By Donnie Reynolds, Church Planter/Pastor of Centerpoint Church, Annapolis, Md.
Jenny and I lived in Virginia, an hour and a half away from Annapolis, Md. The only thing keeping us from living out the dream God had given us for Centerpoint Church was a little thing called Washington, D.C. (and the Beltway that we had to go around to get to our “dream”). We hadn’t sold our house; we had only half the financial support we needed and we had a new three-month old baby. Okay, maybe there were two or three other obstacles, too.
I didn’t really believe the rules and limitations of starting a new church “from scratch” applied to us. I thought those rules were for “less fantastic Christians/pastors/planters.” With a wife only half-doubting my plans and vision, and with a few distant supporters too ignorant to be able to help, we decided to do a preview service on Sept. 30, 2007, just 19 days after I had officially resigned from my previous church. I hand-delivered 5,000 door hangers and placed 20 road signs inviting random people to join us in our new dream. The result? Not one person showed up. Ignoring the experts and the in-laws, I decided to hold another preview service the following month, but the result was the same: nobody showed up. After a third failed attempt (after all, even Naaman had to dip in the Jordan River seven times, right?), I decided to listen to the outside voices and wait until God’s timing was more evident.
Still rushed to get God moving on my future church, I decided to host another preview service Jan. 13, 2008, at the Sheraton Hotel in Annapolis. I advertised “relevant teaching” (it wasn’t), “great band” (it ended up being no band), “quality childcare” (it was decent) and prayed like crazy. I was not even sure why we thought things would be different this time, but I had a weird feeling that it would be. When the day came, 39 people from Annapolis showed up and “the baby” (our church plant) was conceived.
I’ve thought a lot over the last 20 months about all the work, planning, money and emotions that have gone into getting this new community where it is today. Honestly, I’ve never once considered quitting and I try not to be critical about those who do, but there have been many times I’ve said to myself, “Ah, so this is why we (church planters) quit.”
Here are my thoughts on the top six, “Ah, this is why we quit” reasons:
1) We forget our calling or we aren’t convinced of it from the beginning. This is what I argued with God about in the early months more than anything. I’m convinced He wanted me here at this time in my life. I believe, too, that He is in control of the circumstances and resources with which I’m dealing; so why haven’t things gone the way I thought they would? While I’ve asked the question, I’ve never considered quitting because I’m certain this is what God wanted. My pastor in college used to say, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what God revealed to you in the light.”
2) We compare our stories with others. Another planter I know started a church about 25 minutes north of me with a full team of helpers (he got from another church), full financial support (that he didn’t have to raise), full equipment (that he didn’t have to buy), and with established relationships and reputation (that he already had). When he launched with 180 at his first worship service and I had only 79 at mine, I felt like a loser. Why? I took my eyes off God and compared myself to others. Instead, I have to remind myself constantly that this is God’s story and God’s church. If I don’t end up being the next Billy Graham, it is quite okay with God.
3) We ignore our problems instead of working through them. Every church at every age and every stage has problems. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. My problem isn’t that I want to quit, my problem is that I want to ignore our problems. I love what Cal Ripken Sr. said to Junior, his son, when he was going through a batting slump during his rookie year. “Slumps don’t get worked out by taking a day off and sitting out a game, slumps get worked out by swinging through them.” I’m not talking about wearing ourselves out, but we all should realize that we need to work through the problems, not ignore them.
4) We forget to say, “I’m not here for you.” A friend of mine told me those were the most important words he had to say when he started a new church. God didn’t take us to these cities and towns to round up discontented Christians; he called us to these places in order to reach lost people. So why do we get upset when Christians don’t “like” our churches? If I got disheartened by every Christian that came to our church and criticized us for not being like the big churches in Annapolis, I would quit. That is like comparing a 20-month old infant to a ten-year old child (in most cases). The 10-year old should be able to offer more to the community, but we can’t afford to do the same (in more ways than one). We need to act our age and stage, not like the biggest church in town.
5) We don’t know the “stage” of our church. Let’s face it; quitting is really an issue of the heart. I make bad decisions for the church when I start thinking about the age of the church, not the stage. We have to make decisions based on our numeric attendance, not our numeric existence. There are churches that are 50-years old that are the same size as mine, and they should be doing some of the same things I’m doing to break their growth barriers (which I now believe are real). Instead, they are holding 50th anniversaries and dreaming about the past, but not planning for the future. When I start making decisions based on how long I’ve been doing this rather than what a church my size should do to grow, I usually make the wrong decision.
6) We get tired… enough said. Find a way to take a vacation and get some rest. Even Jesus was wise enough to do this (and His ministry was exceedingly more important and pressing than yours or mine).
So quit offering excuses, but don’t quit the calling God’s has given you to do! Remember, He is faithful and continues to work on each of us, too, even as He builds the church through you. Don’t look back, either; rather, hold on tight to the hand of God as He leads you into the future. You’ll be glad you did.
Donnie Reynolds is the church planter/pastor of Centerpoint Church, Annapolis, Md. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (443) 510-3868.