The spiritual health and vitality of any newly started church is directly related to its leadership team.

When I sensed God calling me to launch a new congregation, I gave careful study to Jesus’ ministry on earth, noting that even God incarnate did His work by building a core group. In Luke’s Gospel I saw that Jesus said to everyone, “Come, follow me,” but not everyone followed with the same eagerness, commitment, or maturity rate. As a result, Jesus worked with different layers of discipleship, such as the 72 (Luke 10:1-24), the 12 (6:12-16; 9:1-6), and an inner 3 (8:51; 9:28, 54).

Jesus’ model helped me to think of different categories of core group members:

  • People who sign in pencil lead. They’re gung-ho now, but they lack any signs of spiritual moldability. These are the folks you suspect might well move on to something else in a few months.
  • People who sign in ink. They show a measure of spiritual maturity. Perhaps they’ll go the long haul with you as you disciple them, but you never know.
  • People who sign in blood. They have many evidences of spiritual maturity. When praying, you feel as if the Lord is confirming, “He [or she] will go through the fire with you.”

“Pencil” people were invited to our first public launch service. I didn’t ask more of them than to be part of the crowd and excitement on that day several months ahead. I was eager for them to develop a deeper level of discipleship, but I didn’t pour a lot of prelaunch energy into them.

“Ink” people went into a discipleship group, as they wanted to learn more about what the church was about.

“Blood” people got moved into the inner core group. I looked for spiritually healthy people to be part of this foundation-building experience. I didn’t need people who were mad at a previous church or who were simply spiritual seekers; I needed people who felt called, were teachable, and had a reasonable level of spiritual maturity. If their spirit was right and they had a sense of calling that matched the vision of the church, I welcomed them into the “sign-in-blood” group.

This innermost group was small, and purposely so. I set the bar high, saying, “You’ll be the staff of the church until we have money to hire full-time staff.”

During our prelaunch time, I asked several of my “blood” group to host “Come-and-See” meetings, much like Jesus’ new disciple Matthew, who had a party for his tax-collector associates. They invited relatives, neighbors and work associates, and served desserts. Then, I stood up and talked for maybe 30 minutes, and each time one or more persons were added to the pencil, ink, and blood groups as they communicated with me through feedback cards at the end of the evening.

Following Jesus’ model of mentoring indicated in John 6:5-6 and elsewhere, I guided my core group along, helping them to figure out how we should do this or that.  I focused both on visible leadership skills and internal spiritual growth, because it’s not enough to provide skill training and then say, “Go lead,” without also discipling peoples’ souls.

The “sign-in-blood” group initially met twice on Sundays. With less than a dozen at our first gathering, we loaded up a van and drove to another church plant. During the months that followed, we visited nine other churches that were either in their early years as a new congregation or already established and doing something I wanted my core to see modeled.

After each visit, our team went to lunch and talked through the experience. It was a lot of fun and they were doing some significant learning, perhaps without realizing it. Although nearly all of them came from a traditional mainline background, I watched their paradigms shift as they responded to what they saw in the places we went.

On Sunday evenings we would re-gather for about two hours – engaging in worship, teaching, and vision-casting about where we were headed as a new church.

As we outgrew my third-story apartment and moved to a house, teams were formed based on the ministry each person felt most gifted to roll up their sleeves and handle. I put tools in their hands – such as books or sermon recordings – and helped each team work steadily toward the upcoming launch day. It was very confirming to see their excitement grow about doing something that would make a difference.

In developing the core, great attention was also given to prayer. If Jesus withdrew from ministry for regular prayer, as Mark 1:35 teaches, then so must we. Prayer is part of Faithbridge’s DNA. In fact, fervent prayer is our number-one Core Value and the driving power behind all we do.

We quickly outgrew the house and moved to a daycare center, where I combined the “blood” and “ink” groups. We held our first semipublic service in December, numbering nearly 100. Together we worked toward our first grand opening in March, which would be at a nearby intermediate school, yielding more than 400 adults, youth, and children!

The impact of Faithbridge’s overall ministry is directly related to the advance and ongoing work with the inner core group. If you’re a church planter and you’re like me, you’ll sweat more about your core group than anything else. It’s sometimes hard to reposition some people and say farewell to others, but it is always amazing what God is willing to do through us if we will let Him.