How to Plant a Church Without Going Broke

Currently I am teaching a church planting class at Gateway Seminary. During each session, the class interviews planters who are in start-up phases.
One conversation was with a leader who is planting in a fairly wealthy community in the Silicon Valley and the plant will be fairly well funded. After class, one student, clearly stunned, took me aside and asked how the planter could afford to plant in that community. This student is from a local Hispanic background where he is aware of no planters who receive even a fraction of the same financial support. All kinds of considerations come into play.

The Bivocational Option

Ali Roohi, the interviewee mentioned above, has ministered for many years in local churches while working as an engineer. He is a respected individual with great relationships, and was able to remain employed in his field while gathering a core group, learning church planting basics, formulating a vision, writing a prospectus, and raising support.
His vision, values, and even the church name (Center Set Church, reflecting a particular mathematical principle) is attractive to those he aims to reach. Ali plans to use a launch model approach, and remained bivocational until just a few months prior to preview services. This showed wisdom and prudence. Also note that he was able to be financially solvent before resigning his lucrative secular job.
[Tweet “It’s possible to consider marketplace ministry as an open-ended approach to mission and ministry.”] While it is valid to work bivocationally during the early stages of church planting, it is also possible to consider marketplace ministry as an open-ended approach to mission and ministry. This happens especially well in the context of teamship where the hard work of starting a church is shared among a group. In addition, jobs best suited to church planting are:

  • Relational. They allow planters to meet people and forge ongoing relationships.
  • Respectable. They work at something respected by people the plant hopes to reach.
  • Reasonable. The job must not take all of the planter’s time or thought energy.
  • Redemptive. They are jobs that allow others to see Christ at work in the planter.

Peter Jung is a Korean business man who is planting a church in a new immigrant Latino and Vietnamese community. He is starting the church by first meeting the needs of families. A large Chinese Church and a large Korean church are assisting as volunteers for ongoing service, and provide financial assistance for facility rental, supplies, and special outreach events. The model allows for the process of deep relational evangelism over a longer period of time than the kind of church plant where the planter seeks “low hanging gospel fruit.”

Turning Models Inside Out

Several kinds of models dominate the church planting scene. Models and methods are good places to end, but not suitable starting places. Consider the following five factors as tributaries that flow together into a sea that reflects model, methods, approaches, and strategies.
You. How are you and your team wired, gifted, talented, anointed and called? At what things are you not good and need assistance? Are you indigenous to the community or new and need to understand it better before planting a church?
Theology. What is your nuanced theology? How does that inform and challenge your church planting approach? How does it uniquely help you know what to do and how to frame vision, mission, and values?
Culture. Who are the people God has called you to reach? Is it a diverse or homogenous, community and in what ways? Is its worldview Christian, secular, or something else? How does that inform your model, strategy, and methods?
Context. Is the place where you are called to plant urban, suburban, or rural? Is it a new master planned community or an old city with existing spiritual baggage, or…?  These kinds of things always affect how a church starts, how quickly it takes off, and the rate at which people are willing to connect to a new spiritual community.
Pragmatics. Do you have financial support or not, team members or not? Do you have a Sending Church that is praying, paying and playing with you? Some church planting models need more of these things than others. Some strategies seem to assist that a new church launch as a full-fledged church, while others allow a new church to learn to crawl before it walks, and walk before it runs. It is not lack of faith, but missionary wisdom to consider practicalities and move ahead with financial discretion.
All of the above help planters consider models that fit their vision, situation, and team, at the same time helping the plant be financially viable.
[Tweet “It is not lack of faith to consider practicalities and move ahead with financial discretion.”]

Making the Ask

Ali and Peter, both mentioned above, are comfortable asking for financial assistance from churches and individuals. They are credible, trustworthy leaders, who know how to communicate their visions so that others want to participate. They believe it is biblical for the Body of Christ to engage in supporting kingdom laborers.
Most planters with whom I work learn how to formulate clear prospectuses that explain their callings, their ideas, their plans, budgets, timelines and their needs. They ask for prayer, money, and assistance with local engagement. They also know that resources mean more than money.
Financial alternatives such as at-cost printing services, new church baby showers to obtain supplies and equipment, free or low cost rental space for the church, gift cards, and storage space are just some of the resources that some church planters are able to glean. Ask God to supply all of your needs according to His riches. Encourage, teach, and practice tithing. I have heard of more than a few Korean churches that tithe so heartily that a full time planter can be fully supported by a few dozen core team members.
It is necessary to be aware of cultural dynamics of money and fundraising. Some cultures have a more difficult time than others asking for support. For some, it is akin to begging. In other cultures, a spokesperson for the “tribe” gives as an example, and challenges others to do likewise. Sometimes, it is assumed culturally acceptable for those who leave their own country to do missionary work overseas to raise support, but the rules are overturned for local missionaries. At the same time, many planters feel uncomfortable asking for support, sometimes for cultural reasons.
It can help to develop a biblical rationale for support raising. Who receives money may also be an issue. For example, many African American churches I know pay their musicians, even if there is no income available for the pastor/planter. Many groups also have different expectations for expressing thanks. It may be public, private, or assumed, and may be anticipated in writing, or in a public venue. Saying thank you, and telling stories about how God is at work is usually a criterion for ongoing support.

Indigenous Planters Versus Outsiders

The church planting student mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog was really surprised at the budget anticipated by the planter he met, and wondered why this was not true of planters he knew. There are several probable reasons.
In our particular local setting, there are only a few churches that feel strong enough to substantially support local missions. Ali is connected to two such churches. One of those churches was supported by a network of generous churches in the South, and made that network available as well. This is a factor that differs from region to region, but in my experience, in less churched communities with less of a gospel presence, church planters from the outside are able to raise more money than indigenous planters.
Many local, indigenous planters come from less affluent socio-economic groups. Frequently, they are from cultures where heads of households work more than one job. They see no reason why planters can’t be employed full time at another job while planting a church part-time. Because incomes are low, it simply takes more tithing members to support a church planter when their household incomes are a quarter of that of their more affluent counterparts. Also, some church planting organizations refuse to fund bivocational planters.

Financial Accountability

The cost of planting a new church is sometimes comparable with the cost of buying a house, but while a house is usually paid off in 30 years, the new church often has just 3 years to become self-supporting. Banks spend a great deal of time checking a buyers personl budget, debt, financial reliability, and capacity to repay a loan based on their situation.
While the process of qualifying for funding may not be as comprehensive or rigid, these factors are critical to how much funding a planter can and should raise. Past behavior plays an important part in determining future financial assistance. Has the planter shown financial wisdom and accountability in handling personal debt, including long term items such as car payments and student loans? Does the planter make financially responsible buying decisions?
Need is not the only basis for the decision. Is the new church’s budget simply a copy of another planter’s budget, or does this planter really understand the community and needs of this particular church plant? Is the spouse also on board with living on a budget and sacrificing for the sake of kingdom work? What size family do they have, and are they sufficiently considering family needs? All these things make church plants seem to be an acceptable risk, or too high risk a venture to be supported by contributors and supporting organizations.
[Tweet “Need is not the only basis for the decision.”] Church planters, be wise. Know yourself and your community. Hear God louder than you hear the words of the latest, most cool church planting models. It is worth the long term investment.

About the Author
Linda Bergquist

Linda Bergquist

Linda has been involved in church planting for 38 years, 36 of which have been in urban areas. She is currently a church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board and has served as an adjunct professor in several seminaries. She co-authored the books Church Turned Inside Out, The Wholehearted Church Planter, and City Shaped Churches and authored the Exponential ebook: The Great Commission and the Rest of Creation.

Share this Post