Church planter Tim Matthews, vicar of St Swithun’s Bournemouth, shares with us his approach to planning for the new plant, including how to communicate vision through what you choose to value.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
Plan for What You Won’t Do
Your first 100 days is really all you can plan for. Thereafter you can plan but you have to hold it lightly, as things will change a great deal.
One thing to plan for is what you’re not going to do. We thought, we’ll pitch up and do Alpha, student work, plus the minimum amount of work on the building. In term two, we were going to introduce ‘The Marriage Course’. And in term three, we would start children and youth work. Everything else we were saying, “No”, to. That was important, as it set expectations for those who pitched up to help. We had two prelaunch gatherings where we could set out an outline so people knew exactly what they would be contributing towards.
What Do We Value?
Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants have a very high value on hospitality and he holds all his staff to account that every guest should be offered something to eat or drink in the first three minutes of walking through the door. So if you go to check the gas meter or deliver veg at one of those restaurants, you’ll be offered something to eat or drink, because it’s a value and not a behaviour.
I thought, “Brilliant – I can rip that”. So that’s exactly what we did here. And I made it really personal. I’ll stand up and say, “Our value is that everyone receives a really great welcome and I quantify that by the fact that everyone is offered something to eat or drink within the first three minutes. (And that doesn’t mean someone with a service badge points the way; that means someone befriends them and stands with them in the queue while they wait!) If you didn’t receive that welcome, I’d like to make it up to you personally by taking you out for coffee.” I’ve had a handful of people taking me up on that, all of whom are brilliant people who want to serve the church and one of whom is now on our leadership team. So know your values and defend them ruthlessly.
Identifying Core Values
When asked, I’ve only really got one value and that’s love. I can’t remember all these lists. During the planning phase, I researched a load of values from different churches, came up with twenty, whittled that down to twelve and I could still only remember six. You can’t have a core value that you can’t remember! In the end I thought, “This is hopeless. Let’s just have one value and, ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them’ (1 John 4:16).
Reaching the Unreached
If your vision is to reach de-churched younger generations, encounter and authenticity are absolutely fundamental values: you won’t get anywhere without those, in our experience. That’s not just in prayer ministry but in hospitality (that is, people’s first experience of the community). I used to be in marketing, so I know that no one will be able to sell a car in the first thirty seconds. You can’t win them in that time but you can lose them by causing them to switch off. Many churches just haven’t thought that through with their buildings.
So, stand outside your building. Think yourself into the shoes of the person you really want to meet Christ, then walk back in. What do you notice? That’ll form a list of things you need to change. Most of the younger generation walk into a church and think, “This clearly wasn’t designed with me in mind, so you can’t be trying to make a real connection with me”.
‘If God is There, Word Will get Round!’
In the run up to the plant, people were getting me to write all these planning documents. I once showed them to Sandy Millar, who was mentoring me, and he took one look at it and said, “Dear Tim, do try not to plan too much. All you want to do is get yourself down there with a small team of people, open the doors, run up a flag, and do what we’ve always done. But pray like mad that, on that first day, someone gets healed. If God is there, word will get round!”
I’ve since discovered that Sandy’s wisdom comes straight from Zechariah 8:23. I can’t recommend potential church planter’s studying that period of church history enough. When I was sat in my study in London, socks off, with my feet in the St Swithun’s soil, I’d often read, meditate, and pray through that period of the history books concerning the return from exile, and the writings of the so-called ‘minor’ prophets who shaped the approach of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. We often think church planting is like Nehemiah, rebuilding the walls, but it was Ken Costa who helped me see it’s much closer to Zerubbabel and Ezra’s work. That’s partly where I saw that the work starts with rebuilding the altar and the temple. For us that meant starting with worship, so the first thing we spent any money on was hiring a worship leader and buying a decent production system.
If God is there, word will get round. I don’t want to lose that. I’m a big believer in planning, networking, and communicating effectively; but what really matters is authenticity and a confidence that God is going to do something. We all arrive at that place through different means, but that’s the most important lesson of the Church Planting Course (apply here!).