If you’ve been around church planting gurus, then you’ve heard them reminisce about the bygone days when launching a church meant doing one thing: getting ready for your first service, and sending enough mailers to bring enough people to sit in the seats on launch day.
During such discussions, these gurus speak nostalgically about those silly good old days, back in the so-called Christendom age, when you could sell a new church purely based on its newness.
You’d think that the church planting world would by now have moved entirely beyond these now-laughable start-up practices. But have they?
SOME ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE
- Most “missional” church plants still utilize the language of “launch”. Launch implies an enormous amount of energy irretrievably spent boosting a rocket into orbit.
- Some church start-ups have backed away from the “launch large” approach, opting for “soft launch” approaches that include a series of “preview services”. These are designed to give the community a chance to see what the worship service is going to be like, and to give the launch team the chance to work out some of the kinks in the execution of their presentation before the “hard launch”. (Note how the “launch” metaphor falls apart here. Try to imagine a space shuttle mission beginning with a “soft launch”.)
- Notice how the whole notion of a “preview service” conjures up images of people sitting in front of a stage, in dim lighting, looking at a screen, and hearing a sound system. And that’s actually pretty close to what you’d see.
- Finally, note the way in which electronic marketing like Facebook ads, email blasts, and Twitter campaigns have replaced snail mail, but are essentially designed to do the same thing: get a certain percentage of the people who are exposed to them into the seats on launch day.
It certainly feels like we haven’t moved that far away from blanketing the zip code with direct mail.
A MORE PHENOMENAL ALTERNATIVE
Instead of going for a big launch at the outset, why not begin by practicing robust, full-orbed Christian community? This might include such things as worshipping together (though without the stage and screens). But it will most fundamentally involve the practice of genuine Christian fellowship: prayer, meals, hospitality (welcoming the stranger), discipleship, and living life together with a commitment to one another’s spiritual growth and the blessing of one’s neighbors.
If you launch large, you’re pitching a worship service as your innovative, new-to-market product. But if you plant a gospel community on mission, you’re cultivating a community in which the differences from the world are breathtaking. Your church becomes attractive rather than attractional. Your value proposition is the opportunity for people to belong in a world of fragmented identities. That’s radical differentiation compared to the large launch service, which offers people the chance to attend and observe in the midst of a secular world that’s competing with the same tools for that same scarce attention.
“A lean startup is not ready to scale until the product itself is its best marketing tool.” – Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits, The Lean Entrepreneur
The Christian Church was meant to attract people by the love its people have for one another—in word and in deed. Instead of asking tons of people to gather and look up at the sky while your rocket ship spectacularly launches, consider pulling one person at at time into the sphere of your radically differentiating communal love.
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