by Tom Nebel
When my wife and I planted a church (more than twenty-five years ago!) I wish I had known the difference between a launch team and a core group. If I had, I think I would have been more strategic in the deployment of our people, and I would have been more emotionally prepared to handle the eventual fallout that would come.
We called them “core groups” in those days. They consisted of any combination of people who hung around until the new church started services. Some were full bore participants, others took up space. Some were completely in line with the vision of the new church, others were either passively-aggressive or significantly uninformed. And our first mistake was calling them a “core group”. Using that moniker implied that this conglomerate of people were at the center of any future decision-making or activity of the church. It meant that they were the architects of the vision and values of the emerging congregation. At least it sounded like that.
Core groups are hard to break apart smoothly. It is inevitable (and by that I mean INEVITABLE) that much angst will come to the core and to the leader someday. Once the church starts public services and the project doesn’t end up looking like some may have imagined, push-back and fallout become painful.
How much better it would have been to call that gathering a “launch team”? Implied here is that those who gather are committed to one central cause: get the church incubated to the point where it could have a weekly public worship service. Launch teams are not architects of the vision and values (though, certainly, they can participate at the church planter’s request). Instead, launch teams are task-oriented. They work to fulfill the task. Once the task is fulfilled the launch team goes away.
Actually, some launch team participants will go away. Some by design, some by routine fallout. But it won’t hurt as much, and they can leave with dignity.
One church planter I know and admire understood this distinction very well, and he did something very unique. Following the launch of the church, he gathered the team one last time…at a funeral home! There they brought their greatest memories of the launch process in written form, and participants placed those memories in a time capsule, which was to be opened when the new church’s first daughter church would one day be launched. In turn, the church planter gave each launch team participant a hand-made serving tray, as a gift of thanks but also as a reminder of what they were all along called to do: serve. Most of them stayed with the church, some eventually in leadership positions. They’ve had an amazingly rich history together.