What do you do when the well runs dry? You dig another well.
Since the turn of the century, many denominations have made a strong effort to funnel resources toward church planting. This support helps to secure facilities, execute marketing campaigns, provide equipment for ministry, and even underwrite pastoral support.
That’s a good thing.
More denominations are prioritizing church planting—and that’s a good thing.
Not only have denominations created departments that financially support church planting, the church planters have the blessings of the denomination’s leadership, which often helps them gain access to established local churches to seek financial sponsorship.
In the new millennium, networks have followed a similar pattern, though to a lesser degree due to their smaller resource base.
The Landscape Is Changing
Fast forward to today.
I am often asked, “How do you see the funding options available to church planters changing in the future?”
My view is that there will be less funding readily available to church planters from the current sources. But before we get discouraged about the future prospects, we need to realize that we can’t—and shouldn’t attempt to—buy our way into a church multiplication movement in the West (North America, Australia, England, etc.).
The truth is: most denominations and church-planting networks run out of money for church planting every year—and every year, plants go unfunded due to financial restrictions. And so, we must consider other ways to plant churches, like organic church planting, and raising up leaders from the harvest who are intentionally bi-vocational along the way.
If there is one thing church planters recognize in established churches, it’s that you can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done if you want your success to continue on into the next generation. So how does this admonition affect the world of church planting?
Churches Still Need to Be Planted
Even though some of the current funding wells may be drying up (often because they have been well used), that doesn’t mean denominations won’t be as committed to the process. More denominations are prioritizing church planting—and that’s a good thing.
There is less standing in the way on the path to success with church planting than say, revitalization. Denominations and church-planting networks are noticing the population boom in urban areas—the same areas that saw a mass exodus of churches a generation ago. So the field is wide open.
Because of the emphasis placed by leadership, and the migrating demographics, more people are interested in planting today. (See this article and my comments in the Wall Street Journal about that very thing.) Less money from denominations coupled with a greater desire to plant means most planters will have to raise their own funds and support.
The bi-vocational option needs to be seen as an opportunity, not as a penalty.
Some will (and should) plant vocationally, but that will mean gathering resources from other places.
This will require a sharper vision of God’s calling and a more passionate voice for sharing with those who will care to join in. Remember, denominations and networks ultimately got their money from people.
Now instead of just calling the cash hotline at headquarters, you’re going to have to build relationships with more people who want to support your ministry. God is already calling others to help you get started. You just need to be proactive about finding them. This isn’t something foreign. It has always been a part of the church-planting puzzle, but it will likely become a larger piece.
Then there is the “B” word. The bi-vocational option needs to be seen as an opportunity, not as a penalty. It needs to be seen as a preferred option for planters.
Historically, this path has been as fulfilling as it has been frustrating. When I planted my first church, I installed home insulation. Most recently, I have worked as the executive director of LifeWay Research. That is my job during the week, while I pastor a church plant on the weekend—part time when I was blowing insulation years ago, as a volunteer today. It can be done. Do not let the lack of denominational funding determine whether or not you plant a church.
On the national level, my denomination didn’t fund me at all when I went to the inner city of Buffalo, New York. I was 21. I had an undergraduate degree in Biology and Chemistry.I probably wouldn’t have funded me. But God called me to plant that church, so I raised minimal funds, and worked a second job, and planted the church bivocationally.
I encourage you to at least investigate the possibility of doing the same as well. You will be surprised what God will teach you about yourself and others in that process.
The fact is that you can plant a church without any pay—no one is stopping you. As I’ve written extensively here on the blog (and in Viral Churches and Planting Missional Churches), organic church models led by unpaid leaders can engage communities, reach people, and multiply readily.
The focus of this article is not such movements, but search the blog for many references to such.
The Future Holds Opportunity
My focus here has been to acknowledge that there will be less money readily available from the usual sources for the next phase in the church multiplication movement. But God will be doing something new and strong in the lives of those who press forward, those who sacrifice in new ways to accomplish the mission God has given them. Here are some things church planters can consider as they venture into this new day:
- Use your prayer closet. As you have done in other areas, pray for God to lead you to the resources He is sure to provide. Remember, cash doesn’t plant churches; God does.
- Use your heart. Hone your communication skills in order to express the opportunities and your needs to the people God brings your way. Some of these folks will be people of means. Others will be those who give profoundly, though not in ways that will increase the balance of your bank account.
- Use your head. Be creative in your development. This isn’t about cutting corners so much as trimming fat. I wonder how much of what we have spent in church planting over the last 25 years is actually necessary. Saving $25,000 is like receiving $25,000.
- Use your hands. No one is only a church planter. Everyone has other skills. Hang some sheetrock. Build websites. Raise some money with your other skills. And in the process, you may actually find people who will become part of your church.
Less money must not mean less mission or we’ve missed the pattern of Paul, the call of Jesus, and the mission of the church.
If you have questions about church planting funds available in Iowa, contact BCI Executive Director Tim Lubinus at TLubinus@BCIowa.org.
Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research Division.