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launch this

Recently in a conversation with a friend that is in the process of planting a church in the least-reached region of a Bible-belt city in the U.S., we were talking about the upcoming first public gatherings. I have been cheering for them as well honored and blessed to be a small part of helping them to put mission in their DNA from the beginning. As we were discussing this upcoming first, the only common language we had for the event was a “launch.” While the term conveyed an idea we were both familiar with, it troubled us both.

Of course launch refers to all things rocket related. It is the goal. The desired action in rocketry–much of which is explained in Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion–is about getting the vehicle off the ground. Newton’s third law is often summarized as: “for every action, there is [always] an equal and opposite reaction.” Ignite thrust downward in order to achieve lift. Rockets are conceived, engineered and built to leap off the ground. This is the goal for which people build them. Whether for recreation, science or weaponry, the goal is the same. Get the thing up in the air to a desired altitude and then you can add to it any functionality that one may desire.

So if launch is the goal in and of itself, then I would offer that it sucks for use in church planting. As this is not the realm of the laws of motion, launching a church does not hold to the confines and realities of physics. I have seen a lot of energy expended in church launches that proved unsuccessful and vice versa. So, because church planting and physics are not bound by the same physical laws, for this reason alone the term is less than adequate. In fact, it is wrong. But it is wrong for an even greater reason….

If launching is the goal, then it is possible that simply holding a religious service is the objective for which we strive. Some may say that it is a little more developed than that. Perhaps the goal is a recurring service which leads to transformation and development of disciples. I will pass on spending a lot of time on that here as I think this has been candidly dismissed by Willow Creek’s reveal. A public meeting, worship gathering, or church service–regardless of what you call it–is not the goal of church. Nor does a recurring service constitute a church.

If the church is conceived and functioning before any public declaration or launch, then what is it that we are kicking off? And with that what would be ideal for this launch thingy to be named? In the particular plant in question–(whether planting a church or planting the gospel is the goal is another topic for another day as well)–disciples are being made. Broken relationships are being restored. Justice is being pursued in the community. What this community of believers is about to do is let it be known to their neighborhood that there is a group seeking to live as the body of Christ, love God and love others so that those not already in community with them may find them more easily.

Now, I say this is not a launch. The pastor participating in this says it is not a launch. But we don’t have an acceptable “what is it?” yet. Wordsmiths / thinkers, what say you? What is about to happen in this community?

PLEASE help us with some input on this topic!

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Categories : church, trends, Uncategorized


  1. Michael says:

    Some questions:

    “What is different now?” A schedule?

    What makes it “public”? A website, twitter account and a sign hanging at an address?

    Do we even need a word?

    Do we find this sort of thing in the Bible?

  2. Justin Long says:

    Don’t launch. Just hold the first meeting. Or call it Firstmas (first mass). Or soft launch. 🙂

  3. almost says:

    Thanks Michael and Justin. Really appreciate it. Looking for other input as well so if you have other, it is appreciated. For those that have not weighed in but would be willing, would really value your input.

  4. I know from my experience in church planting here in the states that I put too much emphasis on the “launch”. I am sure I had some 90s word like “grand opening” or something. We met beforehand and so I guess in effect it was like our first public service. The troubling thing for me was that it made the first service an event and then I just kept trying to re-invent the event every seven days to be bigger and better.

    I became good at church services and I do not know that I did so well in disciple making in those early days. Just my thoughts on launch. I like Michael’s question. “Do we even need a word?” Just be the church people will hear about that.

  5. almost says:

    Thanks Larry!

  6. Seba says:

    I see your point about the word “launch”. I think the positive of the word though is it is one the world is familiar with from “product launch” to “record launch”. Choosing another word may be adding to the already indecipherable Christianese we’ve created.

    If you need a different word, using one the world already knows would be convenient like an “opening” or “unveiling” or “going public”.

  7. Paul says:

    IT seems to me that the idea of promoting a first “public” event contradicts the idea of the missional church and undermines everything that has happened already. All the effort that will go into this public event is not being the body of Christ. This just seems like a public performance that goes in the direction of “going” to church rather than being the church. Whatever is used in this public event to attract people will also be the very stuff that is necessary to keep them which seems to me to be contradictory to what we are striving for in the missional church. Why not just continue doing what they have been doing and forget about launching anything. Just keep on being the body of Christ as a subversive community in the larger community. Maybe the idea of launching something should be a warning of the direction we are going?!?

  8. Phinneas-David Israel Williams says:

    just reading how you put it & thinking how you “plant” seeds & you “plant” the gospel how about a planting or sprouting? also this might sound strange but the bible says we should be salt & light to the wprld so about a elumination? or a seasoning oe preserving? so if this sounds stupid, I’m creative but not always real good at practicalty.

  9. Chris says:

    What is the goal? Is the key question.

    I assume that this particular church has been meeting as a core group of disciples that have and are reaching out to others in their own contexts. The idea of the launch looks to me like a new effort by the church as a institution to reach out publicly to people with no existing connection to the community of believers that make up the church body. In that sense, words that come to mind are outreach, introduction, welcoming, coming out party (if you want to be progressive), a hello, etc.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that this doesn’t have to be (maybe shouldn’t be) a one sided excercise. Maybe instead of just having a church service that you advertise to the community as your launch, you, instead, host a broader, less one-sided community event in which the goal is to simply get to know others in the community whether or not they will ever be a part of the community. Maybe even invite other organizations of influence to the “party” whether or not those organizations share your goals or values. I suspect there is a lot to learn from entrenched interests in the community even if they are even enemies of the church.

    Just some food for thought!


  10. Hunter says:

    I agree, Chris. If this church has met as a core group “privately” for several months and has had a healthy internal focus for a season, perhaps this is a season of turning the focus more outward, or adding an outward focus along with the internal. . .HOWEVER. . . this outward focus may not show itself in weekly services necessarily , but rather in the missional lives of its members. And if that happens to include inviting a friend to a weekly worship service, then that’s great. But if not, that’s also great.

  11. Mark says:

    My first reactions were… (My autocorrect is changing everything to spelling in the UK and I’m too lazy to fight it this morning)

    1. To remember “launching” oru church in Florida and as great as that experience was and as amazing as that community is…I cringe at all the resources and effort invested in that launch. I also remember the afternoon after that first Sunday when the realisation hit that…”Oh CRAP, we have to do this AGAIN!”

    2. My second reaction was to ask, “why we need a word?” However, I’m not always the quickest on the take, but I sense what we’re talking about goes much deeper than a label. As much as I don’t want to always admit it, because I believe so much of the division in the church is over semantics, words/names do matter.

    So, I’ll throw out a word… Synthesis. Science has never been my strong suit, so feel free to knock holes in the idea. I like the concept because at it’s simplest definition it is the idea of coming together. It’s the combining of separate elements into one…usually from simpler to more complex.
    Isn’t this the body of Christ…seperate entities becoming one to form something greater…stay with me…and to an extent, that body becoming a part of the great community (the neighbourhood, city, etc..) as a whole.

    So as a natural activity the body continues to synthesise to something beyond itself and the public gathering in some ways would be a natural phase of this process.

    One caveat, I am struggling a bit with the idea of it moving to complexity, because that is obviously a danger for the church to become to complex, but again I guess it based on what you mean by “complex.” And now…we’re back to semantics, so…

    I’m off to have my first cup of coffee, something I know much more about and after will probably disagree with a lot that I’ve just written.



  12. M,

    Thanks for tagging me about this post.

    I agree with those who have said it best to dispense with “launch.”

    I really don’t have a word. Maybe a concept – “iterations.” The more enmeshed in the mission of God a local community of faith becomes, it goes through new iterations. An iteration does not mean we have scrapped what has been existing. Instead, the community has embraced other aspects of what helps form the group for mission in the world.

    Your last paragraph describes mission in the world. How is what your doing not “public?” There is no “becoming” the church once an event is added. Instead, the praxis of the church now includes a gathering in which – one would hope – the byproduct is ongoing formation for the mission of God in the world.

  13. Jason Egly says:

    Wow. This is a great discussion. And as the church planter/pastor to whom M was referring, I want to do more listening than talking in this conversation. But maybe if I provide a little more context it could be helpful …

    This change is brought on by having outgrown our existing gathering space — a laser-jet printer warehouse in downtown Nashville. We now have been given the opportunity to gather in a building that happens to be right in the middle of the Vanderbilt University campus. One of the most (if not THE most) gospel resistant parts of our city.

    This weekly gathering, however, never has been nor is never intended to be the focus of what we do. These last few months that we have been gathering “privately,” whether it be in large groups or in our home community groups, we have been learning together what it means to BE the church. I’m thankful to the Lord for how he is transforming our hearts and minds concerning what this means.

    Yes. In actuality, our expression of the church has already “launched.” I tend to side with the first commenter, Michael, who asks, “Do we even need a word?” Yet to deny the excitement of our core team surrounding the missional momentum that God is creating around this new body and our new ministry opportunity (we never planned on having a church on campus) seems to be a killjoy. But I also don’t want to send the wrong message and create false expectations by using confusing language.

    Here are some thoughts I have about what to call this new “iteration” (thanks, Todd) of our body. And forgive me. I am going stream-of-consciousness here:

    1. Nothing. Just do it. Don’t name it. (The present leader, at this time …)

    2. Just stop worrying about semantics and call it a launch. We can define it how we want, by our actions. And lack of inflatable jumpy things. It won’t take but about 10 minutes for a guest to one of our gatherings to realize we are not an attractional entity.

    3. A Commencement. But that sounds like a graduation, which is the opposite of what we are looking for … so no. That one sucks.

    4. A Commissioning. Because we are sent … with a mission. (I like this one). But haven’t we already been sent? Haven’t we already been commissioned?

    5. A new season. Or a new era. Because that’s simply telling the truth. That’s what this is. Our values aren’t changing. The place where we gather for 1 out of 168 hours each week is. Hmmm. This one sounds good … but I’m still leaning toward not naming it at all.

    Now, wise commenters, your turn again. You now have more context … any further thoughts?

  14. Jason,

    Your description makes naming the “event” anti-climactic even if you feel as though your “core” would find not naming the “new” a killjoy. Naming an event when you have already existed as “church” betrays the gammar already in use by your community. To name the “event” is to make it about the “event.”

    Just my .02.

  15. almost says:

    Thanks all for the input! Really, really helpful!

    I like the no name thing as well. But I do see a challenge here in the U.S. for 1) those that are a part of the faith community to feel like it really is a church now and 2) those outside the faith community to recognize it as a church plant.

    OK, at this point I am arcing to a bigger context than just Jason’s current scenario. I see this as being very common that the point of focus is the launch or going public. Historically, churches may be recognized when they had property and usually some charter or by-laws. Today, I am aware of some denominational associations that recognize a church after it has “launched.” A common question asked of a planter is: “Have you launched yet?” This makes it a common default determinant to whether or not a group is functioning as the body of Christ. Is there a better functional term than “launch” that communicates to others but maintains the integrity of the DNA you are seeking to cultivate in a plant? I like the idea of iterations. I’m good with synthesis, but see this breaking down much as you pointed out Mark. Seba, I agree that it would be good to use something already recognized, but launch has commerce and “grand store opening” so closely affilitated with it that it seems problematic.

    Back to Jason’s specific context, I agree, Chris, that we need to ask “what is the goal?” If the goal is helping people inside the community to recognize that we are functioning as the body of Christ AND meeting some of our cultural norm expectations, then this can be addressed by having internal conversation. If the goal is to continue to live missionally AND to let others know that may desire to come and live in that way with us, then some notification of a gathering needs to be clear. If the goal is simply to let those already joining in a weekly gathering to know of the new location, then Twitter, DM or email should work without a name. Probably there are some questions and answers at this point that need to be worked through.

    Thanks again to all of you for your input. Wish we could all meet at the local coffee shop for a really, really big cup of Joe to talk through this more and encourage one another. Until that day, thanks for past and future comments to help Jason and those he is in community with work through this time.

  16. Brent Williams says:

    We used the word launch to describe our process of starting weekly worship services. When I met the first person in our city and invited them to a Bible study in my living room, I used the word launch a new Bible study. We also continue to use the word launch to describe the process of starting new Life Groups. I’m not sure the issue is in the word but in the “heart” of what you are launching. Meaning, if you are still counting on a weekly service to be the heart of why you exist than choosing a different word is not going to change what you are communicating to those who are being reached. I agree with Jason, it won’t take long for people to know who you are and what you are attracting them to.

    Brent Williams

  17. almost says:

    Good word Brent. Thanks! And I pray all is well in AK.

  18. Gary says:

    Wow! Great convo. Let the wisdom flow. You all are impressive.

    My initial thought was to not call it anything … My next thought was to say we do life together intinitally as a community at this time & place … I do really dig Jason’s last though of this season in life … I do think phrases and words vary with weight based on the culture we reside in; urban, rural, or people we do life with.

    Thanks for cranking out the convo guys … I might ask the question of some of the guys in the Nashville hood and see what they think.

  19. Jason Egly says:

    Hey Almost …

    If we all meet at the coffee shop for a big cup of Joe, what do we call that? Would we have to give that a name? If we did, I would want to call it Awesome. 🙂

    And Gary, I do agree that the phrases and words are indeed contextual. The idea of communicating this as being the next season in our church’s life seems to be universal in its context. And it also acknowledges the idea of rhythms of life that you guys at Mosaic have articulated so effectively.

    More food for thought. I love it …

  20. Good discussion here M and Egly. Hmm. “M and Egly.” That kind of sounds like a 70s cop show blended together with a Winnie the Pooh character. Or maybe you could call your first Sunday gathering together on the Vanderbilt campus that. But I digress…

    Seriously, three thoughts stayed at the forefront of my mind as I read the post and the comments. Besides riveting, of course.

    1 – launch phraseology seems so big-plans-quick-result to me that it is antithetical to cultivation, which I know you have already been doing and want to continue to do because the One you follow spoke of it and did it, too.

    We avoided it for this reason. However, when I would be asked about our “launch,” and I often was, then I would not be a language nazi and numb-chuck lingo correct them into articulation submission. No. I would instead go along with them and tell them that we launched when we first met in a living room on the west side of town the first night anyone ever gathered with connection to our one local church expression. That seemed to suffice.

    2 – when the space shuttled used to launch, you know way back in the year 2011 for the last time, the Florida really-smart-guys would guide the shuttle for the first 20 seconds or so and then hand it over to the Houston really-smart-guys.

    At this point, the launch was over. Although every mission certainly had to begin with a launch, the real essence of the mission was not about the launch but about the tons of fuel and tons of hours that followed the first 20 seconds.

    The problem is that so many “church planters” (as some call them 🙂 expend all their energy on a “launch” when they really should have approached the journey ahead with more of a whole mission energy expenditure and endurance. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that without a whole-mission approach you don’t last for the entire mission. “Houston, we have a problem” (sorry, couldn’t help it).

    Not that some kind of big kickoff event is bad. Well, maybe it’s not BAD, but is it what was intended? You see, we reap what we sow. So if we sow for a big launch hoping people will come, especially after this so-called “core group” phase where we have told people to make disciples and love neighbors and nations in the everyday rhythms of life, then won’t we reap “kickoff event” disciples? Won’t they in turn expend more energy planning for the next event to draw more people than they will actually make disciples and love their neighbor and cultivate for “on earth as it is in heaven” in their daily and their city? They likely will, and will all be because it what their leader emphasized.

    3 – aren’t you simply moving your collective gathering?

    It seems to me that if each of us as followers of Jesus who also happened to be wired to lead as equippers of other followers of Jesus would actually cultivate the Gospel and make disciples among my own family, then together make disciples among our neighbors, then together with those neighbors make disciples among our entire neighborhood sending out neighbors to live and make disciples in and infect other neighborhoods, THEN we could collective gather in some really significant location, like a Vanderbilt campus, simply to collectively gather and celebrate what God was doing among us and in our neighborhoods then inviting the people who might show up as new friends who live in other neighborhoods to join us on this mission to love neighbors and nations and cultivate the Gospel to see “on earth as it is in heaven” in and through this city that we love.

    That was a long sentence.

    One man’s opinion. Hopefully helpful in this healthy conversation.

    One thing is for sure – I am a fan of Jason Egly and M and others in this comment stream no matter whether you use the word “launch” or not. Unless you are using it with regard to something you are doing to helpless, defenseless dogs. Then I would have a problem. Cats, not so much. Dogs, another story.

  21. almost says:

    J. Dukes – always good to receive your input. Glad to hear you did not become a “language nazi and numb-chuck lingo correct them into articulation submission” for using the term “launch.” You could have, but you showed restraint. Well played.

  22. kylegoen says:

    I am really enjoying reading and following the discussion. I am learning that language/terminology matters to people. Words communicate, carry and catalyze the culture you are trying to create. So, thank you for having this discussion. I will keep reading what you guys are writing and try to discern the path.

  23. almost says:

    Thanks for letting us know you are following along Kyle! I pray all is well with your family and team in your neck of the world.

  24. almost says:

    Also, wanted to add to the conversation a DM I got from a guy that has been involved in missions in various parts of the world including a CPM or two. He writes, “instead of “launch”, I like the concept of birth announcement or invitation to gospel community.”

  25. Jason Egly says:

    Kyle — I am in awe of your aliteration skills. “Words communicate, carry and catalyze the culture you are trying to create.” Wow. Brilliant. Not only do I need to spend all day exegeting that, I am pretty certain I’m going to post it on sermons.com as a ready-made Southern Baptist Preaching outline.

    Dukes — Thanks for the idea of launching cats. I KNEW this discussion was going to be fruitful!!

    Seriously, though, great insight, guys. I was asked no less than 3 times yesterday alone when our church was launching. I followed your example, Jason, and kept my numb-chucks in their holster? case? what the heck do you store numb-chucks in? anyway … the point is, I steered away from “launch” terminology and spoke in terms of “next steps” in the life of our church. For the first time, I felt confident and comfortable in that conversation. (I’m no Kyle Goen, but that was pretty dern good aliteration, if I do say so myself …)

    So thanks, everyone, for your incredibly valuable insight. And thanks, Almost, for launching this conversation. (He, he, he …)

  26. kylegoen says:

    Almost – I have been in Bangkok for the past week so I was late to the party…thanks for the invite.

    Jason – thanks (I think), hope you are able to pull off successfully what you are being lead towards. I am cheering for you and those who are “gathering” to make Him known in the Vandy community. There is a remnant there who are seeking to live faithfully.

  27. Jason Egly says:

    Thanks, Kyle.

    And yes, I meant that as a compliment. Sorry for the sarcasm. I have been thinking quite a bit for two days about how words 1. communicate culture; 2. carry culture; and 3. catalyze culture. That’s truly some good stuff. Worth further consideration. 🙂

  28. […] launch this – a challenge that church planters face […]

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