Why I’m Not A Church Planter, But I Love Church Planting

May 2, 2017

I have come to realize that every leader is either an inventor or an innovator. There is a huge difference between the two.

An inventor is someone who possesses the vision and skills to create “ex nihilo” and build from the ground up. An innovator is someone who can take something that already exists and identify and unleash its untapped potential. Walt Disney was an innovator. Walt took the idea of the hub and spoke system of city streets in Washington DC and made it work in Disneyland to better move people throughout the park. While window shopping in New Orleans, Walt found a rudimentary, mechanical bird and turned it into “The Enchanted Tiki Room.” Innovators walk into a room and immediately begin looking for ways to enhance it.

When it comes to thriving in church planting, it’s crucial for leaders to know if they are inventors or innovators. Failure to identify correctly will most likely result in years of frustration, feeling like you’re running the Boston Marathon—in the opposite direction as everyone else—uphill—in the snow—barefoot. I know this from personal experience.

When I was 30 I believed I was an inventor. For over a decade, I had led a successful student ministry in a large church context. God opened my eyes to church planting and its incredible effectiveness, so I started on that journey. I was assessed as a leader who would be an ideal church planter, a role I now know requires an inventor-type leadership wiring. My wife and I moved to Miami, FL, to start churches in 2007 and we wrapped up that ministry in 2011. If my 20 years of ministry could be compared to The Fast and The Furious movie franchise, my time starting churches in Miami was Tokyo Drift. It just didn’t fit.

Let me be clear. I love church planting. I am still absolutely convinced that starting new churches is the most effective way to reach people far from God. I have just come to the realization that God did not wire me to be the boots-on-the-ground entrepreneurial “inventor” leader it takes to successfully launch and grow a church plant.

But He did wire me to be an innovator who could take existing ministry and mobilize it to advance the Kingdom. After leaving Miami, God led my family and me to an established church in Ohio. The almost 100-year-old church had become stuck hovering around 700 people. The pastor before me had led the church well for 30 years and was so wise and humble.  He personally saw it was time to transition leadership. The church went in search for an innovator and found me.

I have now been in my role as Lead Pastor at North Terrace Church of Christ for four years.  It has been as natural fit as Rogue One within the Star Wars timeline. We have cast a new vision that has moved the church from an internally-focused one to a church that is reaching out to the “one more” in our community and around the world. As a result we have grown to almost 1,000 on the weekends and the majority of our growth is young families and new believers.

Now that I am leading the way God has designed me, I am able to do far more in helping start churches than I could ever have done trying to be something I clearly am not.

  1. I am able to call out inventors and challenge them to be those boots-on-the ground church planting leaders, then cheer them on as they plant churches in areas desperate for them.
  2. I am able to help guide resources from our church toward starting new churches locally and globally. In 2015, we started a church in Colombia in partnership with Stadia and Compassion International and we sponsor over 200 children in that church.
  3. I get to help my congregation see the world as God sees it and bust up any backyard mentality that exists through helping new churches start locally and globally.

So what about you? Are you an inventor? If so, is God calling you to lead a new church plant? Or are you an innovator? If so, how can you mobilize people and resources to invest in new church planting?

Matt Mehaffey

Lead Pastor, Discovery Christian Church (Pittsburgh, PA)