Below is a four part posting from Ben Arment (lead pastor of Reston Community Church) using Seth Godin’s new book The Dip as insight to the journey and struggle of a church planter. Really insightful.
Why so many church planters quit too soon
People love a winner. They want the best of the best. And they don’t have time to go sorting through choices to find it anymore… so they go with word-of-mouth, a trusted recommendation.
The first church in a community to reach a high level of excellence and relevance quickly becomes the “default church” for the churched and the unchurched alike. After all, people love a winner. And they avoid losers.
Without realizing it, this landmark church creates a long-tail distribution, where they get first pickings by an incredible margin, and every other church and church plant gets the long tail… the left-overs. They simply don’t have the resources, manpower or momentum to be a viable choice for the community. Over time, many of these churches either die or stall-out.
Churches have fallen into the same market forces that push winners far ahead of the pack and ignore the runners-up. Because people love winners, a community puts up barriers to prevent other churches from making it. In some sense, they don’t want your church plant to succeed.
It is, unfortunately, at this moment that many church planters decide to call it quits. They think it’s useless to keep pushing into a community that doesn’t want them there. But by quitting, they create more scarcity of churches. And scarcity creates more value for the winners.
Coming up… Every church plant faces “a dip” of nearly insurmountable proportions they have to get through in order to thrive in a local community and get out of the long tail. But it is possible… and, in fact, highly valuable to go through it.
If Seth Godin wrote a book on church planting, part 2
Every church plant starts out as a highly enjoyable experience for the planter. He’s in the mission field, meeting new people, imagining the possibilities, and learning something new every day. And then “the dip” happens…
He realizes the community doesn’t really want a new church. They’ve already picked “the winners” and can’t be bothered with the long tail of other options. This dip in excitement, success, momentum – you name it – begins to feel like an insurmountable up-hill battle. This is where the 80% failure rate of church plants occurs.
This dip is where Ed Stetzer points out the declining survivability of new churches in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years. Trouble is, Stetzer doesn’t go far enough. If… a church planter can hold out… push through the dip… learn valuable lessons that will refine the church… there are indescribable rewards waiting.
Rewards such as becoming a “winner,” gaining do-no-wrong momentum, developing word-of-mouth. But… and here’s the catch. Your church plant has to become the best in the world… at something.
So you’re not sure you have what it takes to be the best? Nonsense. Otherwise, how do you explain all those lousy churches and church planters that are thriving? They stuck it out through the dip.
Working harder won’t do jack. Doing more will just make things worse. To be the best in the world, we have to quit doing everything that’s keeping us from being the best. It’s called strategic quitting.
Coming up… Strategic quitting. When you’re in the dip, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well break outside the box to become the best.
Embrace the difficulty of church planting, part 3
The dip is your friend. That brutal wall of resistance to your church plant after the first few years… is your friend. Why? Because the dip is what keeps the riff-raff out of your community, the snake handlers and tamberine shakers. Sure, this makes it harder for your church to make it, but once you do… it will add so much value to your church.
The dip is the time to become the best in the world at what you do. If you settle for mediocrity and coast through the dip, you’ll be in the dip forever. You might as well quit. But if you push into the dip… if you learn and refine the church through this time… it’ll have huge payoffs.
The dip is your friend because there are no rules to what you can and cannot do in this season. Nobody’s paying enough attention to your church to care. You’ve got nothing to lose. And it’s better to go through this learning season in obscurity than to conduct your trial-and-error in the public spotlight.
In the dip, you must employ – what Seth Godin calls – strategic quitting. This is the only way to become the best at what you do and emerge on the other side. Don’t quit the church plant. But do quit all the things that keep your church plant from being great. At RCC, during our dip, we decided to quit elementary age children’s ministry… for now. We quit doing bulletins. We quit serving refreshments.
And all of these strategic quits are making us the best in our world [our world is reston, va] at what we do: 1. pre-k children’s ministry, 2. welcoming environments and 3. Sunday morning programming.
We can’t be the best in our world at deep Bible teaching [another local church owns that]. We can’t be the best at singles ministry [largest one in the country is down the street]. We can’t have the best elementary program [someone here’s already got the corner on that market].
It takes guts to embrace the dip… to quit doing things you think are vital… and focus only on those things that will make your church great. But you’ll fail at trying to be good at everthing.
Deciding when to quit, part 4
If you make a list of the conditions that must be in place before you’ll quit the whole church plant, you’ll be far less likely to give up in the middle of the dip. Nothing could be worse than sacrificing and toiling and working hard, only to walk away at the first sign of hardship. What a waste.
So what are the conditions that you’d have to face? Seth Godin describes a world class marathon runner who outlined his own conditions. Signs of dehydration. Muscle failure. But he refused to give himself permission to quit under any other circumstance.
The benefit of the list? It’ll keep you in the game. It’ll help you push through the dip. It’ll keep you thinking rationally when your emotions are being overwhelmed by crises.
Think about the times you’ve thought of quitting… Money was running low. Everyone was against you. You lost a valuable staff memeber. No facilities. Set-back after set-back. They all seemed like the end of the world. The dip can seem like a permanent condition.
But you survived. Maybe. =) So what are the real conditions? I’ve got a planter-friend who was diagnosed with clinical depression. So he walked away. Another friend of mine lost his house. He stayed in the game. How far is too far for you and your family? If you make this decisions before crisis hits, you won’t be tempted to act on a whim.
Here are some conditions under which you should quit:
When the costs of the dip are greater than the rewards
When the dip is not a dip, but a dead-end
When you cannot emerge from the dip with something great
When you’re not interested in becoming great