Church Planters: 5 Steps to Take but Take Them Slow


planthands2Every church needs a plan to disciple its congregation. You need a plan to take people from “come and see” to “come and die”—which is where Jesus took His disciples during His earthly ministry. For most of the history of the Church, that discipleship plan was simply called a catechism. It’s not a new idea.

It doesn’t have to based on our Purpose Driven plan. But you need a plan.

Just don’t do it all at once. Take it slow. I see new church planters make the mistake all time. Often, they visit a church like Saddleback, see what God is doing and want to apply everything to their own context immediately! That’s a disaster in the making.

They forget—Saddleback wasn’t built in a day! It has taken us 32 years to get to where we are now. We’ve made lots of mistakes throughout the years. If you try to do everything we’re doing in year one of a church plant, you’ll fail—and people will get hurt in the process. You can’t build a mature church in a year.

So how do you develop a discipleship plan in your church plant that takes people you’re reaching from “come-and-see” to “come-and-die” without killing your church in the process?

Take it slow. Here’s how we did it at Saddleback.

  • Step 1—My first year at Saddleback I focused almost completely on evangelism—getting people in the community into the church doors. I wanted to move people from the community to the crowd. Of course, a crowd doesn’t make a church. But you can’t have a church unless you first have a crowd.
  • Step 2—I still wanted to see new people from the community check out the church, but I also began to focus on helping those in the crowd move to the congregation. In other words, I wanted to see people who were attending the church make a commitment to be a part of the church family. We started turning consumers into contributors.
  • Step 3—Then we focused on turning “believers” into “becomers”—people who were becoming more like Jesus. We knew for people to grow more like Jesus they needed to develop the habits—or spiritual disciplines—that lead to spiritual growth, habits like having a quiet time, getting involved in a small group and studying the Bible. We wanted to see people become spiritual self-feeders.
  • Step 4—Next we tried to move people from the committed to the core. Again, we still worked on getting people into the church, become members and grow spiritually, but we also began to help them discover how the Lord SHAPE’d them and how to get involved in ministry at Saddleback.
  • Step 5—Finally, we began to focus on missions. Now, we were always doing missions at Saddleback. It was at the heart of Saddleback. But at this stage we began to focus on helping people move from the core (serving in the body) to the commissioned, where they commit to share the gospel in Orange County and around the world.

It’s a journey that’s taken us 32 years! You won’t get there in a year or five years. You may read about church plants that grow from zero to 6,000 in two years. It’s not real growth though. You can’t grow like that in a natural way. They’re bringing in sheep from other churches.

I can show you how to grow a great church—but I can’t show you how to do it quickly! It takes time. Your church won’t be built overnight.

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Rick Warren About Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

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  • Joji

    thank you Rick….your article has been a blessing!

  • Gabe Kolstad

    I love this! Thank you Rick for the encouragement. It’s so easy to get in a hurry and be frustrated. You and Saddleback have been a great inspiration to me and to our church.

  • Randy Irorita

    Thanks Pastor Rick. It helps us a lot. My wife and I started a small group in our apartment and right now, we’re meeting every Sunday as well in our apartment. I just don’t know what to do next…(Las Vegas, NV)

  • JB

    Great article Pastor Rick! Thanks a lot!

  • Alec Seekola


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  • Garrhet Sampson

    What would you say is a good timeline to begin moving through the stages? I’m a young church planter in Missoula MT and it seems like maturity is just as much an issue as numbers. I understand I need a group of people but I feel strained between the two.

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