I am helping present at a muti-site conference in a few weeks in Chicago. Mostly, I am going to help carry Geoff and Greg's bags...but that's beside the point. In thinking about my session, I have noticed that we have a unique perspective on planting churches at Seacoast. We have started 9 campuses of different sizes in the past 3 years. We have also planted 22 churches through our church planting arm - the A.R.C. Through all of these churches, I have noticed a few things that really work well, and some things to avoid. I think it's always best to learn from other people's mistakes, not my own. :)
I hesitate to post this for two reasons:
1. We certainly don't have it all figured out yet. We are only a year into this, and we have a ton of learning yet to do.
2. There are always exceptions. I have never seen a church with a worse location than Lakewood Church before their current home. Location, location, location!
With that said, here a few church planting observations:
Do a few things and do them well.
We started Seacoast Greenville with 3 focuses: Sunday celebration, children's program, and small groups. That is all we worked on for the 6 months before we launched. The churches that I have seen do well from the start, keep their focus. Out of those three, I think that a high quality kid's program may be the most important. If you are not ready to have a full kid's area on Sunday morning, then you are probably not ready to launch. You cannot compromise in this area. Parents will stick with a bad church if they have a something happening with their kids - they will leave a great church that doesn't. Invest in your kids.
Have a solid core leadership team in place before you launch.
I have heard all kinds of different thoughts on how many people you need on your core team before you officially launch. I think that you do need enough people to cover your priority focuses, but I also think that you need solid, committed leaders more than big numbers. When the opening day crowd goes away (trust me, they will), you need people who bleed the vision to be there every week.
Location, location, location!!!
We learned this one all by ourselves! We wondered all over Greenville before we had the right place. I believe we probably could have started a little quicker if we had locked into a better venue earlier. In our experience with campuses, movie theaters work really well. You have to get a bit creative with the children, but it can be done well - check out our Irmo campus. Those guys have it rockin'! High schools are also great if you can get them. They were at a premium here in Greenville. A couple of locations that don't seem to work well: motels and storefronts. Motels feel like convention centers (where we started), and storefronts lock you into a location. It took us 6 months to find where God wanted us to be.
I think that's probably enough for one post. I'll continue this in future posts down the road.