With a church on almost every corner here in Galveston, it might seem like no new ones are needed, but studies show that newly-founded churches can reach those who might otherwise be overlooked. Demographic changes, languages and cultural barriers are other factors, experts say. Some believe that these can be more easily addressed by starting over with a brand new church rather than retooling an existing one.
It’s not easy, but there is a little-heralded support group for those who feel called to pastor a church plant. The Rev. Chad Clarkson, was pastor of church planting and missions at League City’s multi-site, megachurch, Clear Creek Community Church where he mentored a number of local church plants. Now, he is the executive director of the Houston Church Planting Network.
“We call it a network of networks because we have multiple networks and denominations—over 25 different and over 100 churches,” Clarkson said. “Churches that are connected to HCPN are committed not only to church planting—the starting of new churches, but also to gospel saturation. Our meeting point as a network is the gospel. The gospel message of Jesus then motivates us to not only proclaim his message of salvation, but also demonstrate it through the planting of new churches.”
Being a pastor can represent a more than full-time job. You’re on call for needs great and small with no guaranteed days off. In addition to preaching, counseling and teaching, you may find yourself in charge of insurance, permits, bookkeeping and more. But the average church planter also will need to set up chairs, children’s areas, sound systems and other church accouterments each week. And then take them down. All without additional staffs and on a very limited budget for pastoral salaries.
It’s not for everyone.
So the HCPN also provides screening for potential planters as well as two intern-like programs.
“We do what are called church planting assessments,” Clarkson said. “These are designed to see if someone is both called and prepared to plant a church. They consist of an extensive application process, interviews, online tests, marriage assessment and several other components. We’ll do our next group assessment June 17-20 where we will assess 10-12 couples over a period of 3-4 days.”
The network also allows new planters to learn from the most celebrated in this field. Names like Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Alan Hirsch and Ed Stetzer have all trekked here to share their expertise in getting folks to try a church, perhaps for the first time.
“Another service we provide is what we call church planting residencies,” Clarkson added. “This is similar to a medical residency—only we are helping people get ready to start a new church. We have a Finishing Residency which is designed for those who hope to launch a new church in about a year and a Functional Residency for those whose launch may be a few years away. This gives someone the opportunity to kick the tires and learn more if they are called and wired to plant a new church.”
The network’s statistics bear out the challenge Clarkson sees. Some 3000 folks move to the greater Galveston-Houston area weekly bringing some 250 different languages with them and even more ethnic backgrounds.
“We are going to need a diverse group of churches and church planters,” he said.
Coming soon in Our Faith: A local church provides support for single mothers to be.