson Taylors, who will give their lives to foreign cultures. We need Rick Warrens who imagine new creative ways to communicate the gospel to disenfranchised generations.
The Church needs starters, desperately. Traditional forms of Church are floundering. Denominations are declining. Younger generations don’t see the need for a religious identity.
The Church needs starters, but at this point in your life, you realized that’s not you.
You never had a lemonade stand as a kid. You are happy with your “company man” job. Or maybe you just don’t “get it.”
You understand life in a traditional, more institutional church. You like the idea of taking the Jesus message beyond your religious confines, but you know you’re not going to start anything new.
The Church needs Starters, that’s not you, and that is okay because starters need you.
Ten Ways You Can Support those who Start New Types of Churches
Look for Them
The kind of people who are starting new things are, by nature, on the margins. No matter how loving or welcoming your church community might be, the people who start things are most likely on the margins. Sometimes the people who skip Sunday School or aren’t in a small group are busy because they’ve found other ways to love their neighbors.
Sometimes they are on the margins because they want to be. Sometimes they are on the margins because the church misunderstood and pushed them there.
The point is, these people need you, but you can’t wait for them to come looking for you.
Listen to Their Stories
People who start things have stories. Not only beautiful stories of God’s work, but also stories of hurt and failure.
Being a starter means you see new things sprout, grow and flourish. It means you see lives radically altered by encounters with Jesus. It means you see the kingdom of God intersect with corners of the world far beyond the institutional church. Starters need people to celebrate with them.
Being a starter also means that you try a lot of things that don’t work. It means that people who are supposed to support you (ie-other church leaders) often don’t get you, or try to slow you down. It means you will often have to mourn the endings of failed friendships or nascent ministries. It means you deal with a higher level of rejection, pain and frustration than a non-starter.
If you are a non-starter, find someone who is a starter and listen to their stories. Starters need your listening ear to help them celebrate the joy of what God is doing. They need you to help them process the pain and cynicism of the starter lifestyle.
Go Places with Them
Starters have a superpower. They can see things non-starters can’t. Business entrepreneurs can look through a marketplace and see new profit waiting to be made. Kingdom entrepreneurs look at a neighborhood and see opportunities for the gospel to take root.
But like most superpowers, this can lead to misunderstandings, or worse. In churchworld, starters are often ridiculed or rejected by those who don’t see what they see.
You may never see the things that a starter sees, but you can learn to support them when they see it.
Find a starter in your church community and ask to “tag along.” Maybe they’ll take you to the street corner where they share the gospel with those who work there by panhandling or selling their bodies. Maybe they’ll take you to the high school parking lot where outcasts gather and build their alternate communities.
Ask a starter to show you around, and you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. Then, you will be able to advocate for them when they need support from the broader church.
Starters are good at starting things—but that usually isn’t enough.
Anything from a meaningful relationship to a fresh expression of Church needs a whole lot more that just a starting. It needs consistency. It needs cultivation.
Consider how many businesses fail because the business starter doesn’t understand basic accounting? Or how many nascent churches fail because the one trying to start the church might lack certain relational skills?
You might not be a starter, but you can still equip starters to be better at their job. Here are a few things you might be able to do:
- Donate a small amount of money to a project a starter wants to do, something to love and serve their community and help them budget it well.
- Enroll a starter in a training program like the Pioneer Learning Community that provides tools for forming and sustaining a new form of church.
- Connect a starter to relational resources they need, such as counseling to process their difficulties or any pain they might experience from starting things.
Help them Get Organized
Starters are often “idea people.” It’s not uncommon for a starter to have an idea to do something amazing and even to launch it. But developing it is something else altogether.
One powerful way to help a starter is to help them get organized. It might be helping them organize elements of their ministry. For instance, a starter who has a had a few one-off events may not understand what is necessary to consistently love and serve a group of people. This is often a matter of budgeting—both money and time. An outside voice with experience in managing projects can be a huge help to starter.
Another way to help a starter is to help them plan for the future. The classic business book “The E-Myth Revisited” suggests creating an organizational chart for your future business and (temporarily) assigning yourself to each job. This shifts your goal from “doing everything” to finding someone to fill the roles. Similar forward thinking can be applied to a future budget or other basic elements of their ministry.
Help Them Take a Break
Starters often have a lot of plates spinning. Because they tend to be excited and quick to volunteer, they can commit to too many things.
Challenge the starters you know with the question “what is it only you can do?” Give them permission to say no to things that distract from their unique work of starting things.
If you are church leader, be very careful about signing up starters for things that non-starters can do. There are a lot of people who can teach Sunday School, but fewer people who can form a new type of church.
Love their Families
Supporting someone doesn’t always mean supporting them directly. Often it can mean providing love and support to those around them.
Consider ways that you can help the starter and their families feel known, loved and valued. This could be as simple as a thank you card (a real, paper one they get via snail mail) or going to a child’s soccer game. It could be as grand as helping finance a well-needed vacation.
Don’t forget that the families of starters will have deal with side-effects of their parent or spouse being a starter. This includes everything from failed relationships to financial insecurity. Be quick to listen to the stories of the starter’s family as well.
Be their Friend
Even though starters can be social and often gregarious, they can also be lonely. They need friends.
Befriending a starter could be as simple as regularly checking in with them, perhaps over coffee or happy hour. Find ways to hang out that give them a chance to disconnect from their responsibilities as a starter, perhaps by taking them on a hike or to see their favorite sports team.
Beyond just being willing to listen be eager to have small talk or discuss parts of life that have nothing to do with their ministry. In other words, just be their friend.
Institutional churches are aching for starters, often because they don’t know what to do with them. These churches know what to do with teachers (commission them to preach) or shepherds (commission them to counsel and comfort), but it’s harder to know what to do with starters.
An institution, even the healthiest one, will never flourish without starters. They’ll miss the new opportunities and, eventually, fail to rise to the occasion when there are new needs.
But an institution can learn to love their starters. It begins by publicly recognizing them and their value.
When the mostly Jewish church in Antioch heard God’s calling to share the gospel with other people groups, they publicly recognized two starters among them, Barnabas and Saul. The leaders in Antioch prayed over them, laid hands on them, and told the Church about this new endeavor.
Would Barnabas and Saul have gone on this mission without the commissioning of the Church in Antioch? Perhaps. But because Antioch publicly recognized and actively supported them, Barnabas and Saul’s effort were seen as an extension of a local church. The entire church shared the responsibility to pray for and financially support their work.
In the years to come, when Paul was hungry in jail, supporters like these brought him food and delivered his letters. It’s hard to imagine what the New Testament would be like without the official, commissioned support of the Antioch church.
While most of the work of supporting starters will happen relationally and behind the scenes, it is important to publicly recognize their efforts. Not only will the starters feel recognized, but the institution will slowly become one known, not just for taking care of itself, but for sending others to start new things.
Ask What Miracles to Pray For
In the book of Acts, we see how the first church grew from Jewish followers gathered in Jerusalem to a regional movement. While you could dig through the verses to identify their growth strategy, Luke makes it clear that the church grew as a result of the signs and wonders God was doing among them.
A lot of people came to Jesus for healing. But only one of these impressed Jesus. It was the Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his son who was sick and far away.
The Centurion’s request was bold. Heal my son at home. He asked Jesus to a specific thing, for a healing of a specific person in a specific time and place.
As front-line leaders of the Jesus movement, starters will see many needs that only God’s healing power can address. A good starter will be bold in prayer and bold in their relationships. They will ask God to show up in specific people’s lives and help them in specific, tangible ways.
Support the starters by praying for them, but don’t stop there. Pray with them. Encourage them to be bold and specific in their prayers. Then, join them by boldly and specifically praying for these things yourself.
After all, even if you have the best, most well-supported starter, they still can’t form a fresh expression on their own. The kingdom of God grows through signs and wonders. So join your starter in asking for them.
Are you a starter? How could others support you?
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.