13 traits of effective church planters apply to leaders of any new ministry

February 27, 2014

For new churches (and typically any new ministries of existing churches) to be launched, four important stars need to align:

• Readiness of leadership: The right people are prepared and available.
• Ripeness of mission field: A specific geographic area or population isn’t being served by a faith community.
• Clarity of strategy: The model for ministry is appropriate and sustainable.
• Alignment of resources: Money, facilities, partners, and other stakeholders support the pursuit of clear benchmarks.

The first of these stars is critical. Without the right leadership, even the brightest of the remaining stars can rarely be capitalized upon. New ministries of any kind, especially new churches, require the discernment, assessment, training, deployment, and support of passionate and competent leaders.

On January 28-29, I led an orientation retreat for potential church planters across our Dakotas/Minnesota Episcopal Area with one of our congregational development consultants, Cathy Townley. Thirty-seven people participated—all with a passion for church growth and multiplication. Laity, seminarians, and clergy from diverse cultures and backgrounds gathered in common learning about processes and practices for forming new faith communities. The purpose was to discern their personal calling and assess their practical skills for church planting.

Our United Methodist church planting strategy team has identified 13 traits of church planters that correlate with enjoyable and effective church-planting experiences. I would suggest that they are also traits to look for in discerning and deploying potential leaders to new ministries intended to reach new people through established congregations. The traits of effective leaders:

1. Something in their experience of God drives them to the edge of settled church life and wanting to reach new people for God’s kingdom.
2. They have history in at least one vibrant, growing church, possibly in a previous healthy new church start.
3. They are self-aware and understand their gifts, talents, personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
4. They are open to coaching and welcome mentoring in the pursuit of personal, avocational, and vocational growth.
5. They have an affinity for the mission field; they identify with and love the community and its people.
6. They already have a network of relationships with individuals that could be invited to participate in the new ministry.
7. The leader and family are at peace with the demands and embrace the sacrifices that come with the new ministry.
8. The age of the leader is no more than 10 years above or below the median age of likely ministry participants; people tend to attract people like themselves.
9. They demonstrate a vibrant faith that inspires others.
10. There’s evidence of a history of building relationships in the community and leading friends into church life.
11. They are catalytic innovators with an “entrepreneurial gene.” They have previously started something new; past history is the best indicator of future performance.
12. They are competent vision casters. They help people understand why Christ makes a difference and help people see where their ministry is heading.
13. They are deeply committed to The United Methodist Church. For a new church or a long-established church, if the goal is to reach new people, leaders must be passionately committed to the mission and values of the organization to which others will be invited. 

Those 37 potential future leaders of new faith communities completed their orientation. They are writing essays about their personal perception of their gifts and calling. They’ll also participate in in-person interviews. Hold in prayer our conference-wide development of a pool of called and capable church planters for the work and witness of new churches on the near and distant horizon. In the meantime, pray for God to also raise up leaders with similar characteristics to dream and initiate something new in your own ministry setting. Look in the mirror—maybe it’s you!  

In Christ, we are renewed every day.

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

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