Pastor's Pastor

Real life church planting

Starting a new church

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Herb Larson, Jr., is an industrial design engineer, musical composer, arranger and performer, educational consultant, artist and illustrator (see our cover).

He is also a church planter. Recently I talked with this preacher's kid about the dream-to-reality process by which he and his wife, Tamara, along with four friends, planted the Open Door Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vancouver. Herb's enthusiasm for church planting is exceeded only by his joy in his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

But things were not always that way. Just four years ago Herb awakened one Sabbath to the reality that he did not want to go to church. Not then. Not ever! Most of his 40-something age friends had already abandoned church. Herb felt he was about to join them.

But not yet. As he prayed about his spiritual lethargy, Herb visioned a church he wished he could attend. Not knowing any that fit the description, he determined to plant one. Today as many as 200 people (about 50 more than the baptized membership) worship weekly. Here's what I learned from Herb about church planting.

Prepare thoroughly. Too many good projects fail because of unbridled enthusiasm. A project without a plan is a failure. For a full year, Herb led a group of six believers in weekly sessions of planning, praying, and visioning their new church. They checked out various worship styles, researched why members drop out, and projected what it would take to reclaim inactives. Start fresh. This group quickly realized the futility of forcing existing congregations to change. They wanted the support of sister churches, but they hesitated to hamper revival with resistance from those who might insist that traditions were correct because "we've always done it that way!"

Earn support. Determined to stay close to denominational structure, they gained the backing of conference leaders and began a process of informing sister churches of their plans, hosting discussion sessions, and sharing their vision. They determined not to change any traditional approach to church just for the sake of being different. In fact, they selected one of their group as "Church Manual expert" to keep their church in line with established policies.

Provide quality. One common frustration expressed by former members was the "same old stuff." Herb's group covenanted that they would provide quality in every expression of worship. They regularly put 40 to 50 hours of planning into every worship service. A scheduled speaker is requested to submit a full sermon outline six weeks in advance. The message drives the theme of worship in music, prayers, dialogues, skits, appeals, and testimonies.

Uplift Jesus. The Saviour is central. Herb and his group know the power of the name of Jesus. Their advance planning guarantees that every sermon builds a relationship with Jesus. They understand that the primary reason people drop out of church is lack of relationship with Jesus and involvement in the church.

Involve everyone. Attendees are immediately treated as members. In fact, associate membership status is officially recognized for those "regulars" who are "on the way." Anyone is welcome and all are encouraged to participate. Typically over two dozen individuals are "up front" at every worship service.

Recruit by gifts. Although they now have a full-time pastor, Open Door intentionally began as a laity-led project. Church offices are structured to the need. They diligently avoid ladder climbing, power tripping, and striving for position. Decisions are more processed than voted. The conference recruited their pastor carefully to serve more as a facilitator than as a director. The members readily embrace both the privilege and the responsibility for making their church function.

Involve community. Beyond reclaiming former members, Open Door fully understands mission. The church hosts for the public regular social, spiritual, and educational events. A recent "Festival in the Park" attracted wide media attention and good attendance. Worship services are held in a high-quality public auditorium.

Evaluate progress. The members regularly evaluate every facet of the church---even the pastor's sermons. They consistently ask, "How can we do better?" Feedback is sought and shared.

Expand by example. Others can learn from their experience at quarterly seminars that teach all areas of what this congregation has learned as they have rediscovered joy in Jesus and His church!


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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

February 1996

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