We are continuing the process of starting a third church in our network and have discovered the value of taking it sloooow! We have two great couples who are launching out with a Friday night gathering... and we don't even want to introduce the term "church" too soon lest it give off the wrong impression before people even come.
We call this a "pre-church" stage... not because it's not "church" but because we don't want people to bring traditional "church" thinking to it. These couples want people to just gather, enjoy each other, and have some conversation around "God-stuff." An excellent starting point.
We strongly believe in the concept of "prevenience" put forth by John White. This means, simply, that Jesus is the one who gathers and plants communities. At the most, all we can do is take note where He is working and go there... cooperating with Him the best we can. We don't want to control the process, just let it take shape.
So we have an initial process that looks something like this:
1. Determine the group to be reached. It seems to us that it's important to begin with a missional view by asking the question, "Who has God asked us to reach?" I like the way that Ed Stetzer remarks on this:
What would you would hope church planters in the United States would missiologically wrestle with in particular?
I would say that first and foremost, they need to wrestle through who God has called them to reach. They don’t need to come with a model-specific vision, such as, “I want to plant a mega-church” or “I want to plant a house-church.” They need to abandon a model-specific vision and bring the gospel into a context, a place, asking the question, “What cultural containers-church, worship style, small group ministry-will be most effective in this context?”
2. Begin to articulate a vision of a gathering so that you have something to say when you talk to your identified group. This is not some "presentation," rather it's simply being able to share your heart with those that you want to connect with.
3. Gather people. Take your time. Keep it simple. Get to know people. People is what it's all about. God is the one, ultimately, who will begin to draw people to you.
4. Look at, listen to, and get to know those who are gathering.
This would be our "pre-church" starting point. The process, of course, continues beyond this, but we don't want to rush it. Let God draw and begin to shape, organically, what He is doing.