by Matt Keller
It some ways, it feels like only yesterday that we were unloading our Ryder truck in Fort Myers, FL in January of 2002 to plant Next Level Church. We had $9,200 and little clue what we were doing. Over the last 10 years, its been amazing to see that dream grow from 4 people in a coffee shop to over 2,000 in weekly attendance each weekend. In those 3,652 days, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons that we’re privileged to teach pastors, leaders and church planters across the country today. Looking back, there are definitely a few things I wish I would have known. Here are three in particular…
First, I wish I would have known that God would use the first few years of our church planting journey to do a HUGE Foundational work in me.
One of the things few people understand looking at our church today is the level of low God took us to in the early years. In those early days, we experienced a depth of loneliness, discouragement, hopelessness and fear like I had never felt before. I’m not sure how much of what we experienced was self-induced because of our inexperience or unrealistic expectations or ill-preparedness, and how much of it was thrust upon us in some way from external factors.
All I know is the first 2 years of planting Next Level Church were by far the hardest, most gut-wrenching years of my entire life. We felt so alone and I, personally, felt like I was faking it every weekend.
For the first 9 months, every Sunday, I would hear the alarm go off and wake to the thought that “today is going to be the day that no one shows up and we’ll just pack everything back up in our 6 cars,” (we didn’t have a trailer back then) “and go home and do something else with our lives.” God was totally at work in those days, molding me, humbling me, & laying the foundation for the ministry and influence we have today.
Second, I wish I would have known the slow progress in the early days was in perfect alignment with what God wanted to do long term.
Most church planters are impatient, and I was no exception. I wanted our church to grow faster than it did, (100 – year 1, 200 – year 2, 300 – year 4, etc.). Looking back now, I am so glad it didn’t. We weren’t ready. If we had seen explosive growth, it would have done damage on me, my marriage, our kids and our team. Our prayer has always been, “God find us trustworthy.” After all, if He can trust us with more souls, then He will, because at the end of the day, He’s more in love with lost people than we are! Looking back, I can see that God gave us exactly what was right for us in that season.
Finally, I wish I would have known that my pain would one day become my platform.
As I wrote in my 1st book, The Up the Middle Church, all of the blood, sweat and tears of the early years of our church were not in vein! I am so thankful that God allowed us to take good notes and to learn from so many amazing leaders around us.
Today, God is using all that we experienced as our platform to coach hundreds of pastors across the United States through our Next Level Coaching Company and through MinistryCoach.tv.
So, no matter where you find yourself in the church planting journey, take heart, God’s at work in you and through you laying a foundation that will one day influence others in and outside of your city.