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Florida church teaches church planters to fertilize soil

The Rev. Lyndol Loyd, pastor of LifeSong Church, shares his vision of the new United Methodist congregation in East Orlando, Fla., centered on "lifestage" ministries for children, teens and adults. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
Aug. 19, 2008 | ORLANDO, Fla. (UMNS) 

For almost two years, a Florida congregation has been helping people see church as their companion on a life journey.

LifeSong Church, a daughter campus of University Carillon, United Methodist Church, helps people participate in the fullness of life through worship, discipleship, fellowship, service and evangelism.

Launched in 2006, LifeSong is located in a shopping center in East Orlando where the population of young professionals with families is projected to increase from 34,000 to 45,000 by 2010. It is the only United Methodist presence in the area.

The Rev. Lyndol Loyd, the pastor, said LifeSong develops its ministries around "lifestages" for children, teens and adults. The church's membership reflects a neighborhood that is 54 percent white, 36 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Asian and 5 percent African American.

The 350-member congregation served as a "teaching church" for a United Methodist training event on congregational development in early August in Orlando. It was one of eight churches chosen to illustrate a variety of strengths in congregational development and ministry for 350 participants at the 2008 School of Congregational Development.

The pastor and staff of LifeSong provided the developers with a blueprint for the emotional ups and downs of church planting.

"Anything good that has happened here is only because of what God has done," Loyd said of his experience at LifeSong.

The congregation receives support from the University church and the Florida Annual (regional) Conference and anticipates being self-sufficient in five years. "It is like a parent-child relationship," Loyd said.

Challenging ministry

Loyd encouraged developers to have an "incredible intensity of their feelings" about their individual church plants because it will be different from any ministerial experience they have had.

"It is extremely challenging," he said, warning against identifying the church's growth and progress with their own well-being.

The theme for church planters should be Matthew 16:18 and building congregations on the rock. "It is not your church," he said. "… When you understand that it is God's church and it is in God's hands, it is very freeing and very helpful and will keep you off the emotional rollercoaster."

Loyd warned that not everyone will share the planter's vision and that 20 percent of the people who start with a new congregation will not be there next year. "Church planting will test your faith like nothing else," he said.

“When you understand that it is God's church and it is in God's hands, it is very freeing and very helpful and will keep you off the emotional rollercoaster.”
–The Rev. Lyndol Loyd

He also warned against comparing a church plant experience with someone else's. "Comparison is the thief of joy," he said.

Rather, remember the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) and know that no two church planters are given the same soil conditions. "Context is everything to where you plant," he said. "You cannot look at somebody else's church plant and use it as a gauge for your own." A developer can learn principles from another but must make sure they are "adaptable to your context because we all have a different field that we are planting this church in," he said.

Loyd encouraged a reality check to determine if a developer is emotionally ready to plant a church. "You have to have your stuff together," he said. A developer also should go into the experience with a balanced personal life that includes clear boundaries, a strong work ethic and solid family relationships, as well understand the motivation for planting.

"If you are thinking that you are going to be the next Willow Creek or Saddleback, then I would advise you to get out now," Loyd said, citing megachurches in Illinois and California. While God may grow a church into something tremendous and amazing, "eight out of 10 church plants fail," he said. 

Lessons learned

In a session called "10 things I've learned from church planting," Loyd shared successes from the LifeSong plant, as well his pains experienced with a church start in Arkansas.

"Some of the most valuable lessons that I can share with you have come from my failures, mistakes and just bad decisions," he said. "This is one way that God works redemptively."

First, relationships are everything, and church planters should learn how to leverage and cultivate them before and after a church is launched.

Second, "take spiritual warfare seriously" because the devil certainly does.

"If you think that you are going to march into an area where there has been no church presence and reach out to a bunch of people that have been living far from God and have not been in a relationship with Jesus Christ, then you better think again. … It ticks the devil off when you decide to start reaching out and making a difference in the lives of people," he said.

Loyd prepares to baptize Travis, the son
of Heather and Jim Bridges, during
a LifeSong worship service.


To counter the devil, church planters need to pray and have others praying for them. A strong personal devotional life should already be in place. "You need to be spiritually ready for this challenge," he said.

"Scaffolding people" are the third building block for a new church. These individuals are only there for a season and a specific purpose during the planting process but will not be there for the subsequent growth. "Be grateful for the things they did while they were with you," he said.

Fourth, Loyd encouraged developers to take care of their families because people dissatisfied with the leader's action will target family members. "A church plant can be a mistress. It is so consuming and takes up so much of who you are. It is so much a personal reflection of who you are in your calling that you can get yourself into it to the neglect of your family," he said.

Since 87 percent of people who come to church do so at the invitation of others, the fifth lesson is to encourage a climate of invitation among members. "It is the most effective way to grow," he said.

Sixth, use "rent-a-members" effectively by allowing people from other places to do something at the church plant for a couple of months. "Let people serve," he said.

Loyd said one of his biggest mistakes was begging people to stay when they wanted to leave. So the seventh lesson for church planting is to let people go when they want to leave. "If they stay, it will not be pretty," he said.

Eighth, take a "multi-pronged" approach when thinking about the launch of a church. Developers must realize that there is more than one way "to catch a mess of fish" and "to not put all your eggs in one basket."

A developer should recognize that not everyone is ready for leadership and that people should not be placed in leadership positions prematurely. "If someone is not spiritually mature, something ugly will happen," he said.

Lastly, church planters must have a support group in place for encouragement and accountability. "Do not let yourself become isolated," Loyd said.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, e-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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LifeSong United Methodist Church

University Carillon United Methodist Church

School of Congregational Development

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