Many of the greatest inventions are attributed to the person who finally got a breakthrough. Consider the airplane and the Wright brothers. Orville and Wilbur were not the first to try, but they were the first to get a breakthrough. In fact, they could not have accomplished what they did if others had not experimented and learned before them. They stood on the shoulders of those who tried and discovered what not to do. After pouring over all the attempts and failures, they were the ones to get the break — and are remembered for being the first to fly.
There have been many improvements in flight since the boys from Dayton made that breakthrough, but every plane built since is based on what they learned. They discovered the pivotal design. To my knowledge, no one has reverted back to the attempts that went before. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Inventors experiment relentlessly until they find the pivotal design. Everything after that is based on that breakthrough.
Church planters know that failure is more common than success. They have a vision of a healthy church where people can’t wait to come. Seekers discover salvation. The things of eternity are put in their proper perspective — desirable and exciting. The atmosphere reeks with anticipation. People are friendly, and the music is familiar. Church planters begin with the vision and great hopes, but often turn away from the project a few years later feeling defeated. Their hearts were right. Their efforts were enthusiastic. But it never quite flew.
Pastors and lay leaders make the attempt because they look at what God is doing elsewhere and they see success. They attend conferences where it’s happening. They return to their cities and say, “We can do this!” Then they dive in head first using whatever method or approach they are used to.
Until recently, most church planters missed something important: Successful churches are based on a pivotal design. Those who have discovered it look at the failed attempts and can easily understand why. Those who succeed have — deliberately or inadvertently — worked in harmony with the Pivotal Design. Once someone discovers it, how smart would it be to start a church without it? Since that windy December day at Kitty Hawk, nobody jumps off cliffs with wings and duct tape.