If I Did It Again…

“If you planted another church, what would you do differently?”

That’s a question I’ve been asked since year one. I charged into church planting with a very positive, optimistic, if-you-build-it-they-will-come mindset, which I’m thankful for. I know other church planters who went out burdened with church plant failure statistics, wondering they would become another statistic. I didn’t know the stats, or the struggle, and I certainly couldn’t have predicted the events of the first year (deployment, flood, 3 jobs…).

However, through all of the challenges that the first few years held, I have no regrets. Even the things I’d change became valuable lessons for me.

If I were to plant another church, here are two things I’d do differently…

I would not over-commit.

I’m all about raising up a team, preparing, strategizing, and the like, but don’t wait too long. Hit it! You’ll have time to learn, grow, and re-strategize as you go. On the other hand though, it’s easy to over-commit, stretch yourself thin, and run the risk of burnout at church or at home (neither of which are options).

The main way I over-committed was by launching with a weekend and a mid-week service. Mid-week services are nice, and I’ve always gone to one in every church I was in. A mid-week study was never part of our launch plan, but when enough people requested, it seemed harmless enough. Then by the time we were ready to launch, it felt too scary to cancel something that was working so well. So, in addition to our planned weekend service, we launched with a Wednesday night service as well.

I don’t regret Wednesdays. People grew with each other and in the knowledge of the Word. However, it was way too much commitment early on. I was working 3 jobs in addition to the church, and studying for 2 unique message every week was a huge task. By God’s grace, I survived, my wife and kids still love me, and the church is still growing…but I would do it differently!

I would not try to reproduce.

Coming from a 15,000-member megachurch, our natural tendency early on was to try to replicate what they did so well.

Good Friday? A Good Friday service happens at noon on Good Friday…or so we thought.

Although thousands turn out every Good Friday at our church in New Mexico, when we tried to replicate it at noon in an Army town, a few unemployed people and some moms showed up. Good Friday at noon fit them – not us.


Easter is coming? We should probably rent an outdoor venue and do a sunrise service. That is how Easter services are run, after all…or so we thought.

We had seen it done that way so successfully for so many years in New Mexico that we didn’t even stop to consider any other way of doing Easter. Without considering context, culture, or the unique people we were reaching, we attempted to reproduce their success. Our first Easter was one to remember, but we don’t plan to do it that way again!

If I Could Do It Again

Neil Spencer serves on the CCPN Core Team as well as pastoring Coastline Calvary Chapel in Destin, Florida. For more info about Coastline, go to their website,

My wife and I planted Coastline Calvary Chapel in Destin, FL in April of 2010. At that time I was serving on staff as the Executive Pastor of Coastline Calvary Chapel in Gulf Breeze (a 60 minute drive unless HWY 98 [the only hwy] isn’t a parking lot filled with touring visitors from the southeast), the church my father founded in 1983; the church in which I was born, raised, & had the privilege of serving for 7.5 years.

From 2010 until February 2013, I maintained my pastoral responsibilities in Gulf Breeze, during the week and commuted to Destin to teach a small, but growing fellowship on the weekends. Although it wasn’t that long ago that we began the work, it feels like a lifetime. So much has happened, both in me & through me as a church planter. We’ve had tremendous HIGH’S – like hosting Phil Wickham’s 1st ever Outdoor Mall Outreach in 2010 as the sun set on a Easter Sunday in which nearly 2,000 attended – & tremendous LOWS – like our CORE team leaving the church 1 yr into the plant.

If I could do it again… I would…

Trust JESUS with JESUS’ Church.

Like Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:25-34 … worry does nothing for us & don’t miss this… the God of the universe is FOR us. That fact should change the way your face looks. We should trust Jesus with HIS church, I mean it’s His blood-bought bride, not mine. If I could do it again… I would like to say that I would trust JESUS with JESUS’ church & spend more time praying and less time worrying, because what JESUS says is true: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Enjoy the Season I’m In.

Each season of life and ministry brings it’s own unique BLESSINGS and BUMMERS. At the ripe old age of 31, with 3 daughters, & the honor of pastoring a small-growing church I’ve learned something. Seasons change… & when they’re done, they’re done. Although the planting season can bring it’s bummers it also brings tremendous blessings. Enjoy them, b/c when it’s over it’s over.

 Not Change a Thing.

I am so thankful that I will never see the two eternal parallel lines of “God’s Sovereignty” and “Man’s Responsibility” intersect on this side of eternity, it’s a mystery in how it all works, & to be honest… I am okay with that. Although I could share with you the MANY MANY mistakes I’ve made, dumb things I’ve said & done, I am so grateful that God uses it all. He is in control & I know that He’s bigger than my mistakes because, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”