Taking the lead and planting your church is a serious decision. This venture requires a lot of confidence and planning to properly pull off. It is okay to be a bit scared at first because you don’t know what to expect.
You would think that with the decline in church attendance that now is the wrong time to open a church. In reality, now is when you should seize the opportunity because so many people have defected from their church. There has been a growth in the number of believers that are vulnerable to identifying with a new home.
Thousands of Americans have taken it upon themselves to start a church. You have the power to do the same. Many startup churches fail before they see any success at all but that’s the result of erratic planning. With the right strategy, effective marketing, and your commitment—we believe you can build a worship sanctuary that will last.
The Planning Process
Having the right plan will help you go about starting your congregation on the right foot. The hard part of figuring out your strategy is understanding what you should plan. It can be confusing for a newcomer because there are so many variables at play. That said, we will give you some insight into the most important factors to plan out for your startup church.
So, let’s begin…
Who will you be?
It is important to understand what your identity is within your congregation.
Will you be involved in preaching or only serve as the director?
Who do you need?
What positions need to be filled? Who do you have on-hand so far?
What values will the church hold?
Every church has unique values. Define yours and don’t defect from your vision.
These are simple points to think over. Now let’s get started with the rest.
What is the Denomination?
The biggest focal point of any church is its denomination. Assuming it’s a Christian-based church, the main denominations that you might choose from include:
- Roman Catholicism (1.313 billion)
- Independent Catholicism (18 million)
- Protestantism (920 million)
- Anglicanism (85 million)
- Eastern Orthodox (270 million)
- Oriental Orthodoxy (80 million)
- Non-trinitarian Restorianism (35 million)
These figures indicate the number of church members worldwide as shown on Wikipedia. In the United States, the most popular religions are Protestantism (48.9%) and Roman Catholicism (23%).
It is important to stick to your beliefs. Church planting is something that is done out of deep faith in our Lord and no ingenuine decisions should be made along the way. However, you must avoid alienating potential church members by getting too specific with your denomination.
If it applies to you—choose to be a Protestantism or Roman Catholicism-based church and don’t go micro-niche by further detailing your denomination. Your message and goals can fall in line with specific beliefs but you can still be welcoming toward all Protestants or Roman Catholics.
Alternatively, you may want to consider starting a non-denominational church.
What is the Branding?
Just like starting a business, a new church should receive proper branding so it is attractive to potential members. Good branding can make all the difference when attempting to increase attendance and turn churchgoers into disciples.
The body of your church will grow and help boost overall success because of the team dynamic at play. But, for this to happen your church must appeal to enough people and that starts with the “branding” you choose.
What’s the name?
Start by reading some tips on naming a church so you can wrap your head around this subject. This decision will carry with you so be thoughtful. You do not have to be overly creative with the name that you choose—many churches are named based on the street or neighborhood where it’s located.
Don’t stress too much—the identity you carry is what truly counts.
Who will you appeal to?
Figure out your church’s target demographic. The main variable will be what denomination they are but you should always dig further. If you are a pastor already, consider who your sermons and personal beliefs resonate with to detail your typical church member. You do not need to overthink this subject but it is still good to generally outline your target demographic.
Here’s a good idea—define these people by “mindsets” instead.
What are the goals of your church?
Church planting is often done because a void is seen that needs to be filled. Think about what inspired you to look into building a church in the first place. Look at what your church body can do through discipleship and the different goals that can be achieved. Realistically speaking, church goals should be dynamic and there should be both big and small targets.
Here is a good church goal-planning strategy that should help you with planning your hopeful achievements.
Who are the pastors?
One of the brainstorming questions we mentioned at the start was “Who do you need?”. Your pastors are the glue of your congregation and hold a fundamental role in the church’s success. It is important to identify and plan around these individuals.
Without a doubt, make sure you determine who your regular pastors will be—and hopefully get on talking terms with a few guest speakers as well. Figuring out the identities that will represent your church is key and should be done during the planning stage. Of course, things might change in this department but always be selective and only bring in quality fits to your congregation.
How to find pastors for your church
It can be difficult for a startup church to find a dedicated preacher.
In fact… it’s very hard for smaller churches to find a willing pastor.
Sometimes you are better off getting an interim pastor to serve the role for the first 3-6 months or so. This person might turn into a permanent speaker. Since you cannot guarantee successful attendance from day one—not putting too much pressure on a prospective pastor is a good idea.
With an interim pastor on board, even if it’s someone with less experience, it becomes easier to attract other preachers to your church. You might be able to fill the role with a senior pastor as the lead preacher. You do not want to build up a congregation based on convenience; be patient with finding the right people for your team, but always make sure all roles are filled.
Read online to find tips for finding a pastor for your church to better grasp your options.
What else to know when team-building
Remember: Choosing a new pastor is a difficult process when there are multiple parties involved. It is a good idea to make a constitution that applies when filling important roles. A vote amongst your congregation is a good idea. As your church grows, the percentage of votes required to pass a decision should increase to prevent creating unease within your team.
Planning a non-denominational church? Many pastors are influenced by the idea of preaching at this kind of church. The non-denominational movement is growing in size and is becoming a more acceptable choice. Push the reputability that comes with your non-denominational church when trying to bring a new speaker on board
Lastly, you will need more than one preacher prepared for sure. Your lead pastor is important but you should focus on finding an associate pastor, assistant pastor, and youth pastor.
Interview potential church staff members.
Make sure their message falls in line with what you want to achieve. Your team should be passionate about the goals that you set out for your church. Forcing a congregation simply to have all your “ducks in a row” will backfire every time. There has to be heart from all, not just you!
Establishing the Church
Your general outline is now in place. Next, how do you establish the church?
This process is the tiring part. It’s all logistics and little emotion.
We will walk you through some of the most important steps.
Choosing Your Location
God calls it upon all of his disciples to plant their own church. If you have the ambition to achieve such a missionary goal there will be no challenge that you cannot overcome. Ask for His guidance and embark on your mission to find chapel space with the help of the spirit of the Lord.
Next, begin figuring out your preferences and check your options.
Where would you like to plant your church?
You probably have an idea of what part of town or which neighborhood you would like to plant your church. Finding the right location can be difficult but the searching pains will vary depending on where you live and what the real estate market is like.
Without a doubt, your first course of action should be to look at all of the currently vacant churches and see if any fit your criteria. You can then look at converting a zoning-appropriate building if none are in an acceptable area.
Of course, when planting a church it is not essential to have a full-size venue from day one. Your plan can be a bit staggered and could involve renting out spaces to host meetings and sermons in the early stage of your growth. That way, your major real estate-related investment will only come once you have built up your team and developed a relationship with the members of your church.
Determine Your Costs
You must determine your budget and analyze your costs.
Take a basic accounting course if you are not qualified.
Make use of an accounting software program to keep it all simple.
Check out cost estimates for church planting to get an idea of what you might expect to pay when starting up your own church. Consider both your launch costs and your operational costs.
Look for fundraising and sponsorship opportunities. Here are some fundraising tips that can help when trying to raise capital for your startup church. Be creative and get some suggestions from others on your team too.
Getting Finances in Order
Many important things need to be done to make sure your church meets basic requirements financially and legally. Below we will go over a handful of points that should not be ignored.
How do you get an EIN?
You need to fill out Form SS-4 to receive your EIN (Employee Identification Number). You can do this online, by mail, or through fax. Check out the IRS information page to find everything you need to know about getting an EIN for your church.
How do you open a bank account?
You need to prepare everything the bank will want to see. The documents you should have ready include a copy of your proof of incorporation, “meeting minutes” from the board meeting where the bank account decision was decided and signed for, your EIN number, and your personal ID. Make sure to confirm with the bank if there is anything else that they will require from you.
How do you get your Proof of Incorporation?
The requirements for how to incorporate a church will vary depending on the state where you are located. Usually, the process involves submitting forms to your Secretary of State. This process is only different in three states. In Louisiana, the state approves or rejects the incorporation request but the documents are ultimately processed and stored with the local Parish. In Michigan and Virginia, there is a Corporations Commission that handles everything. Check the site for your state or give them a call to get the exact details on how to incorporate your church.
Being incorporated is important. It takes personal liability away from the church if anything happens to any members or staff. It gives you the chance to qualify for some grants via both the federal government and certain faith-based groups. It gives you cheaper mailing costs and various other types of discounts. Learn more about the why and how of incorporating a church if you are feeling a bit out of touch on this subject.
How do you get grants?
If you are incorporated you have a chance to qualify for some grants for your church. Check out this simple guide for finding church grants to get a better idea of where to look to find the available options. These grants won’t just help with startup and operational costs but also with raising capital for a mission or special event. Here are more tips covering church grants and the faith-based foundations that supply them.
How do you become tax-exempt?
Churches are qualified for tax-exempt status through the IRS. Nothing must be done to maintain this status. You can find out more about this exemption and the exception from filing the annual information return (Form 990/990-N/990-EZ) on this page.
Marketing Your Church
Now you get to the fun part.
You need to gain attention for your startup church. After you get known, the next step is to increase the attendance growth. When this is no longer a concern you can focus on upping financial contributions and church commitment/discipleship from your active members.
Two quick pieces of advice…
This YouTube video touches on how you can optimize your church for growth behind the scenes.
The first piece of advice that is given (by pastors-turned-entrepreneurs) is that you should always be measuring your metrics. This aspect matters in the business world but far too many churches fail to measure enough factors to truly be able to optimize for growth.
You should look online at different list-based articles and metric-tracking tool feature pages to compile a comprehensive list of what to measure. This list will give you 20 metrics to track which is a good start—you can borrow some standard business metrics as well.
The second piece of advice is to be strategic in your hiring by outsourcing many jobs to qualified people. Instead of keeping it all in-house, get expert help because the difference matters. It might seem easy enough to “do it yourself” but a church marketing guru will always be a step ahead.
You can handle most of this stuff yourself at first, but as your church grows an emphasis should be put on outsourcing to experts. Some tasks are more important to outsource than others. Use your logic and always consider how much it will impact your church’s growth and reputation.
How to Gain Attention
Getting exposure to a new church can be very tough.
Here are some methods that have worked for others in your shoes:
Host a “Neighborhood Day”
Have a BBQ for families and friends in the community. Make the event non-denominational and focus on having a good time. Consider this your “housewarming party” and use it as a means of networking and building early relationships.
The people that live closest to your church location are the easiest first leads to convert into actual attendees. Even if they don’t stick around, many that live nearby are likely willing to visit your church at first and return for occasional events/sermons.
Live Stream via Facebook
Build interest in your sermons and get your church’s message across through social media platforms. Facebook, in particular, can be very beneficial. You can run a live stream and talk about your mission to plant a church, the goals you want to achieve, etc. You can live stream sermons held in rented venues before launching in your official space.
The social reach that Facebook offers is immensely powerful. Use your live streaming as a way to connect with prospective church members. These people will share content from your page and increase attention to your church. You can make a big announcement for your opening day and continue promoting your church this way every week.
Use Paid Advertising Methods
Local advertising methods can work. For example, sending out pamphlets in the mail is costly but not as expensive when done efficiently. Target households within a 2-5 mile radius depending on the population in the area. Do whatever you can to get the word out—put up posters, hand out flyers, pay for a radio or newspaper ad, etc.
Your launch day is a big moment and needs to be planned to perfection. Get your marketing materials in order as early as possible. Think through all the different promotional avenues that are available to you and don’t be afraid to bring in some outside help.
Plan separately for member retention.
It is hard to keep church members even after they attend a service a few times. You must build a relationship, create a community feel, and engage everyone to keep up your attendance numbers.
Establishing a Digital Footprint
In today’s age, every church needs to have a proper presence on the web. People are always seeking information and engagement through digital sources. From your perspective, having an established position online and on social media will empower your church to grow!
- A social media presence
- A website
- A church app
We will go over these three variables in more detail.
Social Media Marketing for Your Church
Your church should have an active Facebook page at the minimum. Some other platforms you might want to engage with people through would include Instagram and Twitter. These social media networks are the most populated and create the best results from a marketing perspective.
You should hire a social media marketing expert to handle your social pages. The way to approach everything will vary depending on the specific network. The best techniques are not easy to learn and succeeding means knowing how to adapt “on the fly”. Even so, learn how your church page should be used to get an idea of what needs to be planned out.
Think of your Facebook page as your brand image and reputation. Anyone can discover it. The way your page is presented will give the first impression that could attract or detract potential church members. The way your page is used also has the power to engage current church members which helps your church sustain its growth. Remember, the more happy and engaged members you have—the more disciples you will have on hand to serve your church!
Your Church Needs a Website
Your church’s website is a landing page for current members and potential newcomers. The way your homepage is presented will play a big role in how people engage with your site. The right layout can influence visitors to go through what are essentially the “steps of a marketing funnel”. You should take a few minutes to learn more about how website conversion funnels work and understand what they can achieve.
You have the power to direct your visitors to act as you want. You can encourage new people to try your church and influence discipleship or contributions from your active members.
Take a look at our list of the best church website designs of 2019 to get an idea of what works. We provide commentary on some of the key elements of each listed website design. Your website has many variables that matter ranging from the page tabs to typography choices. Take the time to learn the ins and outs—we discuss the marketing strength of certain design features in that piece as well, which is very important.
How can you easily set up a website?
Your options include:
- Outsourcing the web design work to a freelancer in your area or online. Websites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour are full of low-cost designers and developers that can bring your vision to life.
- Setting up your website on your own through a builder like Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace. These services come with a recurring cost but the simplicity makes it easy for a beginner to set their site up without needing outside help.
- Building your website through a premium WordPress theme. ThemeForest is the most popular site to buy theme licenses from and you can check their church themes here. Most of the themes are extremely user-friendly and the WordPress backend itself is very easy to use and update.
Increase Donations & Engagement with a Church App
Many churches are incorporating a mobile app as a way to increase engagement with their members. At the same time, the application serves as a simple and secure transaction source for church donations. Along with push notifications, the right app content can grab the user and build their commitment to your church.
Churches use their app to supply members with:
- Regular sermons
- Event invitations
- Volunteer requests
- Contribution requests
- Plus whatever else…
Our “Church Giving App” gives you the ability to accept donations from mobile users. The payment options are immense (including Apple Pay). We’ve also put our software into a tablet-style kiosk machine which receives 24% more donation $’s on average.
If you want to wait for an app till a later date that’s understandable. You can still go for text-to-give donations which work incredibly well. We also have embedded give forms that can go onto your website (contact us to go over your options).
Managing the Church
In the last section of our detailed guide, we want to touch on the important factors regarding the management of your church. We’ve already covered planning the startup and marketing to gain attendance. But, it is essential to make sure that your church is operational and obliging to all expectations.
Some important things to consider includes: your accounting, on-site security, event planning, and discipleship growth.
How to Handle Church Accounting
It is usually good to leave your accounting work in the hands of a professional. You can run the books at first on your own but pass this role to an expert when your church starts to grow. It would be a good idea to make use of a popular church accounting software program like FlockBase or Aplos Church Accounting.
Check this review list to compare your options.
How to Handle Church Security
Security is of the utmost importance. Threats will always exist but the more your church grows the more you should do to protect your members and staff. Take a look at our list of 10 church security tips to get an idea of the different practices and protocols that you should make common.
The points we cover include:
- Specifically detail all assigned roles
- Run background checks on members/volunteers
- Develop emergency scripts for speakers
- Invest in communication tools like walkie talkies
- Always have security cameras and cover the entries
- Consider the position of your pastor’s pulpit
- Be certain everyone is aware of the exit points
- Communicate, discuss, and develop with your team
- Watch out for other sources of disruption
- Create a sense of joy from within
How to Plan & Schedule Events
Planning and scheduling events should be done amongst all staff members. You can hold weekly meetings to go over what’s happening with the church, its congregation, the community, etc. These meetings are the perfect opportunity to go over any events that you would like to plan. You can always have guests join in on these meetings if any upcoming events will involve other churches, speakers, or any other third-party.
You will have to address each situation individually based on the circumstances. For example, if there is an upcoming missionary trip you want to make sure it is scheduled for a time that works for most members. In this scenario, it might make the most sense to create a poll asking which days work for your members and which days are not possible.
The goal is to leave the opportunity open for as many members as possible. You want to sustain their discipleship which is why optimizing your scheduling efforts is so important.
Using a live schedule spreadsheet through Google Sheets or an actual program or mobile app would be a great idea. Many mobile apps are full of beneficial features for teams like yours. Take the time to look for one and get everyone to start making use of it if you like that idea.
Also, consider the financial side of planning an event. You need to make sure it is workable with your church’s budget. To offset the costs it would be a good idea to get fundraising and sponsoring for as much of the cost of the expenditure as you can. Plan to raise funds ahead of when the event or excursion will take place. You can do a vote with your board members to determine if the opportunity is worth the cost before green-lighting it.
How to Build Discipleship
Solid attendance and commitment to your church result in a growth in disciples under your congregation. Establishing this relationship requires evolving a new church member into someone who feels like they are a full part of your team. The “we’re all in this together” approach is fundamental and should be ingrained into every aspect of your growth efforts.
Read this article on discipleship culture in the church to understand how you can influence your members to get more involved. Their description explains it well by claiming that people do not just go to church and become disciples overnight. They attend, get baptized, and then become teachers/servants. The church is responsible for evangelizing non-believers, establishing their beliefs through baptism and teaching, and then equipping them with the knowledge and power to be disciples.
Two other key things you should do to build discipleship within your church include incorporating disciple-making sermons in your weekly service and pushing opportunities for your believers to teach and serve the Lord. You can also seek out the help of a senior pastor to build a detailed conversion strategy.
Conclusion… It's Possible
Church planting is an intimidating process but that doesn’t mean you should give up the idea. Many people succeed at starting a church of their own. With His help, you will find no struggle too overwhelming to overcome. However, it WILL take a lot of planning to make everything work.
At NewFire Giving we regularly provide hands-on consultation for both new and established churches. You’re welcome to reach out for help. Check out our Ignite Coaching service page to better understand what we can do to help grow your church and maximize your donations.