10 Lessons from a decade of church planting: Part 1

By Dean Inserra

Recently we celebrated the 10th anniversary of City Church in Tallahassee. What started with 24 friends and family in a living room is now a multi-generational church making an impact in our city for the good news of Jesus Christ. In church planting a lot changes over ten years and there are a lot of lessons you learn along the way as a pastor, especially considering many church planters don’t have experience leading a church before they set off to plant.

There will be things you may have thought were the ‘end of the world’ that you eventually realize aren’t as big of a deal as you believed when you first started. There will also be things you didn’t think mattered but are essential for a new church in order to prevent being just another flash in the pan. It is a humbling journey as a church planter. You will definitely be stretched and grown as a Christian and leader. There are ten main lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years that I hope will be helpful for other church planters.

The first one doesn’t line up very well with popular church planter lingo…

  1. Vision is overrated.

“I’m just not very good at this whole ‘vision’ thing,” a discouraged pastor shared with me over lunch at Chick-fil-A. He asked, “How do I even cast vision?”

As a church planter getting ready to celebrate my church’s 10-year anniversary, I must have been associated with ‘vision casting’ in this pastor’s mind. But as I took a breath and prepared to impart all of my apparent wisdom, I froze. “What is our vision?” I thought immediately. “Do we even have one?”

I fumbled over my words as my mind went back to a weekend ‘boot camp’ for aspiring church planters. Those of us in attendance spent the majority of our time talking about vision. We had to craft a vision for our future churches that would correspond with our mission statement by writing clever and catchy sentiments with purple markers on large tear-off sheets hanging on the wall. I had a hard time coming up with something then, and here now at Chick-fil-A, sitting across from a pastor who sought me out to discuss this very topic, I had nothing.

People in our city speak of the ‘vision’ of our church often, and I claim to be the unofficial guardian of that vision as the lead pastor. Yet there I was, unable to cast vision about casting vision. I couldn’t even articulate the vision of our church when asked directly.

So I circled back to the reason I knew I wanted to start a church in the first place. When I was a twenty-something trying to become an actual church planter, all I knew was that I had a passion for a place and for people. I wasn’t sure how one went about starting a church, but I knew my hometown of Tallahassee needed more gospel-preaching churches and I wanted to reach my friends for Christ. I wasn’t sure if that counted as a vision and I had no idea how to make that into a catchy statement, but I had a mission, I knew that for sure.

I remember holding that purple marker in my hand with the ‘Church Planting Catalyst’ looking over my shoulder as he asked, “So, what’s your vision?” and “Do you have a mission statement?” I glanced at the words being written by the guys on my right and left and started to wonder if I was cut out for this. These guys had each written statements I would need a hired creative wordsmith to craft. I was just standing there with a purple marker, trying to come up with something that would sound okay and not completely lame.

Coming back to the table at Chick-fil-A, I finally formed my thoughts and knew how to encourage this pastor. “What is the Bible’s job description for us as the Church?” I asked. He immediately answered as I’d hoped and pointed to the Great Commission. In that moment, I began to realize that I actually was cut out to coach someone on vision, and that every Christian is equally qualified to do the same thing. We remind and point people back to the vision Jesus gave His Church. “Don’t worry about vision,” I said. “Your church doesn’t need to be preoccupied with vision; it needs to be serious about the Bible.”

Years ago, with that purple marker in my hand, I wound up with the least cool statement on the big white sheet of paper: “I want to reach Tallahassee and all my friends for Jesus through the local church, and I hope anyone who will ever call our church their home will want to do the same.” The instructor thought I was being sarcastic with such a non-vision-statement-esque vision statement, but I looked at him and simply said, “This is what I’m trying to do, man.” Since then, we’ve summarized this vision as being “For the Gospel, For the City,” but the goal hasn’t changed.

The vision for all local churches should sound pretty similar if we are going to be faithful to the mission mandate given to us by our Lord. I am all for creative expressions, ideas, approaches, and manifestations of the mission, but that should spring from a gospel-centrality in our congregations (led by the pastor) more than a super hip marketing campaign (led by a creative team). Branding is great, but the vision should be simple. And the vision-caster is Jesus Himself speaking to us through Scripture.

In my opinion, the aspects of application to get hung up on are ones of strategy, not vision. The vision is laid out already, but how you’re going to carry it out is the conversation you should be having. Every biblical, local church has the same message, but working out the calling to make disciples in your specific environment might include:

  • Regular reminders of who you are as a church, and also who you are not.
  • Saying no to certain things so the church can be available to live out the Great Commission in your community and beyond.
  • Identifying how you can utilize your assets, human resources, exposure, platforms, etc. to reach your given audience, congregation or city.
  • Equipping your church members to carry out the Great Commission in their personal lives, not only relying on the church as an entity to reach the city.

Pastor, you can rest knowing the creative vision for your church is laid out. Our job is to lead churches, by the Lord’s help, who are faithful to what Jesus has called us to do for His glory, kingdom, and church.

“So, I can be a vision guy simply by keeping the church focused on the Great Commission,” the pastor said back to me at Chick-fil-A. The light bulb went off for my pastor friend. He already had all he needed for vision since Jesus provided it in Scripture. My friend merely needed the courage and resolve to keep his church focused on reaching people and making disciples.

Published November 1, 2017

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Dean Inserra

Dean Inserra is the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla. He is a graduate of Liberty University with a degree in Biblical Studies. Dean is a member of the advisory council for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is married to Krissie and they have three children.