By Mike McQuitty, BCM/D missionary for collegiate church planting and evangelism
Where do you find teams to assist in launching a new congregation? It is a question many church planters are seeking to answer.
The three essential elements of a church plant have always been
1) the called and equipped planter,
2) the sufficient support network, and
3) the core team members.
While churches and denominational leadership continue to discover planters and support the new plants they start, finding core team members often remains elusive. Too often, planters set out to start a church with hopes of discovering the entirety of their core team in the mission field. This approach is often disastrous and unnecessary.
For those planters who are trying to enlist core team members, the reasons why people say “no” to their recruitment efforts must seem endless and insurmountable. People are often comfortable in their current church home, and their families benefit greatly from the age-appropriate programs offered in these established situations. These obstacles become even more significant when these same potential core team members are asked to leave jobs and friends to relocate to a different place. Issues like finding jobs for both spouses, changing schools, and selling a home can squelch the vision before the invitation is even completed.
Of course, God is the answer. He continually calls His people to join Him in His work. Part of the solution exists among Christian young adults. Many of our churches and campus ministries have young adults who are looking for leadership opportunities and the chance to do something exciting with their lives. Moreover, collegiate ministries have invested in the training of these believers who want to continue to be used by God to make a difference for Christ.
For the past 17 years, my wife and I had the privilege of serving in collegiate ministry. We caught the vision for the potential impact of this ministry while we were college students. Our campus ministry trained us to share the Gospel, lead small groups, put together mission trips and develop younger leaders. We did not realize it at the time, but it gave us opportunities to practice church planting skills. Later as campus ministers, we followed the same patterns.
It amazed me to see how many of the students went on to be involved in church planting endeavors. They assisted us in launching a couple of churches locally that specifically targeted collegiate populations. Also, students participated in mission projects to help other church plants in our area and across the Northeast. In all, students from our campuses assisted 13 different church plants, and 27 students went on to be core team members of new churches throughout the nation.
One remarkable example is Shaun. He grew up in a Christian home and came to college looking for a group for fellowship. However, he found a campus ministry that changed his life. He learned to lead a small group and do outreach activities to share the Gospel with his peers. He helped put together worship services and develop a leadership team. After graduation, he moved to New York City to find a job and a new church.
Later, he related his experience back to me. When he was invited to be part of a church plant, Shaun thought, “Well, I started a church back in college. So, why not start another one?” He volunteered to help with publicity on streets, the worship team, and small groups. All the experience and training he had received became invaluable assets to this new congregation. At the time, the campus ministry did not really encourage church planting in particular. Instead, it just challenged students to find a place of ministry where their gifts were needed.
Shaun and so many others naturally gravitated to new works. Their lives intersected with God’s call in a powerful way, and over time, we began to realize that a significant connection exists between young adults and church planting.
Recent college graduations and other first career individuals are the untapped resource for church planting core teams. Many characteristics make young adults particularly suited for church planting.
First, they are eager for new things. For many people, the prospect of being part of something new can seem difficult. In contrast, change is a consistent part of students’ lives. They are in the process of changing jobs and living situations. In college, they change courses every semester and live in a new place twice a year.
Next, young adults are mobile. They often do not have many possessions or jobs; it’s easy to “leave behind” the little they do have. For most, no children exist that have to be uprooted.
Third, they are trained or teachable. For those coming out of a strong collegiate or young adult ministry, skills for reaching out and building the Kingdom have been acquired. In addition, they had repeated opportunities to put those skills into practice. So, they are looking for more chances to use what God has given them. Moreover, their teachable nature allows them to adopt new methods, structures, or forms of church life.
Finally, young adults are relational. They spend a great deal of time connecting with friends and meeting new ones. Since young adults are such a natural resource for church planting, denominational leaders, church planting centers and individual church planters should seek to cultivate core teams from them. Here are a few keys that we discovered:
1) Cultivate Relationships with Collegiate Ministries. College ministries provide access to large numbers of young adults who are preparing for the next stage in life. These ministries will be able to direct you to called and gifted individuals who may fit within a core team. These collegiate ministries may be found in denominational or para-church groups.
2) Disciple Key Future Core Team Members. Before setting out to plant, pray for God to put two or three young adults in your life. Spend time with them. Teach them personal Christian disciplines and ministry skills. The result will be a team that you know well and shares your passion for the mission of God.
3) Plan to Invest in the Potential Members. Too often, church planters become users. They are only interested in what the core team members can contribute to their vision. Planters need to remember that while young adults have a great deal to offer, they also come with some significant needs. They are looking for mentorship as well as a challenge. They often require specific direction as well as an opportunity to grow as leaders. Have a plan for investing in the lives of these young leaders.
4) Recruit Core Members in Groups. Many times, young adults and college students are interested in serving as a team with their close friends from college or other point of connection. They have often already learned to serve and work together over time, and they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A continued opportunity to serve together can be very appealing.
Mike McQuitty is the new BCM/D missionary for collegiate church planting and evangelism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (315) 569-2630.