Why church planting?

By Lee Kemp

When I’m talking to people and sharing Forefront Church’s story, I have often been asked “Why did you go into church planting after being involved in an established church ministry for more than a decade?” I think it’s a great question.

Back in the day, Sarah and I made this little magazine when Forefront was becoming a reality. There was a “Why Church Planting?” page, and it had a few simple points. I’ll use them as a starting point to answering this question.  

1. God has called me to do it.

That’s reason enough to be involved in church planting, but it is a hard answer to give sometimes. I’ve always tried to be careful saying, “God called me to do this.”  Maybe it was my creative brain and not God?

Even though I know God called me—to church planting and to do other things—the one thing that would limit me is feeling ill-equipped. Well, if God is sending people to do it, he must be equipping people to do it! I know whenever God calls us he equips us.

I feel he equipped me by giving me an entrepreneurial spirit for Kingdom advancement. He also gave me a pioneering spirit, and by that I mean a willingness to cut a trail, to settle a vision into a reality. The grass was bent in Fort Smith and there was a trail, and I felt like God was leading me to take a road over there. 

2. Church plants are fulfilling the great commission, sometimes faster than established churches.

Church plants are effective, and they reach new people. There is plenty of research on this. Church plants, also known as church starts, in many cases have been observed to grow from 0 to 200 people quicker than established churches.

Church plants also have a passion for evangelism, and they have a tendency for a disciple-centered culture. It’s a part of the demand that they make disciples because there is nothing else for them to hang their hat on.

A lot of church plants have evangelism so ingrained in their ministry DNA that they “plant pregnant.” In other words, they are starting new churches as they are becoming a new church. There is a lot of statistical data to back up that church planting is one way of fulfilling the Great Commission at a faster pace.

3. There is a need for church planting.

When you listen to someone talk about a business, people often ask, “Is there a viable reason for this?” I’ve talked a lot in previous blogs about being a missional church, but there really was a need for a missional church plant in Fort Smith. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read “We Are Forefront” and “My Apartment Is My Mission Field.”)

We have seen God fulfill his vision through us. Sometimes it was in “small” ways, and sometimes it was in big ways. (Check out “Sowing Seeds with People of Peace,” “From Homeless to Homemaker,” and “God is Still on the Move.”)  

Continuing to grow

I have done a lot of growing over the years in both the ministries of established churches and church planting. The first sermon I ever preached  was awful and doctrinally wrong. In a church plant, if someone preaches like that, visitors might go to a completely different church! If someone had never given me that opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

One thing I really don’t dispute is God calling me to church planting, but what I struggle with is if I am doing it in the way he would have me do it. Sometimes I think I’m doing ok, and other days I feel like I should be blocking off my whole day for prayer.

I have learned that even though I am a pastor, I am still obligated to lead with the fruit of the Spirit. In church planting, the success of the church plant can hinge on whether this new thing rolls or doesn’t roll. If something’s not working, then why? How will I know if it is worth continuing?  When I shepherd, I have to lead with the fruit of the Spirit.

Signing off

This is my last official blog post for “A Day in the Life of a Church Planter.” I am passing the baton to several great guys who will share their lives, tell their stories, and give you a glimpse into what God is doing through their church plants. Continue following Forefront Church’s journey at http://www.forefront.church/, or add me on Facebook.

I would ask that you continue to pray for Forefront Church and for our family. Here are a few specific ways you can pray:

  • That Sarah and I will continue to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and that we would seek to minister being filled with the Spirit.
  • We ask for wisdom and discernment about how to position our people where they can fulfill their calling in ministry and ultimately advance the Gospel.
  • That we would continually walk in faith. We want to see God provide for us in a way where only he is seen as our source of provision. We don’t ever want to be in a spot where we “finally make budget.” If we make budget, it’s our desire to constantly have a posture of faith as a church. We don’t want to ever be in a spot where we financially settle. Pray that we don’t become complacent.
  • Please pray for my children. I don’t want to reach the whole world and lose my own kids. I don’t want to minister in such a way that my kids hate the ministry. I pray that they would continue in—and maybe even be called to—ministry, and that they would continue the race that Sarah and I have started.

Heart transformations in Fort Smith

By Lee Kemp

This past weekend 1,800 people came to partner with many local churches in Fort Smith for the Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip.  We saw 67 people pray to receive Christ on Saturday! I wanted to take a moment and just share four quick highlights of what I saw God do in the hearts of those from Fort Smith who served that day. 

1. Realized the need to minister outside the walls of a church

One of things I heard at a luncheon with Fort Smith pastors after the event was that “we have people ready and wanting to continue serving our city like we did this past weekend.”  Most pastors have a desire to serve outside of the church, but when people tell their pastors that they want to do more for their city, that is on another level!

2. Reminded to serve alongside each other as the body of Christ

The church culture in Fort Smith is sadly one of a “competitive nature.”  It is rare that churches come together to serve as co-laborers in the Gospel.  Last weekend, we saw many churches work alongside each other and have a great time doing it, too.  Hopefully God will continue to work in our hearts to focus on impacting lost-ness in our city!

3. Challenged to share the Gospel for the first time in their locale

I heard one pastor share about how a lady in his church was so excited because she shared the Gospel for the first time.  It is always exciting when we see someone overcome their fear of sharing how Christ has impacted their life!   

4. Accepted Christ as Savior

We had two ladies visit Forefront Church this past week because they came to the block party at Stephen’s Boys and Girls Club.  The coolest part was that one of them prayed to receive Christ Sunday morning!  I am praying more and more stories will trickle-in the next few weeks about how people are going to church for the first time and finding hope in Christ. (I know we have several families coming to visit Forefront this coming Sunday!)

_____    ______    _____

Please be in prayer for the churches in the Fort Smith area as they continue to follow-up and connect with the 1,200 families who have expressed interest in a local church.  Even more, be in prayer for the 67 people (and growing) who are coming to know Christ, and that they will get connected with and be disciple by a local church. 

Sowing seeds with people of peace

By Lee Kemp 

John Maxwell once said that no one succeeds unless a group of people wants them to. I think this is definitely true in ministry because ministry rides or dies on relationships.

Before Forefront became a church, Sarah and I were living in Timberline Apartments by ourselves, and we met a lady named Mrs. Patsy. There are about 1,000 people that live in the apartments, and everyone knows Mrs. Patsy. She has lived and worked at Timberline for 21 years, surviving owners and tenants. She delivers notes for rent, but she is also the apartment watchdog. When she takes her dogs for walks late at night, Mrs. Patsy also carries a baseball bat with her.

Early on, Mrs. Patsy didn’t know what Sarah and I believed in or stood for, but she was glad we were there. She knew we were there for a different reason than just having a place to live.

One day I was talking to a lady in the complex about bringing her kids to our summer program, but I could tell there was a racial barrier. Then Mrs. Patsy walked over to us and said to the lady, “You need to get all your kids to this summer program.” Then she looked at me and said, “This is a good man.” The racial barrier died right there.

You’ve heard it said that someone’s always watching. That’s true if we are planting a church or not because the lost watch all believers. The Holy Spirit is definitely at work in peoples’ hearts and minds. Whether we know it or not, the Lord is building those relationships sooner than we might think.

Even so, we have to give it time. Mrs. Patsy had to see some of our events before she accepted that what we were offering was something the people of Timberline Apartments needed.

{ Whether we know it or not, the Lord is building those relationships sooner than we might think.}

Mrs. Patsy was a person of peace in the apartment complex. A person of peace is someone who may or may not have your beliefs, but they are volunteering in the community and trying to make a social difference. They also see your character and believe in you.

Without people of peace, it’s really hard to plant the seeds of the Gospel because the soil will be wrong. And what if that person comes to know Christ? They can help you start a movement!

There are people in your community who have the same heart as you and are already doing things for others. What I have found is that if you link arms with community players already playing and cheer for them then they cheer for you!

There are also gathering places in your community where people already like to go for fun, to relax, and to enjoy each other. When we get involved, we naturally meet people.

If I could plant a church all over again, before trying to gather people for worship, I would have pushed to gather people with different beliefs or who had a heart for social injustice. Then once those people had a chance to receive the Gospel, I would have started a church.

Ben Arment talks about sometimes a church planter has to become a missionary before he becomes a pastor, and missionaries center everything around relationships. If people aren’t ready to gather with you for worship, then maybe you have to cultivate the soil. You go back and focus on developing relationships with people of peace. That way when you gather, you are gathering with people who want to make things happen.

How to look for people of peace in your city:

  1. Focus on the major social injustices of the city
  2. Examine these three questions:
    1. Who’s doing what and for whom?
    2. How good are they at doing it?
    3. What do they need to go to the next level?

 

3 questions to ask when measuring the success of your ministry

By Lee Kemp 

As a pastor, you wouldn’t tell members of your church to compare themselves to someone else in the church, right? You would tell them to compare themselves with Christ. We need to validate that concept at a corporate level.

When we are examining our churches’ visions and goals, how are we tracking success? I think a lot of times we are comparing ourselves with other churches. For example, it’s probably not fair to compare a First Baptist Church downtown to a cowboy church. We’ve got to look at what we’re measuring, and with metrics that fit those churches. 

I also think that God doesn’t even care about some of the things we measure. There’s a big conversation among guys right now about this question, “Is what we thought was success really success?” Don’t take my word for it. Google “changing the scorecard of ministry” and see what’s out there. Or checkout how authors like Reggie McNeil are contributing to the conversation with his book “Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church.” 

At Forefront, we have sat in meetings and felt unsuccessful. But then we would stop and think about people we are ministering to and things we are doing in the community. That would incite us again to keep doing what we needed to do.

When we first started talking to the Boys and Girls Club, they said “We don’t work with churches at all.” We kept talking with them, sought out every way we could serve them, and then later were able to use their space—but they still wanted it off the record. Now we are able to gather there for worship on the record. That’s a success!

When we don’t have good metrics, it makes us question our faithfulness, or worse, God’s faithfulness. And a lot of times, it comes down to asking the right questions…

1. What is a church?

Alan Hirsch, a big author in the missional community, says that because God is advancing His kingdom in different times with all kinds of different people, then there are going to be all kinds of expressions of ekklesia.

This is happening in Arkansas. There are all kinds of churches being planted that are different expressions of ekklesia. One thing we will have to do to continue to have that kind of expression is to change our scorecard.

The metric could be the church’s vision.  Forefront’s vision is to reach the lost, equip the saved, and serve God by using our gifts to show Jesus to the River Valley community and beyond. My point is that nowhere in that vision does this mean Sunday morning attendance, a measurement of our building square footage, or our budget.

2. Can you name the people you’ve impacted?

This may be a better question than some of the usual questions we ask. Maybe you reached five new people this month, but do you know their names? It could be as simple as listing their names when you talk about the impact of your ministry. 

When your staff says, “This was a hard summer—with people traveling and all—but here are five people who got connected with our church while y’all were gone. They’re excited…” you are staying faithful to the course without questioning “Where’s God?”

3. Who is being discipled outside of Sunday mornings?

We might be tempted to think that if we are reaching the lost we will have more people in our church, or that equipping the saved will bring more unbelievers to our church on Sunday morning. That’s not necessarily true. We need to develop a moving, mobile metric to track disciples who make disciples. 

Churches will list budget numbers and things, but very rarely do they sit down and list people who have been paired up for discipleship. Maybe that’s a good new metric because the rubber meets the road when we say, “Here’s Johnny, who’s going to disciple him? Here’s Suzie, who’s going to disciple her?” Your hand is being forced to the paper, and this makes ministry real.

———————————-

The traditional metrics don’t always fit the vision, so we should instead ask the right questions for our churches. If we have decided to reference standard “scorecards,” then we might miss what God is wanting to do right now.

lift-to-install-industrial-fan
Members of Forefront installing an industrial fan at the Boys & Girls Club

Thoughts on faith and our daily bread

By Lee Kemp 

This summer Forefront hosted “Summer Fun Days” at Timberline Apartments to make a positive impact on kids who would otherwise spend the summer alone.

Monday through Wednesday we would meet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the morning we played games, sang songs, made crafts, and told Bible stories. After we fed the kids lunch, they would swim in the pool for afternoon playtime. Then on Thursdays we would go on fieldtrips to places like the nature center and skating rink. We even had a special water slide party one day with the fire department’s help.

This summer alone, we reached 58 kids. Seven of those kids prayed to receive Christ!

This was our third and best year for Summer Fun Days. It came together really well, but we’re learning how to do it better. This summer Forefront had two E4Call interns, college students who feel called to ministry, named Joel and Taylor. They connected and served with Forefront for the summer.

Joel and Taylor were not only a blessing to us as a church but also the many kids/families we met through the summer program. Here’s the thing: We wouldn’t have had the ability to pay them if it wasn’t for Dixie Jackson dollars. Other churches’ giving gave us the money to pay them.

The conundrum of money in ministry  

Early in Forefront’s ministry, a local businessman—Steve—told me something about money that really convicted me. He said, “Lee, I’ve never seen a ministry that Jesus wanted to see done that didn’t happen because of money.”

I know when we start talking about money everybody gets weird, but the raw and the real is that we’ve got to be careful with how we view money in ministry.

To me, there are two sides of the continuum. There’s the guy who may not plant a church because he doesn’t have the money. He is sitting there, stressed, and thinking that if he doesn’t raise some sort of money then he can’t start, or he thinks he knows how much money it’s going to take. But by then, he isn’t really thinking about church planting.

There’s a guy I talked with once who said, “You know, I really wanted to be a church planter, but I don’t know about the financial instability. And I’m not good at raising money.”

{ I’ve never seen a ministry that Jesus wanted to see done that didn’t happen because of money.}

On the other end, there’s an established church that has more than enough money but is trying to figure out what to do with their end of the year excess. When they planned their budget, the church was saying, “This is what we need in order to do what God’s placed on our hearts.” That’s really what a budget is. And they’ve not only met that budget but they’ve exceeded it.

I’ve been in that meeting before at an established church. God gave us an excess, and as support staff we put in our wish list of what we would like to get as if it was Christmas. Instead of having just one projector that everyone looks at on the left side of the room, we could get one for the right side. Or we could look into getting a church van with a better air conditioner.

But I don’t ever remember thinking, “Hey, we could give that to missions.” I was thinking of my own kingdom and not God’s. I’m not saying it’s wrong to “up” your game or buy a better projector for your auditorium, but how can we spur generosity?

I remember asking once about stewardship during an ordination council meeting. Lee Woodmansee said, “Every time we come along an extra sum of money, we ask the Lord, ‘Ok, who do you want us to give it to?’”

A lot of times we don’t think this way.

Ping pong back to the guy who is worried about money and is expecting money from another church. He’s thinking about what it takes to get the church up and running instead of God’s kingdom. He’s paralyzed. What would it look like if that church planter realized he will never have enough money—at any given point—to supply all the church will ever need, but he does have enough to start?

Walking (and spending) with faith

A pastor pulled out a white handkerchief once to clean his glasses, and he said to me, “When you surrendered to ministry you raised this white flag.” If God wants to send me, then where he sends me he will provide for me. It’s so simple, but it’s so hard to walk out.

You can never have enough money in ministry. It’s expensive. It’s risky. And even if you have money, ministry will probably take more money than you currently have.

In the Bible, there’s manna—when God is providing. Then there’s man taking more than God instructed—where men tried to provide for themselves by their own efforts.

The point here is being careful not to spoil ourselves with something God really didn’t give us. When we have this abundance, instead of asking What do we want? we should be asking How much should we really keep?

What if we looked at money as if it was manna?

Baptist churches think about a lot of good things in their budget: how to provide for their staff, what’s going to support the key ministries their staff oversee, how to retire debt, how to fit capital items in their budget, building a budget to get people excited, etc. I’ve been a part of teams where we did that and God still gave us excess, and I made the mistake thinking it was for us just because we had already put those “visionary” things in our budget.

{ I made the mistake thinking the excess was for us just because we had already put those “visionary” things in our budget.}

And there’s this strategy of us cooperating as Baptist churches. God has blessed us! Not only with what we need to do ministry but more because we do it together! Forefront’s goal as a church plant was not to plant or pastor a church that thinks about its own people. We are building God’s kingdom in the state of Arkansas. Other peoples’ success is our success, but only if we’re cooperating.

If your church gives a large amount to Dixie Jackson or to the Cooperative Program, someone will be blessed! Sometimes we don’t want to because we won’t physically see where it goes, or what it does. But what is that expressing? Where’s the Holy Spirit in this? I think at times the reason we are lax in giving is because of a spirit of control.

It’s just that I think our questions about money really ought to be, What are we doing here? and What is the Holy Spirit leading us to do with it?  How are we advancing God’s Kingdom within our local church and the capital “C” Church?

We can wisely spend the money that God has entrusted us with and still think big!   

You’re not that good

By Lee Kemp 

A lot of times I think I’m a go-getter. I take on a bunch of stuff and think I can get everything done, but then I realize I’ve committed to too many things have to tell myself, “You’re not that good, Lee.”

If we were having coffee and you asked how my week’s been, I would have to be honest and say that it’s been a hard week. I’ve worked non-stop for 12 days straight, and now all I can think about is when can I take off? When can I take my wife on a date? If you’re like me this week, and you need a laugh, let me tell you why I’m in this place…

strengths finder 2.0One of the first books I read before becoming a church planter was “Strengths Finder 2.0,” which helped me discover and rank my personal strengths. My wife and I did the assessment together, and what we found is that we are completely different! My number one strength is called “Woo,” while Sarah’s is “Deliberative”:

Woo (Me)

“Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport…Once that connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on…In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet—lots of them.”

Deliberative (Sarah)

“You are careful. You are vigilant. You are a private person. You know that the world is an unpredictable place. Everything may seem in order, but beneath the surface you sense the many risks. Rather than denying these risks, you draw each one out into the open. Then each risk can be identified, assessed, and ultimately reduced. Thus, you are a fairly serious person who approaches life with a certain reserve. You select your friends cautiously and keep your own counsel when the conversation turns to personal matters…”

Honestly, I didn’t think that Sarah being deliberative was a strength; I saw it as indecisiveness. But this is who she is. And, as I dive into this blog post, you will see how she is exactly what I need. Somebody has to put a leash on me—Sarah is the leash!

Overextending

Even though to “woo” is my strength personally and in ministry, I’ve realized it also means I have a tendency to give up stuff. I give people the feeling that they can call me whenever, and I do this intentionally, but it doesn’t take me long to give up everything I need to do for the sake of helping others.

My week so far, just at a glance, looks like this:

Sunday…left the house at sunrise, church, drove to Joplin, Missouri and back

Monday…lunch meeting, helped mow two yards and another local church’s property

Tuesday…meeting w/ local business friend, office work in afternoon, meeting at night

Wednesday…coffee meeting with a family struggling financially, working on this blog, a facilities meeting, a personnel meeting, and led a Bible study at local boxing club

Thursday (today)…a lunch meeting, community networking, need to go to the store, having someone over for dinner

Friday…going to Russellville early a.m. and straight back, afternoon admin work, then dinner with Forefront’s elders and our new worship leader

Saturday…my son’s Grizzly football team tryouts, yard clean up in the community, and an outdoor movie night event at Timberline Apartments to continue outreach

SundayBreakfast club Sunday event in the a.m., luncheon at another church, Acts 1:8 meeting in afternoon, Associational meeting in the evening

As I’ve talked about in a previous post (“The struggle is real to be authentic”), I really push-back on making Sunday the Super bowl of Forefront’s ministry. But from looking at my calendar this week, there is obviously a danger in doing the opposite, right? I and plenty of other pastors are giving tons of our time away, and we need to be careful and protective of giving our attention to the Word, our families, and ourselves.

In ministry, I think our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs sometimes. What I mean is that we are passionate, some of us are type-A personalities, and we rally to a cause, but we can’t do it all. Why? Because we have over-extended our bandwidth.

I’m learning in church planning, by my own mistakes, that I not only need to plan for what I’ve committed to but also for randomness in my week, what I like to call holy interruptions. These interruptions aren’t a bad thing, but if I’m maxed out on my commitments then I may miss out. I have also noticed that it is through these holy interruptions that our mission is advanced into new waters.

Whoever you are, especially if you’re interested in church planting, learn from me and guard your bandwidth. I obviously don’t have this—not over-committing—figured out. If I did, I wouldn’t be in this place.

I guess it’s like learning to live within your means financially. You have to lead your life within your means. I have the challenge of being “fully present” in my doing, and so I find myself leading on auto pilot.  Although that may work in church life and with others who don’t know you, it doesn’t work with your wife and kids.  Take it from me on this!

How you can pray for me

  • There’s a lot going on at Forefront that I hope to share with you in the next few weeks, which is one of the main reasons I’ve overextended myself. God is doing good things, and I am excited to tell you about it! Please pray for these developments.
  • Pray that I will make time to be in the Word, with my family, and to take care of myself.   

 

From homeless to homemaker

By Lee Kemp 

A few years ago, the manager of a Motel 6 in Fort Smith called me to refer a lady who could use some help.  We had developed a friendship with Motel 6 through ministering to so many folks, and we had even been able to develop a corporate discount rate to help people.  

I met DeLayne at McDonald’s right next to the hotel. She sat there with me and another elder of Forefront. We filled out this sheet to assess what she needed and figure out if we could meet that need. I could tell she was nervous and had been through a lot. I stopped her and reassured her that she could relax and didn’t have to sell us on helping her. 

DeLayne had fibromyalgia and had been living with her mom for a season to take care of her. After her mom needed to change living conditions, DeLayne moved with her daughter Sarah to Fort Smith. It wasn’t long in their new beginning that Sarah lost her job. Because DeLayne had been completely dependent on Sarah, she became homeless. She had no place to go.

Forefront was pretty limited in what we could do for her right away, but we assured DeLayne that we wanted to be her faith family, and as her faith family we also wanted to do all we could do to help her get back to where she desired to be.     

{ As DeLayne’s faith family we wanted to do all we could do to help her get back to where she desired to be.}

DeLayne went to the Rescue Mission and was able to get a job, but Forefront could do things for her the Rescue Mission couldn’t do. As time went on we would help financially with small needs, and we loaned her a car that we used for local missions. She connected with our church and started coming to worship with us. 

And DeLayne got back up on her feet! She secured a good job, a home, and eventually met a really good guy, Will, who she recently married. Now she is a homemaker, and Will takes good care of her. DeLayne says she is a “kept woman.” 

DeLayne

She is now considering how she can serve others with her free time. One of the things she wants to do is help Forefront Church by volunteering in our office as my assistant. It’s amazing how she was ministered to by our church and is now giving back by serving the church.   

DeLayne is such a huge encouragement to anyone who knows her! She uses these three verses when encouraging folks about what God has done in her life: Jeremiah 33:3, Romans 8:28 & Philippians 4:19.

Forefront wants to be a church the community sees as an organization that meets needs. I have witnessed that we can never go wrong just getting out into the community and developing friendships that the Lord brings our way. It is through friendships with organizations and local businesses like Motel 6 that Forefront has had the opportunity to meet someone like DeLayne.

 {Forefront’s desire is to be at the forefront of what God is doing in changing the lives of those who feel far from God.  Our vision is to Reach the Lost, Equip the saved to reach others, and Serve God by using our gifts to show Jesus to the local community.  Our heart is to maintain an external focus as a church.}