As a rookie church planter, I am learning new things every day. This past weekend our church plant had its very first preview service. Here are five things I learned from the experience. To veteran church planters, these things may be obvious. But perhaps they will be a help to those just getting started:
1) Expect to be exhausted: For those transporting/setting up chairs and equipment each week, prepare to be exhausted. Unless you already have a crew that does all that for you, chances are good you will exert quite a bit of physical and mental energy getting things ready for the service. In our case, I spent about three hours getting things set up before the service ever started. By the point in the service it was time to preach, I was already drained. Thankfully, adrenaline and the good Lord got me through. But it may be wise to schedule some downtime into your set-up routine, for prayer and meditation.
2) Expect some nerves: In my previous church, I regularly preached to 200-250 people. I have spoken to much larger crowds on occasion. For the most part, I no longer get too nervous about public speaking. So, I was somewhat taken aback by how nervous I was speaking to 50 people at our preview service. Just be ready. Even if you've done a lot of preaching, it's not the same as speaking into the excitement and anticipation of a first service!
3) Expect spiritual warfare: Before the service started, I was standing outside the front door greeting those arriving. However, I actually had an ulterior motive as well - I was waiting for all those to arrive who had said they were coming! When some of them did not arrive by the time the service started, I was discouraged. Was this immature of me? Yes. Was I allowing the devil to get me down when I should have been thanking God for who was there? Absolutely. When the Holy Spirit convicted me of my poor attitude, I silently repented and moved forward. I have never been much of a guy to worry about who is present at church and who isn't. But church planting will do that to you. It will tempt you to become more concerned with numbers than what God wants to do in the hearts of those present.
4) Expect some rough edges: I've been a pastor for awhile now (14 years). I've done a lot of announcements, held a lot of invitations, opened a lot of services. Perhaps it was for this reason I didn't spend a lot of time planning these aspects of the service. (Pride?) However, when reflecting on the first service, it was these areas that were the "roughest" in terms of how they were executed. At the beginning of the service I failed to even introduce myself and, at the end of the service, I totally forgot to announce how we were collecting our offering. (A giving box in the back of the room.) Ultimately, of course, these things are secondary. The most important thing is that the Gospel was proclaimed through word and song. So, yes, the edges were a little rough. But these are things that can be fixed with a little attention.
5) Expect to utilize outside help: The single biggest blessing of our first preview service came in the form of about 25 people from a sister church in a neighboring community. In fact, our first preview service would not have been possible without their help! Not only did they provide warm bodies, but they also provided chairs, a video projector, a lectern, and an immeasurable amount of energy and enthusiasm for the service. Because of their presence, the singing was louder, the atmosphere livelier, and the environment more welcoming. If you have a sister church in the area that is willing to partner with you in this way, definitely utilize them! I am convinced most planters do not foster such relationships the way they should/could.
For you more experienced church planters, what would you add to this list?