Over the years, I’ve seen lots of great church-planting practices, and many not-so-great ones. Too many churches open and then close too often because instead of looking to God, they were looking to themselves. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many church plants continue to exist but are like an enclave for the small community of people who attend. It’s like the community couldn’t care less that the church exists.

We must always ask ourselves: What difference does my church plant make in this community and in the world?

It’s a significant question that will take lots of prayer and a good plan. As you consider this, let me share three church-planting practices that need to die if we are to begin and sustain church plants that glorify God and keep us on mission with him.

First, we need to stop the sort of messaging that communicates (implicitly or explicitly) that all other churches are really bad and ours is the best.

I have seen this a lot over the years. For example, a mailer may go out and the messaging says something like:…

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SoundboardIf you have ever been a part of a rehearsal or sound check, you have most likely experienced some level of stress. Whether you are the worship leader waiting on the sound guy to finish up or you’re the technician sprinting from the stage and back, there are plenty of opportunities for frustration and miscommunication to creep in. At Saddleback, we are constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between the platform and the booth. We protect that relationship fiercely and put in countless hours of hard work both on stage and off the stage.

Each week we evaluate our weekend services and take a close look at our processes. We celebrate the things that worked well, and we spend some time looking one another in the eye, asking the hard questions, and giving honest answers so that we can grow and improve.

Did the production team know the band’s and vocalist’s needs ahead of time?
Were the techs given adequate time to set the stage and thoroughly test equipment?
Did the platform team and production team understand what was expected of each other?

The keys to a successful rehearsal and weekend service are…

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Here in America the recent election has caused disruption between and within communities. It reminded us that differences in opinions can grow into disruptions of community. Small Group Network’s international membership is likely not experiencing this in the same way. But we are all familiar with the lurking questions that create dissonance.

The dynamic of divisiveness is universal. New Testament writers frequently address disagreeing groups and coach them to right relationship. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, groups that disagree on specific teachings teachings — they are all encouraged and equipped to handle these situations.

Differences of opinion, especially heated or hostile differences, cause divide. It might be temporary, but there is always a risk that it intensifies. Sometimes it grows deep and wide enough that it cuts off relationship and communication. Divides can break up friendships and marriages. They can also lead to a Christian community’s splintering.

What causes a difference of opinion to grow into a disruption of community?

Several factors that lead opposing points of view to disrupt relationship. Help your leaders monitor these influences whenever possible.

It’s personal.

Disagreeing about a theoretical idea is easier than a personal concern. Imagine a small group of…

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Dave Gonzales was living a life most people dream about. But when divorce sent him into a depression, Dave turned to drinking to cope with the pain and loss. Now looking back on the decade that he spent as an alcoholic, he is grateful that despite the odds, he didn’t end up at the bottom of a grave.

Without a family to go home to, Dave began frequenting local bars and restaurants. What began as a few drinks after work developed into a much greater problem. When the bars would close, Dave would head home to spend the balance of his night drinking and gambling online. Shooting whiskey, drinking beer, and playing cards into the early morning hours became a regular occurrence.

Things grew worse for Dave when the economic crisis set in and his income dropped. Now dependent on alcohol, Dave made cuts everywhere in his life except his bar tab. He lost his apartment and car, and with no place to go, his only option was to sleep on his mom’s couch. Things had spiraled out of control — alcohol controlled Dave’s life. As time went on, his consumption continued to…

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Bishop A V VinesIn 2005, Pastor Glenn D. Bone of Good Seed Ministries in Chicago was presented with the Church Health Award from Pastor Rick Warren and Purpose Driven Ministries. After that, Pastor Bone began traveling all over the country passionately teaching Purpose Driven principles to church pastors and leaders. Eventually he became one of five approved PD coaches.

One of the connections he made along the way was with Pastor A. B. Vines of New Seasons Church in San Diego. The pair originally met at a Purpose Driven Conference, and they reconnected in 2013 when Pastor Bone called him about implementing PD strategies in his church. By that time, Pastor Vines had three campuses in San Diego and hoped to plant more churches throughout the country.

The following year, Pastor Vines invited Pastor Bone to come out to California to speak at a leadership conference. While there, he showed Pastor Bone a new campus and encouraged him to move to San Diego so they could to do Kingdom work together. Although Pastor Bone and his wife, Carla, loved San Diego, they felt God wanted them to remain in Chicago.

Then something happened that was…

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Church planting is part of Saddleback’s DNA. We’ve started at least one church every year since the beginning.

It is simply who we are. We believe that mature churches are just like mature plants or mature people: They bear fruit.

You can tell an apple tree is mature when it starts growing apples. You can tell a Christian is mature when he or she starts winning other people to Christ. And you can tell a congregation is mature when it starts having babies — planting other churches.

I believe any definition of fruitfulness for a local church must include the planting of new congregations, in addition to growth by the conversion of unbelievers. If we’re not reproducing, then it is a sign that something is unhealthy in our congregations.

As I’ve often said, a church’s health is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.

Regardless of size or location, your church can help start new congregations. At Saddleback Church, we started our first church plant when we had 150 people coming to the weekend services. The truth is, it doesn’t take a megachurch to start new churches.

Over the course of our history, Saddleback Church has planted…

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We’re all familiar with making New Year’s resolutions, and we all have every intention of following through with them, saying, “This is the year I’m going to lose the weight, quit drinking, fix my marriage, etc.” However, for the majority of Americans, these resolutions often get tossed to the curb along with the holiday garbage, and within weeks, people fall back into their old habits.

According to The University of Scranton, a mere 8 percent of people will successfully achieve their New Year’s goals. For this reason, I propose a change — rather than making a mere resolution this year, focus on making true life transformations. That means not simply addressing the symptoms of problems but taking a very hard look and addressing the heart of those issues. Transformation means a thorough and dramatic change — a real life change.

Here are five key steps below to help get you started in that process.

Let go of the resolutions you made in 2016 that didn’t work.

There is no use beating yourself up for past failed resolutions. Often, those resolutions stem from unrealistic fantasies and expectations, and wind up doing us more harm then good when we realize we have…

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Pastor Clarence Stowers Jr. is passionate about helping the people of his congregation connect the dots of life so they can live abundantly. Succeeding his father, Dr. Clarence E. Stowers Sr., in 1999, Stowers was 33 years old when he was installed as pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church in Chicago. As is so often the case, opportunity came disguised as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle when he inherited a traditional Baptist church that had plateaued.

Pastor C. E. StowersStowers says that based on almost every metric available, he knew he had to do something fast or the church’s attendance would decline. “The optimistic side of me was determined to turn our church around,” he recalls.

In 2000, he attended the Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback Church. Following the event, Stowers worked hard to formulate and cast a new vision for Mars Hill Church, located just west of downtown Chicago.

“I restructured our church, hired staff, and with fresh enthusiasm, we were off to a great start,” explains Pastor Stowers. “I anticipated smooth sailing ahead. What I didn’t anticipate is that everyone wants change until it affects them personally.”

Stowers came to realize that those…

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Preparing Sermons with a Team

Preachers do weird things. One weird thing we do is prepare our sermons alone. Every week you have to get up in front of a group of people and say words. Those words have to be engaging, powerful, motivating, encouraging, accurate, practical, and spiritual all at the same time.

Every. Single. Week.

And you prepare alone. All by yourself. I think this started with Moses. He went up on a mountain and heard from God. He came down and told the people, “This is what God said.” We’ve never really changed the model. Preachers have been preparing sermons alone ever since.

I used to prepare my sermons alone. I would read commentaries, watch sermons, and research articles, but it was mostly just me, by myself.

If you’re like most preachers, you prepare alone. The problem is, you are not Moses. You are not an Old Testament prophet. There is nothing requiring you to use this method. I’m not saying God can’t speak to you in your study. You should hear from God as you prepare. If you’ve been preaching for any length of time, you know how exhilarating it is to spend time in…

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The word “ministry” contains within it the idea of service, and to some it may come as an unexpected surprise that even ministers struggle with the pull of seeking status or striving illegitimately after ambition as we pursue our careers  –  uh, I mean callings. However, the fact that we are ministers does not remove us from a world in which both nature and nurture often orient us in another way. In fact, having been so oriented toward the pursuit of self, we might even be prone to ignore and justify it in our ministries for Christ. In Servant of All, Craig C. Hill examines the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament regarding leadership, providing us with a biblical call to examine the way we view ourselves and ministry.

Dr. Hill, who is dean and professor of New Testament at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, laments that those studying the Bible often do so with an eye toward theology, thus missing the practical teaching related to the doctrinal thought. Thus, he approaches the teaching and example of Jesus with…

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Reaching Unchurched People

Recently a pastor asked me, “What are the top three to five things your church does to reach the unchurched?”

I immediately thought about our DREAM strategy. It has guided our church for 17 years and has allowed us to reach thousands of people for Christ. The good news is that any church can become more effective at reaching the lost in their community, and it doesn’t even involve new buildings or expensive technology.

In fact, the secret to reaching the unchurched is not even a secret. The principles are as old as the New Testament and are transferable into any church in any community or culture.

So, what are they?


1. Consideration.

You cannot connect with people you are not considering. Reaching the spiritually lost begins with passion. Passion drives practices. If the church leaders are passionate about reaching lost people, then it will bleed out onto every part of the church. Remember, Jesus’ passion literally bled out. Before you can reach the lost, your heart must break for what breaks the heart of God — and God’s heart breaks for people. Do not even attempt to change…

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Exposed Film

I once heard Howard Hendricks say that a lot of people’s lives are like poor photographs: overexposed and underdeveloped. I think that’s true of pastors, too. Many of us are overexposed. We know many people and spread ourselves very thin relationally, but our private lives are underdeveloped.

We need to balance our lives if we want to stay in ministry for the long haul. Why?

First, a lack of balance leads to frustration. Maybe you can relate to this: Sometimes I find myself working on one part of my life and then another part crumbles. It’s like playing a game of “Whack a Mole.” It’s a struggle to get everything under control.

Second, a lack of balance leads to fatigue. When you buy a new set of tires, it is important to get them balanced. If you don’t, they will wear out faster and more easily! The same is true for us in ministry. When you’re out of balance, you get tired.

We need to find balance in these five areas:

  • Mental: You don’t allow just anything into your mind. You…

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