MENTORING & Why having that nearby megachurch mentor you isn’t always a good idea

By Bob Whitesel July 7, 2014

I’ve noticed that newly planted churches will often approach a large church or mega-church in their area and seek to create a mentor-mentee relationship. On the surface this seems like a good idea, for the planted church can learn from the flourishing larger church nearby. However I’ve noticed some caveats that you must consider before undertaking this relationship.

My research on this began during my years as the Minister of Church Growth and Evangelism of a mega-church with dozens of planted offspring. As I talked to the leaders of these planted churches I found that though the relationship with the mother church had began with positive intentions, most now had deteriorated because of three factors.

Recently I consulted for one of the nation’s most well-known congregations. In the process I analyzed it’s many planted churches and satellites. And I found the same three conclusions that I had discovered 30 years ago.

The following observations can help large churches and planted churches avoid these three missteps.

First, the mega-church operates with a different leadership style, because it is a much larger organization. Many mega-churches have not been a small church for many years, even decades. And though the leaders in mega-churches are skilled at leading large organizations, their expertise in start-ups is usually in the past and in a different era. Thus, mega-advice can often be focused on hiring, firing and targeting a niche market. These are things that the small church often does not have the ability to undertake.

Secondly when a crisis arises in the mega-church (as will always happen at some time – be it moral, fiscal or transitional) the mega-mom will often focus mostly on her needs. The small church’s cadre of 50 to 100 people can be viewed as a way to help stem the exit tide in the mega-mom. Thus, in times of crisis the mega-church will often give advice to the planted church that favors the mega-mom.

And finally there is an important caveat regarding the planted church. The planted church often seeks a relationship with the mega-mom because subconsciously the planted church hopes to connect with people who are passing out the back door of the mega church. Often those people are looking for a smaller church environment, but I have shown in my book “The healthy church” that mega-churches can be healthy too, by having small groups and missional communities. Regardless, the caveat is that the offspring (often even unconsciously) seeks to attach itself to the mega-church in hopes of some of it’s mega-success rubbing off.

So what should be done instead? Let me propose three options.

First planted churches must have accountability and mentorship. Church planters and their leadership teams must be involved in a denominational accountability/oversight group or have a network that provides this. The pressures of entrepreneurship often take a toll on families and friendships. Accountability and mentorship are critical.

Secondly, relevant mentorship best occurs when the mentor church has recently grown to the next size level larger than the mentee church. Therefore, the mentor can offer more appropriate advice to the church plant. Gary McIntosh suggests three simple sizes of congregations. Most church plants are in the “fellowship size” and they resemble a group often called the Dunbar Number group (search www.ChurchHealthWiki.com for info on the Dunbar numbers). This church is under 150 attendees, and that is where most church plants reside. The next size larger is the “administrative church” according to McIntosh. This is the church in the 150-300 range b A growing and recently planted church from this size range would make a good mentor. This mentor will understand the situation of the planted congregation for not long ago the mentor church was in the same situation.

Thirdly, it is critical to have mentors that do not have any potential to benefit from problems in the church plant and vice versa. In other words, the mentor-mentee relationship is best served with each church is not in the same area or has a vested interest in the other. Thus, there is no inadvertent pressure to trade or assimilate congregants through transfer growth.

And so, the best mentors for church plants may not be the large church nearby … but rather a healthy, growing and slightly larger congregation that would not stand to benefit from transfer growth.

Mentorship is critical for planted pastors … but who you choose must be accountable, anointed and relevant. Too often if relationships are not founded on these principles it can undercut the health of both mentor and mentee.