Church planting: Invigorating, satisfying and a load of fun … right?

Communications Staff — January 27, 2010

In addition to the following story, check out these video shorts featuring Kevin Larson and Nick Nye:

  • Larson on church planting: “excruciating and exhilarating.”
  • Nye on church planting: “Larson is wrong: it’s easy” (just kidding).
  • Nye on being affiliated with both the Acts 29 network and the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Towers goes inside church planting with two Southern Seminary grads

(L-R) Southern Seminary graduates Nick Nye (left) and Kevin Larson provide a realistic picture of the life of a church planter. Photo by John Gill
(L-R) Southern Seminary graduates Nick Nye (left) and Kevin Larson provide a realistic picture of the life of a church planter. Photo by John Gill

With the Acts 29 Network kicking out church plants like Peyton Manning doling out touchdown passes, church planting is all the rage. Would-be pastors hear of churches grinding up formerly-eager men like a wood chipper taking out a 100-year-old dead oak and they cringe and think “Why not just plant? I can openly teach the theology and go with the church structure I believe is biblical right from the start. I’ll get to handpick my key leaders and we can use the music I think is best right off the bat. What’s not to like?”

Sounds great, right?

But what is church planting really like? How much time goes into it? What are the potential pitfalls, the struggles? Are there those moments where you think “I can’t do this anymore and don’t ever what to think about circulating flyers, visiting a coffee shop or having lunch with a prospective core team member again?” Do those moments span into days … weeks … months?

In sum: What is it really like to try and build from the ground up an expression of Christ’s heavenly, eternal church here on earth?

Meet Kevin Larson and Nick Nye

Kevin Larson and Nick Nye are two men putting flesh, blood, energy and their families to the theory that is church planting. Both graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Larson and Nye pastor churches they planted in Columbia, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio, respectively. Both churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Acts 29 Network (for more on these two groups, see the sidebar below).

Larson and his wife moved to Columbia in 2005 and he spent a year working in a coffee shop and getting to know people before launching Karis Community Church in the center of Columbia. Nye launched Veritas Community Church in Columbus’ Short North arts district October 2008 after 10 months of preparation.

Both men had staff experience in local churches and campus ministries prior to planting. Larson led worship for five years at Glendale Christian Church in Springfield, Mo., and was involved in Christian Campus House, a ministry at Missouri State University in Springfield. Nye and his future wife started a Campus Crusade ministry at Wright State University in Dayton and Nye served as a worship pastor at a Methodist church in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was known in the Methodist church for taking traditional music and making it contemporary,” Nye said. “So, I got passed around all the Methodist churches.”

Preparing at Southern

Nye was converted in a SBC church and said he appreciates the denomination’s sound theology and cooperation for the sake of missions.

When he first arrived at Southern, however, he wasn’t sure if the seminary and the denomination were a fit for him.

“I struggled with the Southern Baptist thing at the beginning,” Nye said. “I talked to Russell Moore one of my first semesters at Southern and said, ‘I just don’t fit into this culture. I have tattoos. I feel like I am a freak here. I don’t have a Southern accent.’ And he was really reassuring, and others have been really been reassuring, that ministry is not centered on those things. That really impacted me.”

Larson did not have a background in the SBC prior to his time at Southern. Like Nye, he said he appreciates the SBC’s commitment to cooperation in missions and that the impact of Southern’s professors has caused him and his church to remain affiliated with the denomination.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into as far as Southern Baptists, but I loved it at Southern,” Larson said.

“There are enough signs of life in the Southern Baptist Convention for me to stick around. The fact that (SBTS professors) Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware would take a weekend and come over and hang out at the church … and let us stay at their house (when we visit Louisville): those are significant things.”

Why church planting?

So why did Larson and Nye want to plant a church?

“When I was at Southern, there were a couple of things going on,” Larson said. “One, is I looked at the way I was wired and started to realize that there was a lot of entrepreneurial type of stuff in me that I thought would fit well for planting. Also, related to that, I just pondered the thought of going into an established church with all the chaos and building on another foundation and I just thought ‘I can’t do that. I can’t fathom doing that.'”

Nye said he also saw entrepreneurial desires and abilities in himself. The actual thought of church planting arose for him and his wife on their honeymoon in Seattle, as they saw the city’s lostness and need for the Gospel.

“We thought and said to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to start a church somewhere here?'” he said. “We started chatting about that and really had no idea about church planting at that time (but eventually it led to the plant in Columbus).”

Nye’s degree emphasis at Southern was in church planting and he went to Columbus as a Nehemiah church planter with the North American Mission Board. Nye said Veritas has also received funding from the state and local Southern Baptist associations in Ohio, while the largest portion of the church’s financial support comes from other local churches.

“Most of our funding … has come from churches,” he said. “We really spent a lot of the first several months getting out and connecting with churches and pastors and getting them to support us.”

Larson also planted within the SBC, though he did not go the Nehemiah church planting route. Like Nye, Larson spent a lot of time meeting with local church pastors and most of Karis’ funding has come from local churches.

Getting the plane off the ground: struggles and joys of church planting

Larson and Nye agreed that many of the challenges church planters face are those that any pastor must navigate, while there are others that are specific to church planting.

Larson described church planting as both the greatest and hardest thing he has ever done.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else; it is really rewarding and I get a lot of joy out of it,” Larson said. “And I know that a lot of the excruciating parts would be the same with any pastor as well.

“But starting from the ground up … we have three kids and one of the hardest things is going into a culture that is very consumeristic and basically trying to build a children’s ministry when you just don’t have the bells and whistles that some of the other churches in town offer.”

Larson said not having many other families with children in the church has been hard on his wife, which is something he said planters must keep in mind.

“My wife is really tough – tougher than I am in a lot of ways,” he said. “When we do assessments here (with Acts 29) I think the guys have a little bit of an idea of what they are getting into, but I almost want to lovingly warn the wives a little bit. The pressure of being a pastor’s wife and also a planter’s wife is pretty huge.”

Nye said with Veritas being in the middle of Columbus, he has had his life threatened on several occasions. While he doesn’t really take the threats seriously, he said obviously they have a greater affect on his wife.

Nye also recently had three couples who were actively involved in the church leave because of Veritas’ growth.

“We grew really fast in the last four to five months and the simple, house church-type thing was very appealing to them and so when we grew, they just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said. “That was really tough for us because there was a lot of bitterness and frustration.”

Through these, and other, difficulties, Nye said Veritas has been presented with amazing opportunities to speak truth and life into people’s lives.

“Some of the joys are … we have been able to connect well with the community through counseling, creativity and in mercy,” he said. “A girl came to me recently … She is Jewish and she wanted to talk because she had an abortion over the summer and was feeling really guilty about it. Being able to have those kinds of connections, where people are coming to talk to us about those kinds of things because they know that we are serious about life is amazing.”

Nye said he has been surprised by the lack of people who have a grasp of solid theology. He said ministering in the heart of a city that doesn’t have a great seminary has been eye-opening.

“We have so many new Christians, young Christians, and we don’t have a seminary close by where we can pick from a group of guys and say, ‘Come help: you can get some training here,'” he said.

Instead, Nye said it is a struggle to find people who share similar theological convictions. Because of this situation, Nye said the commitment of Veritas to biblical truth has stood out.

“Some things we have done are preaching solid theology, preaching from the Bible, being Gospel-centered, in a culture where that is crazy,” he said. “We stand out so much more because of that in a good way. People are confused. They think, ‘What is this church that is involved in the arts, they serve faithfully at the shelters and recreation centers and yet they are really hard core about Jesus being the only way?'”

Nye and Larson agreed that it is a fight to not equate success with numerical growth. They both minister in college towns (the University of Missouri claims Columbia as its home base; Ohio State University is in Columbus), which can result in vast swings in attendance, based on the college calendar.

“One of the hard things is with church planting they talk about critical mass: that you need a group of people to pull off Sundays and everything that you do,” Larson said. “It is hard because not only are you tempted to covet what other guys have, but just practically, you don’t want to preach to 19 people. It is just hard.”

Larson said church planters, and all pastors, must continually remind themselves to stay focused on preaching the Word and not compare the size of their church to others.

“I have tried … to preach to myself that numbers don’t matter, but to instead look
at the lives that we have changed,” he said. “One of the things that is encouraging about Acts 29 is they have been upfront about saying, ‘Preach the Bible, realize what normally happens in church planting and quit trying to measure against somebody else.’ … You just have to keep preaching the Gospel to yourself.”

Larson and Nye agree: church planting comes with a great cost, but is well worth the effort.

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