Planting a Church with Open Hands

#MultiplicationMatters

Chad Harrington

Brett Andrews’s story of church planting is unlike any other I’ve heard, because while his main skill is teaching and preaching, he and his church seem to keep open hands and send out entrepreneur-types, especially church planters, on the regular.

Andrews planted New Life Christian Church in the 90s and since then, their church has helped plant over 80 churches.

While he and his church have been successful in planting new churches, his route has been a journey of learning. In fact, Andrews describes his experience in church planting in this way: “If you ever see a blind man with no arms painting a picture, that would probably be a pretty good picture of what my church planting experience has been: a lot of groping, a lot in the dark of, Lord, what are we supposed to do next?”

Hear more about Brett’s planting journey in this podcast: “E03: Brett Andrews’s Journey to Multiplication

He says that the key to their success as a church-planting church has been their ability to have open hands, and as I spoke with Vince Antonucci and Dan Smith about their experience at New Life, that’s the sense I got from them too. Andrews and New Life aren’t doing anything special; they’re just letting people go as they see fit. That’s what seemed to be Andrews’s special sauce, his key to multiplication: no smoke and mirrors, no flashy lights, just meat and potatoes discipleship.

In fact, that’s what Brett taught me personally back in college. Brett was my coach for training when I was certified to coach church planters with Church Coaching Solutions (about ten years ago). We had six or so personal coaching sessions over a period of months, and I remember one important thing he taught me way back then. It was revolutionary the first time he told it to me:

  • I do, you watch
  • We do together
  • You do I watch
  • You do

However you break it down, that’s the path of a disciple. And it’s what Brett has taught and modeled along his journey to varying degrees.

It’s funny, because that’s what the church planters and the people that keep coming out of New Life are doing. In addition to Dan Smith and Vince Antonucci, New Life had at one time Terri Saliba and Troy McMahon and they still have Todd Wilson, Pat Ferguson, and Dale Spaulding, among many other influencers in church planting. Talk about letting go and letting God! Those are some heavy hitters. Brett’s advice is worth listening to, because his life shows the fruit of a mature disciple who produces reproducing church planters.

Brett Andrews’s Top Pieces of Advice

1. It’s not about you.

“My first piece of advice to church planters who want to multiply: to not make it about you, to make it about seeking God and being obedient to his calling and his mission.

2. Live with open hands.

“The second thing I would say is live with open hands. You don’t get to any blessing of God if your hands are closed and you are living in fear. It’s the parable of the talents, right? Three guys are given talents. The guy who’s given one talent doesn’t gamble it, doesn’t bet it on Nashville winning the Stanley Cup. What does he do? He’s just afraid. He buries it, and when the master gets back—I don’t think he’s expecting to get a tongue lashing, I think he’s expecting to hear, ‘Well, good for you, you did lose it!’ What does he do? He called him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant!’ But why did he do it? ‘I was afraid. I knew you to be a hard man.’ He thought he knew the master, which he didn’t: ‘I was afraid, so I buried it.’ That’s why we hold onto it—we think we know God, we don’t trust him as a result of really not knowing him, and we hold onto the stuff as if it’s ours to hold onto and we bury the talent. So open your hands—release what God has given you.

Open your hands—release what God has given you.

3. Have a predilection for action.

“The third thing I would say is have a predilection for action—a predisposition or love for action. It’s the opposite of burying your talent. It’s one thing to think about these things that God wants you to do, or these ideas that you may have, but what’s it mean for you to act in obedience today. It’s easy for me to come to conferences and get ideas or read books to see what other people are doing and get ideas; it takes courage for me to say I am going to act in boldness and if I fail, I’ll learn from it and let God use that to move me forward. So I would say act, try stuff. Again the parable of the talents—it’s a wonderful principle about what does the master tell them to do? Isn’t that kind of frustrating? He doesn’t tell them anything; he just gives it to them! He expects them to be entrepreneurs, he expects them to be creative, he expects them to take action because they’ve thought about it a little bit, they’ve certainly thought about who he is. The opposite of burying your talent is  holding it loosely and being entrepreneurial and taking some action because you’re not lazy. You’re just going to try stuff in obedience to God, saying, ‘God, show me the way.’”

The Gospel of Letting Go

Those are sage pieces of advice for those who want their fellowship to become a level five multiplying church. His words here are ones that I will remember, hopefully just like I remembered his wise words the first time I met him ten years ago.

Above all, it’s important to live with open hands, because that’s the essence of what’s required of a sending church–letting go. It’s not just important for church planting; it’s important for life as a follower of Jesus, as a believer in the Gospel of Jesus, because you can’t pick up your cross daily and follow after him if your fists are clenched. Only open hands can be nailed to the cross. It’s because only when we’re open and vulnerable are we able to make an impact.

Only when we’re open and vulnerable are we able to make an impact.

And in our letting go, we remember that after the cross of pain is the resurrection of life. That gives us the freedom to let go of our control, even if that means letting a great minister or pastor go plant another church. Brett’s story reveals that even if you let you best people go, God blesses you to grow again.


Chad Harrington is a reader, writer, and redemption artist. He’s the Chief Storyteller for Harrington Interactive Media, and having worked in the church and nonprofit world, he tells stories at RedemptionArts.org to encourage redemptive action. He co-authored Dedicated: Training Children to Trust and Follow Jesus, holds a MA in biblical studies from Asbury Seminary, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.