3 Proven Dynamics for Collaborating to Plant Churches

HCPN Founder Bruce Wesley: 'We hope for a groundswell of collaboration to help multiply residencies'

Exponential

What happens when churches from diverse denominations come together with a vision to join forces to reach the fourth-largest U.S. city? In the article below, Bruce Wesley, founder of the Houston Church Planting Movement, shares how 12 churches have come together to create the HCPN Church Planting Residency, which funds, trains and supports church planters they believe will become movement leaders in Houston. Here in this article, Wesley offers three of the five proven dynamics for collaborating with churches shared in his FREE eBook, Multiplication for Collaboration: The Story of the Houston Church Planting Movement

One of my favorite fly-fishing spots is about 10 miles west of Kremmling, Colorado, near the confluence of the Williams Fork and the Colorado River. The giant trees that line the river fill the air with an aroma as sweet as a candy shop. It’s shady, and the parking lot is close enough to the water that fishermen are not exhausted by walking to the river in full gear. Best of all, the fishing is great.

The fish obviously love this spot too. For the fish, the confluence of two rivers makes the flow powerful. The water boils as two rivers crash together and become one. Each river brings food downstream, so the fish find a shady spot near the confluence and wait for a banquet. Casting my artificial flies amidst the feeding frenzy turns “fishing” into “catching.” I love that place.

Establishing the HCPN Church Planting Residency is a confluence of sorts too. Gifts, resources and opportunities have flowed from a dozen churches, crashing together to create something more powerful than any one church could create on its own. Highly gifted church planters have gathered at the confluence to feast on what’s coming downstream. It has really been a beautiful thing to see.

I want to revisit some of what we did that we want to keep doing, so that the confluence of resource churches continues to be a beautiful place for potential church planters to get prepared to multiply churches. Here are five things we want to keep doing.

Keep Showing Up

People collaborate effectively only when they know and trust one another, so we keep showing up to know and love people. In time, trust grows.

Chad, our director of church planting, is gifted at networking and connecting people to each another. Chad makes showing up and hanging out with people a way of life. Chad has noticed that when the Spirit of God is moving in a specific geography, multiple pastors and leaders seem to be hearing the same things. He saw this in Houston. Pastors who did not know one another talked about a growing heart for church planting and collaboration. 

Because Chad kept showing up in different people’s lives, he was able to serve as a connector for pastors. We have learned that groups don’t work together, but people do. When we started HCPN, people from many different groups trusted Chad and showed up too.

Twenty-seven years of serving churches in the same city has allowed me to have plenty of opportunities to keep showing up, even though I’m not a gifted networker. I’m actually pretty bad at networking. For years, I kept my head down and planted the church I pastor. In fact, I was among the least likely pastors to show up at a pastors’ luncheon. But when I started thinking about how we need to collaborate with other churches, I began to make showing up a priority. The more I showed up, the more relationships of trust were built.

Looking back, we believe that showing up all those years was foundational to building enough trust among other churches that eventually became willing to collaborate with us to train church planters.

Keep Sharing the Mic

The room was buzzing with the conversations of church planters around the tables at one of the gatherings of the Houston Church Planting Network. A pastor of a resource church approached Chad. While marveling at the spirit of love and cooperation in the room, he told Chad, “One reason this works so well is that you don’t want to be king.”

Collaboration requires humble leadership. For partnership to grow, leaders must humbly share the leadership, especially the “up front” leadership. That’s why we say, “Keep sharing the mic.” Chad and I have some “up front” opportunities, but most of the time we put the microphone in another leader’s hand. Early on, we realized that the more I was up front, the more HCPN would seem like “my thing,” which would undermine our desire for collaboration. Also, we rarely meet at a Clear Creek Community Church location, and I hold the mic only once or twice a year. Although Chad is the director, he’s rarely up front. Other pastors and leaders host our gatherings, lead us in prayer, and speak at our gatherings of church planters.

Behind the scenes, collaborative works require outstanding leadership and plenty of communication. Chad works with others to develop a strategic plan for HCPN gatherings. We have a board of directors that oversees budgets and determines direction, and, when we gather, we keep sharing the mic.

Sharing the mic allows us to highlight multiple models of ministry, demonstrate our commitment to ethnic diversity, and provide opportunities for emerging leaders to be known. The more that the microphone is in one person’s hand, the less likely we are to feel like the work is in all of our hands.

Keep On Keeping On

We already understood the principle of perseverance, but we were surprised that our perseverance to establish the Houston Church Planting Network impacted others. Our perseverance gave us credibility with others.

For four years, Clear Creek Community Church bore the burden of HCPN because we believed it was a great need in our city, and that God was leading us to do it. We learned that our commitment to “do it alone” was part of what compelled people to “do it together.” Perseverance built credibility, and credibility fostered collaboration. If you want to create this kind of network, you will probably have to persevere for a season of “doing it alone” so that people see your commitment, and then have confidence to join you and “do it together.”

Perseverance includes waiting. We tell church planters, “Nothing grows fast but a weed.” In other words, planting a church takes time. It might grow more slowly than you think it should. The same is true of collaboration. It took longer than we initially assumed, but God used the period of waiting to strengthen our convictions about church planting in the city and to strengthen our credibility with other church leaders in the city.

Today, as we aspire to multiply our work, we’re reminded of the power of perseverance. We hope for a groundswell of collaboration to help multiply residencies. We pray for revival in our city so that God might use us to encourage other great cities, but we realize we have no control over these things. By God’s grace, we will simply keep on keeping on.

This article was excerpted and adapted from the Exponential eBook Multiplication for Collaboration: The Story of the Houston Church Planting Movement by Bruce Wesley.

Bruce Wesley is the founding pastor of Clear Creek Community Church. Since launching in fall 1993, the church has grown to an average weekly attendance of more than 5,000 people at three campuses. Bruce serves as senior pastor, giving oversight to strategic leadership and spiritual formation, and he serves as one of the primary preachers.

Bruce is the founder, president and executive board member of the Houston Church Planting Network, a network of 30-plus networks working together to strengthen church planters to reach every man, woman and child in Greater Houston. In 2014, HCPN started the HCPN Church Planting Residency, a paid residency program for church planters led by key pastors from across the city. Bruce also serves as an executive board member of Acts 29 Church Planting Network, a diverse global network of church-planting churches.

Bruce and his wife Susan invest in three key areas for community transformation: planting churches, strengthening marriages and raising up leaders for the church of tomorrow. He loves the mountains, fly fishing and hiking trails.