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I was told church planting was going to be hard. 

I just didn’t know it was going to be that hard. 

We lost almost our entire launch team within 20 months. We were down to only a handful on Sundays, and a few thousand in the church bank account. We endured the abandonment, the false accusations, the gut-wrenching effects of gossip and division. I questioned my gifts, my calling, and God’s ability on more than one occasion, wondering if I actually had what it took, and whether or not God was, in fact, with me. Meanwhile, my wife and I wore more hats than we should have while parenting four kids under 7 years old, trying desperately to keep too many things alive.

Yet, in it all, God is more than faithful. 

Seven years in, now, we’re averaging over 200 on Sundays, have baptized over 50 people, have multiplied over 15 leaders, and 35 disciple-makers, and are seeing new people come and grow every single Sunday. We’re searching for a permanent home, investing in future church planters in our state, and preparing to raise up, develop, and send more planters in the days ahead. 

So how did we get here? How did God help us overcome the significant obstacles we faced? 

While there is no simple formula and a very real reality to God working through the struggle and despite our best efforts, there are a few things that have become foundational for us along the way. 

1. A Desperate Prayer Life

Through the pain, setbacks, and struggles, God has undoubtedly drawn us into a more desperate dependence on Him through prayer. When you reach the limits of your own human ability, you start to realize what Jesus said is actually true: 

“Apart from me, you can do nothing.” 

We never experienced this reality more in our lives, as we consistently felt the emptiness of our own efforts. These early struggle moments led us to take more prayer walks, not just for the mission, but for our own soul and communion with God. And it did a few things: it released the lid, slowly, of our white-knuckle grip on the ministry and allowed God to move in ways He chose not to before. But it also reminded us that our worth was not in ministry success but in Christ alone.

Daily my wife and I wake up at 5:20am to get 45-60 minutes with the Lord in scripture, journaling, and prayer to center our lives on Jesus before the day begins. I can’t tell you how vital this is and was, particularly through the early struggle.

2. A Deep Commitment to a Healthy Marriage

Through the struggle, my wife and I grew closer together. Sure, we had many nights of tears, frustration, and discouragement (which is always an occasion for temptation to trick us into taking it out on each other or our kids). But we committed to thinking the best of each other, defending each other, speaking encouraging words to each other,

Our church also has a policy that has saved us a world of hurt. We’re committed to never meeting alone with someone of the opposite gender. Ever. No exceptions. My marriage is too important, the reputation of our leadership too valuable, and the integrity of all involved too important to risk destroying a marriage or church. 

We also committed to living healthy to support our marriage. Praying together, eating right, setting limits on how many nights we hosted and did public ministry, working out consistently together, and routinely getting away on an annual basis to unplug, recharge, and return stronger, among other habits, were vital to our long-term health individually as well as in our marriage.

3. An Unwavering Sense of Calling & Identity

I’ve been told, “If you’re going to start a church, you better know deep in your bones that God has called you because, at times, your calling will be all you have.” 

Truer words have never been spoken. 

When your core team abandons you, when only 20 people are in the seats on Sundays, and even your external partners are beginning to question their investment, it’s easy to doubt. But we knew that we knew that we knew that God had called us to plant the gospel in Nashua, NH and we were going to keep going.

Your calling will be tested again and again. And the pressure to quit will be real. But remembering God’s call and all the stories that reinforced it was an anchor for us in the turbulent seasons.

4. Support, Brotherhood & Accountability

There is a maverick spirit among many church planters. Taking risks and setting culture is a thrilling and empowering challenge. But it sounds far better on paper and in dreaming sessions than it does in real life. 

When the rubber meets the road, there is an inevitable and deafening loneliness to starting a church. No one carries the burden like you do, and no one lives with the results more than you do. No one understands you fully. But it’s what you signed up for. 

But isolation is a choice. 

That’s why we committed to the SEND Network and to forming a board of directors, made up of pastors in our network from day one. The network not only affirmed our calling through a rigorous assessment, but also gave us foundational training, connecting us with a healthy church plant, who equipped, resourced, and sent us. Additionally, the network of churches provided us with coaching, training, care, and a team of brothers and sisters who held us up when we wanted to quit. Our board of directors was also huge. They not only held us accountable from day one, setting policies, leadership direction, salaries, and much more, but also continued to mentor us, encourage us, and serve us each step along the way. 

I don’t know where we’d be without such friends. 

Don’t go at it alone! It’s not worth it. Ministry is not an individual sport. You’ll quit way too fast! 

We’re better together. 

5. Relentless Commitment to the Flywheel Effect

“Let us NOT grow weary in doing good, for we WILL reap a harvest of righteousness if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9) 

The early going is truly a struggle. Greg McKeown, in his book, The Synergist, identifies the first phase of any startup as just that “the early struggle.” As we plant the gospel, there’s no getting around how difficult the first stage is. But it’s an incredible opportunity to focus on the right things, doing them faithfully, believing God will honor them over time. 

We’ve learned, to paraphrase Mark Batterson, to “do the little things like they’re big things, and God will make big things look like little things.”

For us, that was doing the following well: 

  1. Faithfully serving our community: partnering the local schools to meet needs of underprivileged children/families, partnering with the local parks and rec to serve and host events that drew anyone from 500 to 2,000 people from the community, and empowering our people to share their faith like it was going out of style with their co-workers, neighbors, and friends. 
  2. Developing healthy pipelines of multiplication: we committed to developing our people in 9 central habits of following Jesus in a playbook we called COST training and also to multiplying servants, who became leaders, and leaders of leaders through intentional leadership training. This raised the bar for both personal investment, but also Sunday excellence across our teams. 
  3. Preaching the gospel with clarity and accessibility: weekly, we get an opportunity to not only share God’s Word but to do so with passion, excellence, and with a focus on setting culture to increase the likelihood of people inviting people. When they know you’re preaching to both long-term believer and skeptics, they’ll be more likely to invite …whether you see people immediately or not. 

There is an image in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, that had a profound effect on how I understood Jesus’ words. He referenced the truth that a bamboo plant appears like a miserable failure in the early years. The plant grows only a few inches for the first five years. It would never appear on Outreach Magazine’s fastest-growing plants, that’s for sure. But what we do not know is that, under the surface, it’s growing an extensive root system that will have the capacity to sustain a 90 foot growth in a matter of weeks. Wow! 

We couldn’t break 75 for the first five years. And now there’s significant momentum, and not just in numbers, but in ownership, pipelines, outreach, and multiplication. God honors the flywheel effect of doing the little things like they’re big things. Obedience, over time, makes a big difference…if we do not give up.

Is it possible that God wants to do something incredible in our ministries, but He’s far more concerned with what’s happening below the surface to set the foundation for what’s ahead? Is it possible that He’s far more interested in the character, the calling, the alignment around His Word and prayer, the development of real disciples and leadership pipelines, the commitment to serve the community and share our faith, even if we do not see the results? 

In conclusion, church planting is not for the faint of heart. But who wants to give their lives to something mediocre and safe anyway? God has more for not only His kingdom but for us personally if we learn to trust Him, go deep with Him, develop godly relationships and work in healthy networks, obey Him in the small things, and not give up.

Scott Kearney

Pastor of The Well Church

Scott Kearney is the Founding Pastor of The Well Church in Nashua, New Hampshire. He also serves as a Church Planting Catalyst in New Hampshire for the SEND Network, empowering and supporting new church initiatives across the region. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Charity, for 15 years, and they share the joy of raising four children together.