No More Lone Rangers
January 11, 2010
The Lone Ranger is a piece of American entertainment history. On Feb 2, 1933 the Lone Ranger episodes were launched on the radio. On Sept 14, 1949 it air for the first time on ABC and aired until 1957. Throughout this run, Americans all across the nation tuned in to see their favorite masked hero, take on the bad guys. Every episode ended with this lone figure yelling out a hearty “Hi-Yo Silver Away!” while his horse reared up and they rode off into the wilderness. Americans loved The Lone Ranger because he stood for truth, justice and the American way. The Lone Ranger, riding solitary and into the sunset, became an American icon and a symbol for the rugged individualism that built this great nation.
Today, the phrase “lone ranger” is used by many preachers to denote what may be a spiritual loner or an outcast who doesn’t seem to fit neatly into the body of Christ. Ironically, most pastors fit this bill very well and sadly, most pastors feel a lot like The Lone Ranger. These lone ranger pastors feel deeply that they are expected, by their congregations and denominational leaders, to embody the rugged, individualistic spirit of a self-made man. They are expected to ride in, save the day and ride off into the sunset while onlookers whisper amongst themselves, “Who was that masked man?” This expectation has cause an epidemic of health problems, burnout, infidelity, and depression among pastors in America today.
While the American pastor may suffer from this syndrome, church planters are even more susceptible. Many church planters tend to be the rugged-individual type. Their natures tend make them willing to take on the world and their problems through their rugged, solitary will. It might even be that they prefer to take on every challenge alone. And as it stands, our current mode of operations surrounding church planting, encourages this sort of methodology. Church planters are sent out to do the work like The Lone Ranger. Most don’t even get a Tonto. As leaders I think we must ask ourselves: Is sending out our church planters without any shoulder-to-shoulder or personal support even biblical?
In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus sent his disciples out to minister in groups of two. A quick read through the book of Acts will show that the early church sent their missionaries out in groups of two. Come to think of it, whenever I watch the television show COPS, even they are sent out in groups of two. Like law enforcement, ministry is dangerous business. Don’t we need to take some precautions? There is strength and safety in numbers! It’s time to bring this biblical concept back into the arena of church planting. It’s hard enough planting a church, let alone, planting it solo.
Instead of one entrepreneurial planter going out to start a church on his own, why not send a team? In his book Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer explains that a church-planting team provides “a division of gifts, and a strong leadership base”. Church plants that start off with a team and share the workload stand a much better chance of reaching the two hundred mark quickly.
But, does the data back that up?
One of the most significant discoveries in the study of church plants (Planting Fast Growing Churches) has to do with "Lone Ranger" leadership. Each planter involved in the study was asked if they planted the church on their own or if they started with a church planting team. A whopping 88 percent of the fast-growing church plants had a church planting team in place prior to public launch. By contrast, only 12 percent of struggling church plants had a church planting team. That is a difference of 76 percent between these two groups! Ouch—did I just hear the Lone Ranger take a bullet?
Team planting does have a positive impact on the growth of a new church, and it is a major factor that distinguishes fast-growing church plants from the comparison plants. Before the results came back to me, it was my belief that a team approach to church planting would produce a synergy unlike anything else. Because of my own experience, I already knew in my bones that those who attempted to plant a church in true Lone Ranger fashion had a much greater likelihood of struggling.
What I found even more interesting, perhaps even disturbing, was the degree of loneliness and isolation that those leading struggling church plants found themselves subjected to. Each planter was asked to indicate how many unpaid volunteer staff they had. The results were eye opening. Not only did the majority of solo planters have no paid staff, it is significant to note that 73.1 percent of leaders involved in struggling church plants indicated that they had a grand total of zero on their voluntary staff. By contrast, a majority of planters leading fast-growing church plants, 65 percent, had at least one or more volunteers to rely on.
What should this tell us? NO MORE LONE RANGERS!