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How to test a church plant

This past week, I heard that NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon has had its launch date set to February 2022. Nothing really exciting about that, except for one thing related to ministry:

The February 2022 mission will be a capsule with a “moonikin” (like, mannequin, but for the moon) inside with sensors that will capture all kinds of data.

In other words, NASA is doing a run through of the mission without a human in order to gain data on how everything would perform.

So, this brings us to what we are considering today, which is that:

We should test and see how a church plant would perform by running through a “churchikin” or “plantikin,” now even more possible in our digital-first era.

Gaining performance data as you build

Imagine that you had an idea of a new product to be sold at IKEA. How would you know how well it would sell?

Well, you could try a market study to get projections on how it might go.

Or, what would be more helpful is if you could actually put it on the shelf in an IKEA store, then wait and see if any customers would put it in their cart.

Well, that is what a couple of clever people did with their pretend product; it was not a “real” product and they did not actually work at IKEA. They had to buy some IKEA uniforms off of eBay and then put it on the shelf with a made up name and barcode, just to collect data.

This is called, “pretotyping,” a term coined by early Google engineer and innovator, Alberto Savoia, as explained in his talk at Stanford here.

It’s not “prototyping,” in the sense that it is not an actually working thing. But, it is conceptually just enough to see if people would bite.

For Savoia, your pretotype can only take a day or two to make and you must give it a try locally, recently for the data to be helpful.

So, if we accept this as, more or less, a method that can be applied in other industries, then how might our current methods of “church planting” compare?

Want to learn more? Get to this webinar on applying this to DPAS.

Challenging planting itself as a paradigm

Our current models of “church planting” are paradigmatic of a pre-pandemic era, and in the Mid-West or South.

Find someone. Gather the first team. Try a worship service. Get more people. Be sustainable over time.

The first few steps alone, as outlined above, would take months and be quite costly to the denomination. In effect, it is trying to birth a miniature version of a large church (itself a concept from another era).

Instead, our Conference and/or District leadership should do things differently, as in the following:

  1. Over a matter of days, try concepting a new ministry (not church) with three distinct characteristics, customized to a very specific persona or population segment or experience
  2. Then, visually represent that concept as a brand. Create a social media presence around it with content that goes “on the offense” (vs. come to our worship service)
  3. See how it does in the region that you think it will do well – and do this for only a matter of weeks, but with 30 or more such concepts, simultaneously

To the stranger, there is zero difference between a “church plant” that takes months to even get a test worship service and a brand that lives comfortably on social media.

Once we understand this as denominational executive leaders, we will be in a better position to go past “church planting” to what we need for the digital-first era.

We will be consider ideas along these lines for the next few weeks.

But, if this particular letter speaks to your context, you can subscribe (free, for a limited time) here.

Thank you and see you next Sunday,

James J. Kang
The Last Seminary