“Who are you?”
The person sitting across the table from you may not verbalize this, but they’re thinking it because you just met them for the first time. You got their contact information from another person you met last week for the first time. You are a brand new church planter in a brand new city doing your best to communicate to anyone and everyone who will listen to the vision the Lord gave you for this new church.
Planting a church in a city where you have roots and are known is ideal, but many church planters experience the opposite—moving to a new city with limited contacts. This creates an immediate problem. You and your church (which only exists in your head, by the way) lack credibility.
Here are four simple suggestions for building credibility for your new church plant:
1. Stand on the shoulders of others
Paul would often send his co-workers in the gospel with letters of recommendation (Rom. 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Phil. 2:19-30).
As Christians consider joining you on your God-ordained-mission, they want to make sure you are not a cult. And who can blame them for being cautious. While letters of recommendation are no longer part of our culture, we can learn from the principle.
Any way you can display the credibility of your sending church or network builds trust.
- Direct people to your sending church’s or network’s website.
- If other pastors have written books in your network, direct people toward them or start a book table during your services.
- Create a budget line to have guest preachers from your sending church or network fill the pulpit. This gives you needed breaks early on, and it provides opportunities for people to hear from those who sent you out.
People want to see that you are not a lone ranger and are part of something bigger. Show them.
2. Serve your community
More and more, church plants are understanding that our generosity in serving others results in added credibility to the gospel message we proclaim. This concept is not new.
Paul says in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Jesus also got at this idea in John 13:35 when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Early in our church plant, several couples experienced job loss and financial strain. Other families paid bills, bought groceries, opened their homes and met the financial needs of others. Those acts of service dramatically impacted the culture of our church as we celebrated their generosity.
Beyond serving our little community of faith, a passionate group of our members have selflessly served with local organizations in our city. By taking these opportunities, these servants have demonstrated the power of the gospel to change us into those who don’t serve ourselves but serve others (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
3. Shepherd your family
Paul tells Timothy that a pastor “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4).
I’ve always understood this verse as a benchmark for qualification but have just recently begun to see the power leadership in the home has for building or destroying trust and credibility.
A couple from our church recently moved to a new city. They shared that they question joining a particular church in their new city because of the way the lead pastor and his wife interact. They celebrated the grace of God in the marriages of our pastoral team—the way we love, honor and treat our spouses.
This was a bombshell moment for me because I rarely think people notice my marriage, but people see more than I know. Our words, actions, body language, responses and reactions to our families communicate loudly about our character, leadership and trustworthiness.
I don’t share this to make you a paranoid pastor; I do share it to encourage you to pastor your family well. Don’t lose sight of loving your family as you seek to love a new church. And never underestimate the power of God’s wisdom in 1 Timothy 3:4—those who can’t lead their house should not lead the church. People instinctually know this, even if they don’t know 1 Timothy 3:4.
4. Surrender to time
I once had a conversation with my friend Michael Clary, pastor of Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, where Michael said, “Many church planters view time as their enemy—you need people, money, growth and stability, preferably before your external support runs out. But we’ve learned time is our friend—the more time that goes by and the more people hear our church is still here loving people, the more our credibility grows.”
This reminds me of Paul’s ministry advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-7:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Credible, fruitful ministry takes time. It’s not a Pop-Tart that’s instantly ready after the toaster thrusts it into the world. Take a breath, work hard, be patient, endure and surrender to the time needed to build a credible ministry with the help of Jesus.
Ultimately, people need to see leaders who are formed and fueled by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to see men who find their confidence and their credibility not in themselves but in Jesus. They need men who can boast in their weaknesses in order to put on display the life-changing gospel of who Jesus is and what He has done in their lives and ministries.
If you are a new or seasoned church planter, people will always want to know, “Who are you?” By God’s grace, they will get to know you as a man who is entirely dependent on Jesus—as a man who says, “Christ is my life” (Col. 4:4).