Is it possible to plant a church with a budget remarkably lower than normal?
I’ve done it–twice.
Before I share that story, a brief look at church planting in North America over the past 20 years.
Church planting has entered contemporary church practice as an attractive and practical way to address decline. Globally, church planting in countries like China or India produce multiplying movements that grow to accommodate millions coming to faith. The version in North America is different.
For example, in the majority church we ask, “are you qualified enough?” and, “do you have what it takes?”. Globally, it’s, “here are the tools, good luck…”.
There Are Costs
Although we can’t draw precise comparisons between country models, one thing is for sure, in an age of decline, North America needs more church planters, and increasing the number of who “qualifies” is in our best interests. But is the opposite happening? Unlike businesses that look for ways to reduce costs over time, traditional church planting seems to be getting more expensive. The figure I used in the title–$375.00—can be a fifty to a hundred times greater to build just one qualified church planter.
The figure is justified. A church plant with denominational money and a promise of salary along with the sunk costs to run a service for two years is expensive. The blessing party wants to build an investment with the best chance of success.
I’m curious, can we produce more church plants with the same amount of resources but in a different way? Doing so would mean, among other things, lowering the threshold of who qualifies as church planter.
What does this mean for would be church planters? For one, the common approach to plant needs to shift.
It Can Be Done
Back to my story. I’ve planted two churches. The first started with a budget of zero. It had no income for nearly a year. The second started with a budget of zero too. How did we do it?
In December 2016, my friend Connie and I planted Cypher Church. It’s a church built for the outsiders, people who would never fit or even notice Christian culture. What we had going in was our relationship as friends. We also had extensive existing relationships deep in the arts/music/hip hop community. From there, all we knew was Jesus was going to be our center, we were going to tell God’s story of redemption, and we were going to have events (services) once a month.We knew Jesus was going to be our center and we were going to tell God's story of redemption Click To Tweet
Our initial expenses? $375. $300 for the band to carry our cypher expression, and $75 to rent the venue.
To some this sounds like a single “outreach” event, but it wasn’t. This was our church that gathered once a month.
The results? The first service was incredible. From then until now, and everything in between, Cypher Church has exceeded my expectations. Not because the events are cool, but because it contains attributes of the early church that I’m having trouble recognizing coming out of contemporary evangelicalism.
Before you ask is a once a month event a church plant, note we don’t think it is. Rather, our chase is to build a core of disciples who call our church home, who then go and disciple others. I think it’s working!
Did we actually plant a church with $375?
Yes and no. We did plant with nothing, but had some help after launch to cover our expenses for a few more events. Part of it I bankrolled, part of it from people who believed in our attempt.
Is our approach sustainable?
Was it necessary? Maybe.
For us, we were both OK without a salary. (Which means we aren’t available to do the normal ‘pastoral’ duties like plan a weekly service or lead small groups.) It also meant we needed to build support from within (tough when you focus on poor artists). This is slowly coming online, but it does expose different kinds of barriers to be aware of. That includes:
- Money. We are bi-vocational (sometimes tri or quad vocational). It’s the only way to attempt new expressions. That also means we’re underpaid.
- We go without permission. The plant is non-denominational. You have to be OK going without dad’s permission. That doesn’t mean we don’t have oversight, but it’s by relationship, not denominational affiliation.
- We don’t center around service or programs. We don’t have the time or the money to have them.
- We have few barriers for new leaders and voices, which means we are often not on the ‘stage/platform’ as the central face of the church.
- We can’t fall back to our traditional (and safe) church experiences, which can be tiring at times. It also means there’s no inherited power the “pastor” has over people (which is a good thing).
- The risk of failure is high. We may not be around in three months, let alone a year (this is quickly changing for the better.)
I share our story because there are grand opportunities in your wake where the kingdom is already unfolding, and the barriers to join the fray are much lower than you think.
Is it achievable for you? Yes! In your context, in your voice, there’s something that can be done, some idea that can be lived out in full. You have permission to live out the gifts you have been given and explore your calling in full, even if it doesn’t fit the box.
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