Playing Without The Queen

Feb 9, 2021

About a decade ago I found myself a part of a learning community with Alan Hirsch.  The group was called the ‘Future Travelers’ and Alan was helping us dream about the future of the Church.  One of the conversations that has stuck with me through the years was a story Alan told about chess:

If you’ve ever played chess with a novice, then you know they are pretty dependent on the queen.  It’s a powerful piece on the board and it’s easy to understand how it works.  The novice will even sacrifice pawns, rooks and bishops in order to make it easier to move the queen around.  Once their queen is taken, the novice is a few moves away from defeat.  So the master chess player will teach the novice, how to play by removing the queen from the game.  The novice is forced to learn how the other pieces move, forced to learn how they move in harmony together.  Once the novice learns the others pieces, the master chess player brings the queen into the game.  And the novice now becomes a good chess player.

Alan says that for the Church in the West, the Sunday morning gathering is the queen. For many churches, they don’t understand how to play with the other pieces and are overly dependent on the queen.  It’s a message that hits home hard in the pandemic. 

Church planters have always wrestled it.  When you start a church, you often are staring without a queen.

That start up stage for a new church is a wonderful blessing; It forces the new community of Jesus followers to lean into the other pieces.  They have to learn how to be the Church without the large Sunday gathering.  For some, this is a liberating experience and they discover the joy and fruit of new expressions of church.  For others, it’s crippling.  Without the queen they are lost.  And so they try to recreate the queen in their living room or live stream the queen online because it’s what’s familiar and they know how to play with the queen.

As you might expect those churches who learn how to play without the queen are the most impactful.  And when they bring the queen into the game become even more impactful.

During the pandemic, we’ve all been forced to play without the queen.  For many, the first move was to create a digital version of the queen.  Others have explored. They’ve leaned into other pieces.  They’ve discovered new expressions of church.  The crisis of losing the queen has forced creativity and innovation.  For many these new expressions have been phygital (physical + digital).  The incorporation of digital has eliminated the inherent limitations of the physical.  The temple courts where the followers of Jesus gathered daily has gone digital.  For those churches who have learned how to be the church without the Sunday gathering, digital expressions have advanced discipleship and community.  And now the times where they gather physically are richer as a result.

For many established church leaders, the pandemic abruptly entered them into the world of a church planter.  We awoke to find that our queen had been taken.  It’s disorienting.  It’s hard.  But it’s also a beautiful opportunity.  Established church leaders and church planters alike are learning how to be the Church without the Sunday gathering.  It’s messy.  And at times it only feels like failure.  But just for a moment imagine a church who learns to play with the other pieces.  Imagine a Sunday gathering in the midst of that church.  Imagine the impact that church might have.

It’s hard to play without the queen because the queen is so familiar.  But if playing without the queen advances us past being a novice, I think we’ll all agree it’s worth the pain.  So go pick up a pawn or a knight and figure out how it moves.  And give yourself a little grace to fail a few times along the way.  You didn’t get at using the queen overnight either.  Don’t believe me?  Go watch one of your sermons on YouTube from your early years or maybe dust off that old cassette tape and pull out your boom box.

I miss the queen.  But I can’t wait to see the church that emerges post-pandemic that has learned to play with all the pieces.


Stadia provides you with an expert church planting project manager, who manages timelines and details so you can focus on people and start strong.  Your project manager will help you with all the details of planting including completing your legal paperwork, running demographics and setting up financial systems.  This allows you to focus on building your team and investing in people rather than getting sidetracked by details. Learn more about Stadia’s Planter Support Services, here.

Doug is a self proclaimed church planting junkie and has been involved with church planting most of his adult life. He helped plant LifePointe Christian Church in Charlotte, NC in 2004 and has served as a project manager since 2008. His passion is to help church planters accelerate their vision to reach the lost. In his spare time, Doug enjoys gardening, traveling, Illinois basketball and coaching his kids’ sports teams. His greatest supporter is his wife, Amanda. Together they live in Illinois, where they have two kids, Will and Kate.

Doug Foltz

Senior Director of Project Development, Stadia