Dr. Dan Morgan is one of North America’s most experienced and insightful missiologists. He has been on the forefront of developing many new church planting methodologies that are now considered as standard in church planting circles – a rich testament to his life’s impact on key leaders across North America. It has been my privilege to have learned and grown from his wisdom over many years and to consider him a good friend.
The following contribution from Dr. Morgan is church planting gold. If you desire to see God use your life in a far greater way than simply starting a singular church. If you deeply long set things in order to experience a movement – then follow these simple steps.
1. Read this article
2. Print it
3. Reread it
4. Ask the Father to show you how best to implement these ideas within your context.
5. Lead sacrificially and courageously
My prayer is that many church leaders will take these principles to heart.
A Brief Introduction to the Five Principles which help an MCC* produce High-quality Graduates
The following is not intended to be a comprehensive manual on how to set up an MCC. It does not deal with curriculum design, or with how to administer an MCC. Both of these are local church issues. Some will want to design their own curriculum to fit their particular model of church; some will find a suitable curriculum. Administration will be more or less thorough, depending on the inclinations of the lead pastor of the MCC host church.
The reason for addressing this particular list of principles is that they are the ones most likely to be ignored in the pressures of leading the overall church, or the expediency of getting SOMETHING done.
Principle One: Use Cohorts to Maximize Your Training
I was having lunch with a friend of mine when the subject of cohorts came up. His curriculum developer researched the impact of student “cohorts” in public education. It turns out that they are a key part of culture shaping and so, culture change. When someone is part of a group in which a few respected or admired individuals model the desired behavior, they are far more likely to begin to behave that way themselves. We already know that a lot of church planting skill is caught rather than taught. We have also observed that newbie planters do what they have experienced in previous church positions regardless of what you teach them in a classroom. In fact, research we did at Saddleback about the “purpose-driven church” seminar showed that only about 10% of the attendees could implement a new paradigm from scratch. Another 20% could make the change if they were coached.
The previous encounter suggests to me that using cohorts of potential planters along with field practice is a fundamental strategy to produce planters that will actually plant a church using good networking/evangelizing/gathering/community transformation strategy.
Training using cohorts also naturally and organically advocates for a team approach to planting. The cohort learns as a group and builds skills as a team in the field. At the end of the training, those who discover that being a lead planter is not for them can shift to being a team member in a new church plant.
1. In light of the above, build a cohort to train.
2. Focus first on the early skills that result in evangelistic momentum and community credibility. These skills include networking, broad gospel sowing, gathering to appropriate groups/events, and serving the community in ways that touch on the social fault lines of that context
3. Culture building depends on creating “heroes”, so tell lots of stories of times when you and others did the desired behavior, and what God did. If not live, then capture video testimonies
4. If at all possible, take the cohort into the field at first to model the desired behavior. That would be true for each training module you initiate.
If you want to change the culture of church planting in your area, it will include exposing newbies to the models you want to reproduce, and screening them from planters who are not modeling good planter practices. Celebrate the early successes of newbies with the whole group.
Principle Two: Screen for Character Before you let People into the Training Program
There is an old saying in the business world that applies just as well to the church world, “we hire for skill and fire for character”. We witness the truth of this in ministry almost every day. It seems like there is always another breaking story of a minister who has been caught in an affair, or embezzling money, or abusing power. The worst thing you can do is equip a person of seriously flawed character to be very effective in the skills of church planting. Why? My observation is that Satan doesn’t take them down right away. He waits until they have great influence, and then their fall damages the trust and confidence of many other believers, some of whom will walk away from God over the event.
I believe Scripture gives us a good guideline for judging the maturity of a candidate. I Timothy 3:1-7 says:
“3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
You can’t observe character directly. You observe it when it comes out as the motive for certain behaviors. This passage and the one in Titus call for someone who shows self-control and an open, honest life in every setting of life; at home, at church, in the neighborhood, and has shown this for a “long” time (not a new convert).
So, you will get better outcomes with your trainees if you
1. Interview people from all the settings of a potential cohort member’s life and hear a consistent message of Godly self-control and service to others.
2. Interview the candidate (and spouse, if married) for their history of service to others and leadership in the church
3. Find out who has been mentoring them prior to this; pay special attention to the mentor’s recommendations.
Principle Three: Evaluate Participants at the End and only Graduate those who have Mastered your Training
One of the trends in children’s sports and every other group endeavor is to give “participant” awards, but don’t call attention to those who excel in that activity. It is said that it preserves everyone’s self-esteem, but the observant can still tell you who actually learned to play the game with excellence. Academic theological training is a lot like that. If you hang in there and do at least the minimum to get by, you will eventually get a degree.
When we look at church planting, this approach won’t work. Many planters go out with only their experiences in an established church to guide them. Many teams go out without knowing how to work together in a synergistic way. When you have a very well-defined outcome based on a complex set of competencies, you can tell whether a person has “mastered” the knowledge and skills or not.
You will have elements of knowledge and perspective you want to impart to a potential planter or team, and you can test for retention with written exams. However, you will also have skills that must be mastered to do the work of a lead planter or key team member. These can only become part of the planter’s skill set with practice and correction until competency is achieved. At the end, you need to have first-hand observers verify that the candidate demonstrated the needed skills with some level of mastery. There are no “perfect” planters, so there is an art to this that includes how sensitive they are to the Spirit’s leading.
Over time, if the people you evaluate as “masters” actually lead a team to plant an enduring, effective church, the confidence of other people in your training, not to mention your own confidence, rises along with trust. Your word becomes enough and cohorts fill on their own from people who know your reputation and want to be trained by you.
Principle Four: Use a Set Curriculum
Over the years I have interviewed a number of successful planters who didn’t know why they had been successful. They would try to put into words what they were thinking and why they did what they did, but upon reflection it became obvious that most of their success was acting on their God-given intuition. I celebrate what God did through them, but it is not reproducible, except by someone who is wired like them and walked through the process with them.
On the other hand, I have interviewed (and read the books written by) successful planters who were very systematic in their approach to planting. What they did had process and systems that mobilized volunteers, welded them into effective teams, and deployed them in the work of making disciples to form a new and growing community of faith. The difference from the first group is two-fold:
1. This “curriculum” produces measurable results when applied. Knowing what you thought would happen versus what actually happened prompts you to change the curriculum to see if you can close the gap. When results are where you want them, you can train cohort after cohort and expect similar results. Of course, there are two caveats
a. Reproducibility is not a substitute for obedience to Christ, or for the need of His presence and blessing. The individual must adjust the training to God’s leading in their life.
b. Some will prove to be intuitive church planters who will not follow the system but will see God’s hand blessing what they do. Celebrate their unsystematic approach to advancing the kingdom, and give them the freedom to pursue ministry as their intuition leads. Release them with appropriate recommendations, but not as someone who “mastered” your training.
2. This approach is a “complete” approach. Often the intuitive trainer misses significant aspects of the church planting task because either they assume it is obvious to their disciples, or it just didn’t come up in the conversation. With a set curriculum, all the significant topics are covered with every student and every cohort. When feedback shows gaps in knowledge or understanding, the training is adjusted to fill-in the gap. Over time training becomes better.
A critical reality in training planters is that all training is biased toward a particular “model” of church life. It is important to unapologetically acknowledge the model you train toward. You will reproduce after your own kind. If that is advertised up front, potential cohort members know what model they will learn to plant, and if it is not for them they can find another training program that trains toward a different model.
1. There are three basic approaches to planting: missional house church networks, missional cell-churches, and missional attractional/big launch churches. Know what genre you are.
2. There are universal principles of starting such as networking, broad gospel sowing, and gathering to early events that form the foundation for all models. Know the point at which your training becomes model specific.
How do you find a base curriculum? Check out what others have found to be effective material. You can use a base book, like Kingdom First by Jeff Christopherson, supplemented with stories and best practices from planters in your area, or you can find a set curriculum such as that offered by Tom Wood. Whatever you use, make sure you adjust it to be practical for your cultural context.
Principle Five: Train for Skill in the Field
The greatest drawback to effective planting is the planter’s lack of skill in the basic behaviors needed for developing a gospel community from nothing. Often they are religious professionals who have been seminary educated (education, not training) and trained in the ways of a stable institutional church by serving on staff. Most of their “skills” relate to running an established church with readily available volunteer labor. Even their evangelistic experience is often limited to gospel preaching to an assembled congregation with an altar call, or home visits with the unsaved, but relationally connected, friends of church members. Often, their ministry setting didn’t force them to identify, train, and deploy lay leaders. This is a great hindrance to building an effective church planting team.
The fundamental skills of a church planter are foreign to this group of potential church planters, and they will need to learn theses skills through field assignments requiring specific behavior. One time is not enough. This field work must be repeated over and over with coaching and correction until they master each basic skill.
What skills? You should have your “top ten” and train those skills. You can’t train a cohort to reflect everything you have learned through years of planting, but you can give them the essential skills that will help them survive until the Lord brings evangelistic fruit and organizational momentum. My essential five are networking, team building, learning a culture through asking good questions with careful listening, gospel conversations with strangers, and doing early events that make sense to seekers – such that they show up. You will add to your top ten the “big lessons” you learned while planting that can be systematically implemented.
How do you train? For this you need coaches who will hold the cohort accountable. You may want a different coach for each skill – someone you know that does it well. It may be a lay person. It may be a pastor friend. For sure, the senior pastor of the host church shouldn’t do all the coaching, perhaps not any of the coaching, unless they are an expert in some skill.
How long does it take? Common wisdom is that it takes six weeks to develop a new habit. If you consider corrective coaching and varying complexity of different skills, you should allow four to six weeks per skill taught. Obviously, the skills should build on one another, if possible. For example, networking leads to opportunities to ask good questions, and it leads to opportunities to share the gospel. If you limit yourself to ten skills, then your cohort will need to be with you for between a year and eighteen months. Other insights and behaviors will be developed as well, incidental to your top ten, but that gives a timeline for the skill development.
Conclusion: Overtime, Build in All Five Principles
Any one of the above five principles will increase the impact of your church as a training center. All five will give you the best chance to consistently turn out planters and teams that can extend the Kingdom by planting new communities of disciples who, in turn, will join with you to do even more.
Published July 31, 2015