What are “risk factors”? In the medical world, risk factors are those issues which, on balance, can predict the onslaught of a disease or significant health concern. Family history, personal history, and other lifestyle choices (smoking, exercise, diet) can all become “risk factors” that affect my health. In my family, for instance, a few people have died of colon cancer. My doctor is aware of that risk factor in my life, so he’s taking a cautious approach so I won’t fall victim to that which has brought premature death to others in my family. Let’s just say that I’m consuming more fiber these days.
Environmental Risk Factors
When we refer to “environmental risk factors” in church planting, we’re looking at safety issues that are unique to the particular situation or environment. We’ve isolated eight particular risk factors, and I’ll spell those out shortly. But right now, understand this point: it’s possible to take a very qualified church planter (someone who’s been objectively assessed), coach them well, and put them in a situation where the risks are entirely unmanageable—leading to failure.
Think about it. Think about a church planter who has been successful. They did or would assess out objectively as “recommended for church planting”. They possibly received some strategic coaching. Things went really well for them. Now, take that same church planter and imagine putting them somewhere entirely out of their element. Reduce their resources, surround them with no like-minded friends, put them somewhere where the culture is totally foreign. Is it possible that that successful church planter would hit hard times and even fail? Of course it is. Find me a successful church planter, and I can create a situation where they would fail. An extreme example: drop me into downtown Baghdad, with no money, no friends, no cultural connectedness…and I’ll fail.
So if we’re given the constants of assessment and coaching, it’s the environmental risk factors that foretell the degree of success and failure. A friend and I performed a rudimentary statistical analysis and came up with four strong factors that create a predictive mosaic. This week, we’ll look at the first two.
1. How will you be personally funded?
Personal funding. Here, we’re talking about how a church planter’s bills are paid, and that can happen in a number of ways—and some ways add more risk than other ways. They could go “by faith”, meaning that they’re not sure how they’ll pay the bills, but something will work out and God will see them through. They could be bi-vocational, working another full-time job while planting the church. They could have “partial support”, meaning that they have raised some money from outside sources, but they are duct-taping their income together perhaps with a part-time job. Another scenario would be that the church planter relies solely on their spouse’s income, or they have raised enough support to “get by”. And, finally, they could be fully funded by raising support, being on a staff of a parent church, or by already being independently wealthy. (Hey, it happens!)
Cultural Background and Experience
2. Does the site selection match your cultural background or experience?
The question of cultural fit is somewhat subjective, but most of the time we can hazard a guess. Don’t think of this question in terms of climate and geography (that comes later); think of it in terms of the natural fit with the ebb and flow in the community. If the church planter has always lived in an urban environment but is now thinking of church planting in a rural area, we’d give them one point. If they grew up in a small town, have lived and loved living in small towns, and they’re considering church planting in a small town with the same sort of cultural trappings as their history, they’d earn five points. Can you start to see how adding layers of risk upon layers of risk can, ummm…be risky?
Next week, we’ll look at the final two risk factors, and tie them together with the ones above. My hope is that you’ll have a good, albeit basic, map to the considerations you’ll need to make. Remember, even the best church planter will fail if the conditions are not right.
Be sure to subscribe via email so you don’t miss Part 2 coming next week.
My new book with Steve Pike is out! Get your copy here!
Part 2: Assessing Risk Part 2
Part 3: Assessing Risk Part 3