Church Planting: When Authenticity Becomes A Marketing Tool


I landed in Boulder Colorado with my family in January 2000 to church plant in the city.

Sure, we heard it was “tough ground” to start a church.

Yes, we heard that the picturesque college town  had broken the dreams of many aspiring young church planting pastors ( and even some marriages) but that was OK…

Boulder hadn’t seen Steve & Tammy yet.

We were going to do what so many had failed to do in the past; have a successful church plant in Boulder, Colorado.

Because we were authentic!

We were hip, cool, and connected.  Yep, we would have a flourishing church up in no time.

Fast forward to 2005 and you find a very authentic Steve & Tammy alright.  We were authentically bruised, authentically beaten, and authentically broke! (financially as well as figuratively) .  This had the affect of even putting our marriage on some rocky waters.

Fortunately we ended up joining another church plant in Boulder that loved us and allowed us time to just enjoy Jesus and people without the pressure to perform.  (I used to joke that Origins Community Church was “the least manipulative church I had ever experienced; and that includes the ones I have led”)

Tammy and I experienced authenticity as a genuine expression of love and caring rather than as a marketing tool to grow a church.  Our three years with them healed us, patched us up, and prepared us again for ministry in a more life giving way.  Although we had been “saved” in the “evangelical” sense we got to experience first had what “being saved” was like in the Kingdom sense.

Being Saved

I love Acts 2 use of the term  “saved” being used in the present continuous form.  That the act of salvation is not so much an event as it is a process.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2: 46-47

The funny thing is that when Tammy and I planted in Boulder all of this was happening, we just were too religiously minded to see it.


Neighbors visited us all of the time.  We sat and talked with others on our back patio that was open in a way that people around could always just “drop by”.  We “broke bread” together often and were always looking for someone to invite over.  We would talk about their lives, our lives, hopes, and fears.  We were “glad and sincere”  and although most of them didn’t “praise God” we sure spent some time talking about him.

But through all this Acts 2 life we experienced together, at the time I felt like a total failure.  See, these new friends liked to spend time with us, “break bread” with us, and even talk about God and their spiritual walks with us but they seemed to have little to no interest in:

* coming out to a church meeting on a beautiful Sunday to listen to me speak for 40 minutes

* giving up a hike in the surrounding mountains to come line up in a row of chairs to sing happy clappy songs for 30 minutes

* giving me money to teach them about God when they were getting it for free in my backyard.

Those dear people, many I have lost touch with now, were in the process of “being saved” through our genuine Christlike compassion and affection  but I was to ignorant to see it in my desire to get them to attend Freedom Church regularly and get really “saved”.


I agonized over,

“Why if they enjoy a burger, beer, and hanging out at my place do they have no desire to drive over to that conference room I rented at the local hotel to sing songs, listen to me speak, and make a contribution toward taking this city for Jesus???

Don’t they see how cool and authentic we are?”



In the early days I regretted ever leaving Hong Kong for Boulder but now I see the experience much more clearly.  Jesus didn’t need me to “take Boulder for him”; he had already taken it and every other city on in the world when instead of judging us for rejecting and killing him, he forgave us.

He showed me that my idea of church and his idea of church were two completely different things.  I could either follow Jesus myself OR use him to get others to follow me.

Sadly it took me a while to make that choice…

Now any authenticity I possess is not a marketing tool to get someone “saved”; instead it is born out of my joining with others in loving God, loving each other, and through it all…

…being saved!


  • Matthew

    I love that line, “…hadn’t seen Steve and Tammy yet.” That’s got to be the underlying unspoken thought of every church-starter. Or they would never bother to do it. Audacity and humility would be a nice combination.

    • Steve

      Yes Matthew, that’s why I think church planter’s tend to be younger. Audacity comes a little quicker than humility then… 🙂

  • Connie Mudore

    And you are genuinely authentic, Steve 🙂 Your authenticity has certainly contributed to my faith journey. If you had been focused upon getting me to join a particular church rather than just hanging out and being willing to talk about anything and enjoying life, I think I’d still be wandering around…

    • Steve

      Thanks Connie… that made my day! 🙂

  • George Dougherty

    Love it. I remember those days and I’m so thankful you did come out here. I haven’t played LOTR since though. 🙁

    Agree 100% with what you said though I do think its inaccurate to read Acts 2 as necessarily a process. Just language and semantics though, but that’s my personality type. Salvation is a one time once and for all event. It may be a journey up till then to get there, but once you’re there, there’s no where else to go in terms of “being saved”. From there the Holy Spirit begins the process of sanctifying us to make us more authentically like Christ and that process I think looks like what you describe.

    The only reason I try to be careful around that salvation language is because it can lead some to question whether they’re there yet. It was a hard road for me to come to that security after years in the church because the preaching I got was cloudy on those points.

    • Steve

      Thanks George! I really appreciate that. I always enjoyed your friendship and wish we were in a place to to build it more. Someday I hope. I understand what you are saying about salvation and don’t disagree with you. I wish we could discuss it face to face as comment sections won’t convey some of my thoughts well enough.

  • Tung

    The seeds have spread through you and Tammy. They will not return empty to God. Keeps sowing 🙂

    • Steve

      Very encouraging Tung! Thank you!

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