Launch | Notes & Review

Posted on July 30, 2012


Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas. Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch. Regal, 2006. (223 pages),


  • Your call to start a church is the most critical factor to the church’s success.
  • Don’t be afraid to raise funds from other churches.
  • Build your church from the outside in.
  • Don’t start with small groups or with a youth ministry.
  • Use three to six months of monthly worship services to build up to weekly services.
  • Don’t try to gather the churched; stay focused on the unchurched.
  • In the beginning, resist the temptation to do everything.
  • You can start a church must faster than you think.
  • You can grow a church must faster than you think.

Let the content spark ideas–whether or not you agree with us — about what God wants to do in and through you. (17)

Section 1: Foundation

…in church planting there are three deadly sins:

  1. Lack of calling
  2. Lack of strategy
  3. Lack of funds

We’ve tried to make some of the boring stuff exciting and some of the hard stuff easier to understand. (19)

Chapter 1: Starting the Journey…from Scratch

Launching Large. We want to help you start a church from scratch that will reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. (28)

Numbers are important in that they represent the people you have won to Christ as well as your impact on the community as a whole. (29)

Ask yourself, What would launching large look like in my area? (29)

Launching Quickly. …healthy churches can also be launched quickly. (30)

Launching from the Outside In. …”outwardly focused” from the beginning. (32)

Chapter 2: The Call to Start a Church

The majority of church starts fail within the first year. …In order to plant a successful church, you have to know that you are undeniably called by God. Period. There is no way around this truth. (34)

There are dozens of sources of improper calling, but these are the ones that we deal with most frequently:

  • Unemployment
  • Anger or resentment toward another pastor
  • Disgruntled staff
  • Easier than searching for an existing ministry position
  • Parent or grandparent started a church
  • Ego
  • It’s the “in” thing

…ways you can recognize a proper calling.

  • Prayer and Bible study. God calls, and confirms His call…
  • Surprise. God intercepts your plans
  • Holy discontent.
  • Burden for the unchurched.
  • Godly counsel.

The Four Calls of a Church Planter

1. Your Call to Start a Church.

2. Your Call to Understand Your Spouses’ Call.

  • The timing of your call may not match the timing of your spouses’ call. Be patient and allow God to speak to your spouse in His own timing. Do not push.
  • The intensity of your call may not match the intensity of your spouse’s call. Don’t assume that your spouse is not in sync with you because your levels of passion are not equal. The goal is to confirm mutual calling, not mutual intensity.
  • Make sure your spouse is fully heard, involved and committed.

3. Your Call to a Place.

  • Has God called you to leave your current home?
  • Are you passionate about a particular area of the country/world?
  • Have you ever told God, “The last place in the world I would want to live is ___”?

4. Your Call to a People.

Characteristics of a Call

  • Is your calling clear?
  • Has your calling been confirmed by others?
  • Are you humbled by the call?
  • Have you acted on your call?

Answering the Call

Prepare to Lead. Here are some key areas you’ll want to study:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Innovation
  • Staff management
  • Delegation
  • Marketing
  • Organizational development
  • Accounting

Prepare to Teach. You will teach your vision to your early core group. You will teach your plan to potential funding partners. You will teach your strategy to the community. You will teach your systems to laity. You will teach yourself what it means to pastor a growing church. Strong churches are built by strong teachers. (46)

Prepare to Depend on God.

Chapter 3: Developing a Strategy

A strategy is simply a logical plan that gets you from where you are to where God wants you to be. (53)

Practical reasons to start planning your strategy now:

  • A strategy is a document of faith.
  • A successful strategy provides structure.
  • Developing a strategy forces you to think on paper.
  • A strategy provides focus.
  • A strategy forces research.
  • A strategy is good for your team.
  • A strategy saves you time.
  • A strategy makes it easier to ask others for help.
  • A lack of strategy will limit your church’s growth.

Principles of Strategy Development

  1. Principle of Applied Effort. …there are two types of pain: the pain of front-end discipline and the pain of back-end regret. (55)
  2. Principle of Relevant Application. Don’t copy.
  3. Principle of Post-complexity Simplicity. Things will get complex before they get clear.
  4. Principle of Direct Communication. Make it easy to understand.
  5. Principle of Holy Reliance. …on the Holy Spirit.

Eight Key Elements of a Start-Up Strategy

  1. Purpose, Mission and Vision Statement.
  2. Core Values.
  3. Strategic Aim.
  4. Major Objectives.
  5. Goals.
  6. Tasks. Every big accomplishment is achieved through a series of little accomplishments. (63)
  7. Budget.
  8. Calendar.

(#6) When you have a draft of your strategic aim, major objectives, goals and tasks in place, you’ll need to firm up your strategic statements with some SMART editing. Here’s how it breaks down:

Chapter 4: Raising Funds

Do Your Research.

  • What will the cost of living in this community be?
  • What will my salary be? How about salaries for additional staff?
  • How much will it cost to rent space for the church to meet in?
  • How much will it cost to operate a business in this city (office rent, phones, computer equipment, copy equipment, and so on)?

Avoid Temptation. …you will face two competing temptations. First, there will be the temptation to think too small and try to survive on just the bare necessities. …Second, there is the temptation to think too large. (73)

Asking the Right Questions to Find Potential Partners

  1. Question #1: Who Do You Know?
  2. Question #2: Who Do the People You Know Know?
  3. Question #3: Who Has a Heart for Your Area?
  4. Question #4: Will God Show You What You Need to Do?
  5. Question #5: What If the People You Ask Say No?

Three Levels of Church Partnership

  1. Level 1: Prayer
  2. Level 2: Prayer Plus People. …”missions teams” to help you get started sent from other places.
  3. Level 3: Prayer Plus People Plus Paper. “paper” meaning “checks.”

What Your Partners Want

  1. A Reasonable Strategy.
  2. A Reasonable Budget.
  3. A Plan for Self-Sufficiency.
  4. A Capable Leader.
  5. A Clear Request for Support.
  6. A Compelling Story.
  7. Other Partners.
  8. Regular Communication.
  9. A Clear Opportunity for Success.
  10. Results.

We often tell church planters that their church will cost them more than they think, but that God is bigger than they believe. (92)

God does not operate on the scarcity principle. (93)

Section 2: Formation

Chapter 5: Building a Staff

The people you bring on to your staff will either propel you down the road toward fulfilling the vision for your church or serve as speed bumps along the way. (97)

Tenet #1: Find First-year Staff First. Lead pastor, Worship leader, Children’s ministry leader. (98)

Tenet #2: Decide How You Will Raise Payroll Funds. To this day, the lead pastor sets the salary structure for The Journey. (101)

Tenet #3: Don’t Be Afraid of the “Big Ask”. When you ask someone to join your staff, you are not asking that person to make a sacrifice. Instead, you are offering that person the opportunity of a lifetime. (102)

Lessons from the Trenches

  1. Hire Part-Time Before Full-Time
  2. Hire from Within
  3. The Three Cs (character, chemistry, competency)

Top 10 Staffing Lesson from The Journey

  1. You’ll never have enough money up front to hire staff.
  2. Hiring staff precedes growth, not vice versa.
  3. Hire slow, fire fast. One bad apple spoils the bunch.
  4. Hire from within whenever possible.
  5. Hiring and firing is ultimately the responsibility of the lead pastor.
  6. Hire part-time staff before full-time staff.
  7. Never hire staff when you can find a volunteer.
  8. The role of staff is to find additional volunteers.
  9. Hold weekly staff meetings.
  10. Clarity and accountability are the keys to an effective staff.

Chapter 6: Planning Your First Service

Setting Your Launch Date. …your top goal is to launch as publicly as possible, with as many people as possible. (117)

Do everything you can to stick with your original launch date. (119)

Monthly services are more than worth the effort that goes into them. We have seen the majority of churches who skip this step start with small er numbers and struggle longer. But remember, monthly services…

  • Attract a launch team
  • Build momentum
  • Give you practice and allow you to improve your skills
  • Give you a chance to grow
  • Provide more time for follow-up
  • Enable more efficient use of initial resources
  • Lower your stress level
  • Make your launch day less intimidating
  • Build greater awareness of the church
  • Help you stick to your launch date
  • Allow you to test your meeting location
  • Allow you to test a worship leader
  • Build your database of future weekly attendees

Critical Mistake. The biggest mistake you can make at a monthly service is to fail to collect basic contact information from those who attend your monthly preview services. (122)

  1. Follow up thoroughly.
  2. Follow up quickly.
  3. Follow up personally.

Promoting Your Services. …the four Ds: design, direct mail, display advertising and direct delivery.

When it comes to getting the word out about your church, the bottleneck is not usually a money problem but an idea problem. (133)

Planning Events. Comeback events are those events you schedule to invite those who attended a service to come back for a nonthreatening, fellowship-based event. (134)

Game Time.

  • Have your people commit to inviting their friends.
  • Launch with a new teaching series that hits a high felt-need of your target.
  • Promote the next week and challenge people to come back.
  • Challenge new people to tell their friends about the church.
  • Don’t use an outside band/teacher for the launch service.
  • Ask those who have attended the monthly services to serve at the launch.
  • Collect contact information on everyone who attends.
  • Count how many attend, and distinguish between in-town and out-of-town attendees.
  • Serve refreshments. Go all out here. Get the best. Food is a powerful, often overlooked tool.
  • Set your room so that it feels full.
  • Keep the service to one hour.
  • Receive an offering.
  • Meet as many people as possible at your launch.
  • Be ready for the Sunday after your launch.

Spectacular achievements come from unspectacular preparation – Roger Staubach


Chapter 7: Gathering a Launch Team

Launch Team Versus Core Group

Launch Team: A team of committed individuals who will assist you in preparing for and executing an effective launch. This is a team of people currently living in the area where your new church will meet — a team that you will build from scratch. The launch team is in existence only through the first weekly service.

Your launch team has one singular purpose: to assist you in launching the church. (142)

Follow the Leader. If you are the lead or founding pastor, you need to step into the leadership position for your launch team. (145)

Three Top Launch-Team Temptations

  1. Temptation #1: Change the Launch Schedule
  2. Temptation #2: Give Your Launch Team Too Much Control
  3. Temptation #3: Merge with Another Church

Launching for Legacy. A healthy launch is the single greatest indicator of future church health. (157)

  • Don’t do a membership class until after your launch
  • Do everything possible to keep your launch team outwardly focused. If you think you are doing enough, you’re not.
  • The launch team is not a democracy. Don’t vote. You are the leader. Lead.
  • Remember that your launch team is a time-limited, purpose-driven team. It ends with the debriefing session following your launch. At that meeting, release the launch team members to join a ministry team of their choice.
  • The launch team will force you to learn how to manage teams. Keep those lessons with you. Everything about church involves managing teams of people.
  • Preparing a launch team to maximize your first service is first and foremost a spiritual enterprise. Pray and fast — a lot.

Your launch team will not stay with you over the long haul. (158)

Setting the Solid Foundation. Your launch date and monthly service schedule define the boundaries. (159)


Section 3: Implementation

Chapter 8: Reaching People

Finding Focus. While it is true that you want to share the gospel with as many people as possible, you will need to develop a clear picture of the specific demographic your new church is targeting in order to effectively reach the greatest number of people. Diffused light has little impact, but focused light has the ability to cut through steel. (165)

  1. Who Are the Key Population Groups Living in My Area?
  2. What Population Group Is Not Being Reached Effectively?
  3. What Population Group Do I Best Relate To?

The Sweet Spot. The point at which these three questions intersect is your sweet spot. (168)

Evaluated experience is the best teacher. (174)

…if you want to reach the unchurched but only the churched are showing up, you may actually have a problem. (175)

Five Ideas for Reaching People

  1. Direct Marketing
  2. Mission Teams
  3. Servant Evangelism
  4. Events
  5. People Inviting People

Reaching People for the Kingdom. You are starting a church because there are people who need to be reached. Any other reason is sub par. (178)

Chapter 9: Building Systems

Just as our bodies are made up of interdependent systems, so is the church. The systems you put in place from the beginning are the essential processes that will help it remain healthy and give it the ability to develop. (180)

A church system is simply a strategic process that Saves You Stress, Time, Energy, and Money. (181)

First-Year Systems. There are eight systems that you should focus on during the first year of your new church:

  1. The Sunday service
  2. Evangelism and Assimilation 101
  3. The church’s website
  4. Baptism
  5. Recordkeeping and databases
  6. Basic accounting
  7. Corporate/legal structure
  8. Leadership development

The Sunday Service

  • If you are in rented facilities, develop a solid load-in and load-out process. Continually ask yourself, How can we do this better and in less time?
  • Make a list of everything you are doing for Sunday, evaluate it, and then ask, “What’s on this list that we cold mobilize volunteers to accomplish?” Model each task well yourself and then quickly give it away.
  • Hire a $50-a-week staff person to assist with some of the most energy-draining or time-consuming Sunday preparations.
  • Condense the worship order preparation time for each upcoming Sunday.
  • Plan your preaching calendar in advance. If you know where you are going with next week’s or next month’s teaching, you’ll be able to plan much more effectively.

Evangelism and Assimilation 101

  • How does someone explore or express a decision to follow Christ at our church?
  • What do we say, share or give to a person who is making a first-time decision to follow Christ?
  • How can we help the new Christian get plugged into our church?

In thinking through your basic assimilation process ask yourself:

  • How do we know who is a first-time guest each Sunday? How do we collect his or her contact information?
  • Are we making our service easy for a first timer to attend?
  • How are we following up on first-time guests?

The Church’s Website

  • Where your church meets
  • What time you meet
  • Directions to the church’s location
  • What to expect at the service
  • A little bit about you and any staff
  • A short history of the church


  • How do we make sure people understand the meaning and significance of baptism?
  • How do we plan and promote our first baptism to make sure that as many people as possible attend?
  • How do we capture our first baptism on video or with photography? How do we get the video or photos out to the entire church in the coming weeks?
  • How do we capture the stories and testimonies of those being baptized? How do we maximize these as celebrations of what God is doing in our church family?
  • How do we signify the event for those being baptized? Do we give them certificates? Framed personal photos? Group pictures?
  • How do we promote a future baptism at our first baptism?

Recordkeeping and Database

  • Contact information on everyone who attends
  • Weekly Sunday attendance broken down by adults and children
  • Weekly offering amount
  • Number of volunteers on a Sunday
  • Number of volunteers during the week

Here are some key database lessons that we have learned:

  • Enter every person into the database, even if his or her data is incomplete.
  • Only ask for data you are going to use.
  • Back up your data every week and after major edits.
  • Print out your data as hard-copy back-ups.
  • Don’t let data sit around the office. Enter it immediately
  • Treat all data as confidential and proprietary.

Basic Accounting.

  • Offering collection, counting and deposit
  • Check writing
  • Reimbursement processes
  • Salaries/paychecks
  • Regular reports

It’s unacceptable for the church to bounce a check, be late depositing the offering or fail to pay the bills on time. (195)

Corporate/Legal Structure

  1. Whatever corporate/legal structure you choose, make sure it’s the minimum structure required.
  2. Take your time with these issues.

Leadership Development

  • Carefully relating what is expected in every volunteer position
  • Making sure volunteers understand the significance of what they are doing
  • Assisting them in their spiritual growth and leadership effectiveness
  • Challenging them to recruit other volunteers
  • Saying “thank you” on a regular basis

Why Wait on Membership Class? From a systems standpoint, there is no need to expend the energy to hold membership classes until you are at least six months into weekly services. (197)

Why Wait on Small Groups? The best rule of thumb is to wait until you have more than 65 adults in regular attendance before you start small groups… (199)

The system will give you what it’s designed to give you.


Chapter 10: From Scratch to Stability to Success

Many church planters make the mistake of slowing down as they reach the end of the start-up phase. They think they can afford to back off and relax. (200)

The Wrong Question: How do I get my church to grow?

The Right Question: What is keeping my church from growing?

  1. Growth barrier #1: Space.
  2. Growth barrier #1: Self-Development.
  3. Growth barrier #1: Sharing. A church will stop growing when it becomes inwardly focused. (211)

The Final Challenge

Here is our final challenge to you: Be a church that constantly gives back to other churches for the greater good of the Kingdom. (217)

— VIA —

Leaders are readers, as they say, and reading this has been helpful, confirming, reminding, and energizing. I get excited about the, and am thankful for the distant mentoring of people like Searcy and others who are willing to share their experience, wisdom, insight, etc.

A few observations.

1. The book’s main strength is also its weakness. I recognize that this is not a “theology” or “philosophy” of church planting, so to be fair, I offer these comments with full respect for the authors’ objective. The book is so heavily pragmatic and systematic, with linear “to do’s” and specific metrics of growth, expansion, etc., (just look at the number of lists above) that the “heart” of church planting may get lost in the mix. I would suggest this is a fantastic administrative “supplement” or even “reference” to someone who has an already established and well-formulated call (mentioned quite clearly in the book), theology (briefly touched on), and philosophy (scattered throughout) on ecclesiology.

2. A couple lists of humorous sarcasms were listed in the book were actually quite entertaining [e.g. “Top 10 Rejected Titles for Launch: Church Planting for Dummies (our suggestion) | Church Planting by Dummies (our publisher’s suggestion)] But on page 162, the humor illuminated a few insights that should be considered more carefully (humor is always based on some strand of truth). The title was “Top 10 Most Unexpected Reactions from Those Who Have read This Far” (page 162) #2 says “Better than The Purpose Driven Life! Nelson was not nearly this smart when he served as a pastor on my staff.” – Pastor Rick Warren, lake Forest, CA. Humorous. Sure. The other pastors listed were upper class white males, which is a strong indicator of the authors’ culture and audience. There is a middle-class, white, wealthy, “church sub-culture” framework that pervades this text, and I would simply suggest that this bias and perspective be taken into consideration when reading their pragmatics.

And then you come to #7. ” ‘This book will help you grow a great church like Willow Creek or Saddleback. Only with less people and far less impact.’ – Pastor Jake, Schaumburg, IL.” While I appreciate the self-deprecating humor found in this and other comments, this one in particular illustrates a very real, subtle, debilitating feature and factor in our “church-world/sub-culture;” that of comparison, contrast, commodification, and control. I found this comment to be illustrative of the very battle the authors actually highlight in the book, ensuring that the church planter is planting for the right reason(s), and to keep one’s call in full check.

3. Finally, the audience of this book is subtly male-centric. They employed the use of “spouse” in the writing (as in “pastor and spouse”), which is appreciated. However, there were a few times in the writing when the masculine pronoun was used to describe groups of people, leaders, etc. Again, another cautionary and contentious point to female church planters, and female church leaders.

Overall, I’m thankful for this book, the authors’ contribution to the Kingdom, their wisdom shared to all those who endeavor on this journey (I know a couple church planters who could have greatly benefited from reading this first), and the reference it will be to me personally and our next ministry endeavor.

As I have met with other church planters in our area to connect and pray, I consider Searcy and Thomas to be brothers in our family, and I sincerely hope that their ministry endeavors are fruitful beyond measure, as they say, “for the Kingdom.”