Most every church planter goes through difficult periods, times when the planter is tested to their limits. One of those times in the first year or two of a church plant is when the planter loses some of his key leaders or core team members. During one of our Missional Association gathering of church planters, one thing on which they all agreed was that most of the initial core team would not be around to see the church they helped start, flourish. Yet, knowing this and being forewarned does not lessen the hurt and disappointment when a key person leaves your church.
One of our church planters shared how his best friend who had been working with him for over a year to get their church off the ground decided to leave to go to another church. This pastor was thinking, if I can't even keep my best friend from abandoning me, how am I going to grow a church? Yet, the next Sunday people were saved and life and the church went on without him.
Another pastor told how most of his entire leadership team including band members and their financial person decided to leave en masse. He found out that one disgruntled leader had influenced the team to mutiny. One month later the team had been replaced and the church was growing faster than it had ever grown. This church planter remarked that the mutiny was actually a blessing for the church and that a couple of the leaders who left may have been an obstruction to growth.
So don't be surprised when a key leader or leaders whom you have recruited to help you start the church decide to move on. There could be any number of reasons and most have nothing to do with the church planter/pastor or their leadership. Many people who have that apostolic gifting love starting things and once they get the church going, they feel their job is accomplished. For many others, their expectations of what the church will be are never realized. And when that hits them, they decide to search elsewhere. But whatever the reason, don't be surprised when it happens. How you handle that first mutiny will often determine whether your church makes it. Pastors can become so discouraged that they lose their passion and will to continue. But if you can hang in there,and continue to reach people, you and the church will be better off after the mutiny.
Three things to consider about your initial leadership team.
1) Think of your initial core team as the scaffolding for the church. They help build the foundation but they are usually not part of that foundation, the long term pillars that your church builds upon. They are there for a season and you should appreciate them for their role in starting the church. Anyone who continues past the first couple of years in icing on the cake.
2) The Second generation of leaders are usually much more consistent than the first. They are usually recruited from within the new church body instead of from outside of your church. These may be new believers or seekers so they have fewer expectations of what church should be and are usually more loyal to the mission of the church and pastor's vision.
3) All growing things need pruning. You will need to prune away people who could actually be holding the growth or hindering the development of others in your church. When we hold onto everyone, we can stifle the growth of the church.
Your vision for the church and your expectations for the church members go a long way in how you personally react to people who leave your church. If you are concerned with your seating capacity instead of your sending capacity in the church you are pastoring, you will probably be distraught over any leader or influential family that says goodbye. But if your mindset is to disciple and send, then you as a pastor can actually celebrate the family that leaves as your missionaries to another location. These people are as much a part of your legacy as those who remain in your church! If your church has done a good job in discipling the family, you can be confident that their ministry and the things they learned will be passed on to their next church and circle of influence.