Church Planting Lessons: Blog

Brandon Shields is the lead pastor of Soma Church in Indianapolis and a graduate of the Summit Network Residency Program. We asked Brandon to write about lessons he’s learned in the first two years planting Soma. 

I’ll never forget the day I sat down with Mason for coffee.  A self-professing agnostic who grew up in a mainline church, he was one of the first native Hoosiers to take me up on my offer to get coffee.

As I talked with Mason he stopped me about halfway through our conversation and said, “Can I just tell you something? You didn’t grow up in Indianapolis, you weren’t educated here, and you moved here with your family to start a church that meets at your house. That’s just weird bro!”

I laughed nervously… and pushed on to the end of our conversation.

In retrospect, that one conversation has shaped our contextualization efforts more than any other. Here are some things I’ve learned about landing in a new community and starting from scratch:

Slow Down and Enjoy the Ride. Let’s be honest – in the Midwest, someone who moves their family into a new community with no connections sounds strange to local people. Expect locals to be skeptical (no matter how cool you are!). We’ve found it takes about eighteen months to become friends with and see fruit among the truly unreached.

Friendship first, church planting second. When we moved to Indianapolis our goal for “Year Zero” was simply to make 40-50 friends. We had no launch timeline and no wild expectations. As we befriended, served, and partied with our new Christian and non-Christian friends, God formed a core team that has far exceeded our expectations.

Don’t discount the value of transplants. Indianapolis is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest.  While some discourage allowing transplanted folks to make up your core team, we’ve found them to be extremely helpful in creating hospitable environments and serving locals in our city.

Follow the leadership of the Spirit.  Until my coffee conversation with Mason, we were pursuing a strategy of multiplying missional house churches in an affluent suburban context. As we listened to both God and our community, we realized that most people’s expectations were that church happened in a building on Sunday morning. So, just a few weeks later, we began meeting in Midtown (not our original target community) in a rented church, on Sundays.

Needless to say, things haven’t gone exactly according to plan, the Holy Spirit has continued to reroute our original plans, but that’s fine with us.

To learn more about Soma Church and what is happening in Indianapolis, visit