Phases of church-planting:


Around 4 years into planting our church I met a well-known minister from Texas who was involved in planting several hundred churches. He told me about the 3 phases of church planting. I adapted some of that insight with my own perspective here. Understand that this is not set in stone but I found it as a helpful guide in managing expectations. I truly also believe that coaching and mentoring can cut the time frame of these phases significantly. These phases only start after the church plant is already initiated.

Phase 1

The first phase of church planting is a period of time where God develops the primary leader. The first several years of planting a church, the primary leader learns a lot about themselves. They learn about their call, how their strengths and weaknesses function in a ministry where they are the primary leader. They learn about how the gifting that God has given them actually works and interacts with others. New ideas are tried and some work and stick.


Many people can come and go in the new church plant. Some are drawn by the fact that many times a new church plant is smaller and there is more specialized attention and focus on their needs being met.


Phase 2

The next phase can range from a couple months to a couple year period where the ministry team begins to really develop and solidify around the primary leader’s vision and way of working. The ministry team, even if they were present from the beginning, can go through a development process as initial expectations are clarified and adjusted. New team members may also come on board in this phase.


Many times how the team functions together is clarified and refined in this process. New and clearer ways of communication are developed. The vision of the primary leader is sharpened and refined by the gifting, focus, and commitment of other team members. Communication, preferences and ways of functioning together are further defined and developed. Unmet expectations, inter-personal challenges and frustrations are brought to light and resolved. This creates a more empowered team and team environment.

This phase is where the team members also discover how their strengths and weaknesses work together with one another as well as with the primary leader. The team begins to function as a well-oiled mechanism as everyone begins to work in his or her strengths and calling. Everyone is not only “on the bus” but they are in the “right seats”. The church begins to really benefit from a cohesive team working together in their callings.


Phase 3

The next phase is really where the church itself begins to develop and grow. The vision begins to be accomplished through the buy-in of church members. Members receive safety from observing a well-functioning team that honors each other and works well together. Members receive wisdom and vision from what God is speaking to and through the leaders. New members are added and stay. More teams are developed that are focused on accomplishing new vision and God-given specific objectives.


These 3 phases are not comprehensive but more representative of what a church-plant and leaders go through in the process. Knowing them can help manage expectations and serve as a guide to understanding what is transpiring in a church plant environment. It is good to note that many times phases can overlap. I heard about these 3 phases when I was 4 years into planting our church. I was told that church planting takes 10 years. However, I believe that the learning curves for each phase can be shortened by training and good mentorship. Good external relationships are imperative to stay healthy as a church planter and to have a healthy church plant. Having others help to identify and walk with your through these phases can be a huge blessing.

  • Merle Shenk

– Merle Shenk serves on the DOVE International apostolic council and is the associate pastor at Newport Church