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Planting Churches Without Denominational Dollars

giving away moneyOne of the biggest changes that I have observed in church planting over the past four decades is the shift from denominational funding to local support. My first involvement in church planting was in Texas in the early eighties. At that time, the Baptist General Convention of Texas not only provided funding and consulting to new church plants they also offered building services including architectural plans and a staff building contractor, who helped to save construction costs. When I moved to Florida in 2002, the Florida Baptist Convention at that time offered combined support for new churches up to 68,000. This included start-up grants, monthly support and a land grant for purchasing property. This denominational support was in addition to any funds from the sponsor churches and individual donations.

Denominational financial assistance for church planting has dropped considerably over the past several years with exception to the thirty-two NAMB Send Cites, which receive the majority of the national denominational support and state mission offerings. One former SBC leader commented on this trend in a national magazine back in 2015. In the Christianity Today article, Ed Stetzer, predicted that the trend toward lower denominational support would continue:

"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."[1]

Sending Church Supported

Some sending churches have responded to the decline in denominational funding for church planting by reclaiming church planting as the responsibility of the local church and taking a more proactive role in church planter assessment, coaching, training and support. For example, SBC President J.D. Greer’s The Summit Network, offers a residency program that helps church planters to be better prepared to face the challenges of declining denominational resources:

"Residents begin with the vision of a new church. Over 9 months, we share with them everything we’ve learned about building a healthy, thriving church. We help them develop their vision, build a strong team, raise the resources they need, and develop the strategies and systems of a gospel-centered church. We help them clarify what kind of church God has called them to build in their city and how to make that dream a reality."[2]

However, not every church planter has the opportunity to uproot his family to move into a residency program. Others have chosen to respond to the challenge by simply planting churches that require fewer financial resources. In Orlando, it can easily cost one-quarter to one-half million dollars to fund a new church for just the first year. Church planters who are not able to raise that amount of money are often forced to consider other options. Two of the options proposed by Ed Stetzer are bi-vocational and organic church planting.

Missio-Vocational Planting

I prefer the term missio-vocational rather than bi-vocational. Bi-vocational implies a dichotomy between work and ministry. Missio-vocational church planting involves the church planter intentionally seeking employment as a missiological strategy for reaching their communities and funding their salaries. Missio-vocational church planters are usually compensated on a much smaller scale than full-time church planters. They usually seek full-time employment, which provides a steady income and benefits such as healthcare insurance and retirement. The church planter’s employment is often referred to as a Creative Access Platform by international mission organizations. The church planter’s job helps him to gain and build relationships with people in the community while funding his salary so that he can plant a church without having to heavily depend on outside resources. Churches pastored by misiso-vocational church planters often start smaller and grow slower than churches that have full-time pastors and multiple paid staff.

Organic Church Planting

This type of church planting requires no outside resources. In organic churches, there are usually no salaries to be paid and very little to no overhead expenses at all. These churches meet in homes, offices, and other places where there is no cost for the church to gather. Organic churches usually start small and remain small with the goal of rapid multiplication. They depend very heavily on lay leadership and a simple, quick leadership development pipeline. Organic churches develop processes for growing the next generation of pastors from new crops of converts directly from the evangelistic harvest.  

Well...

Each of these funding models has their benefits and challenges. However, when you get down to it – it really does not cost anything to plant a New Testament church. If church planters and new church plants simply live within their means, denominational funding or the lack thereof is not an issue. I am a huge proponent for using all of the resources that God provides to His glory. However, only in our recent history did we rely upon denominational funding to plant churches and we can do without it in the future.

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/january/rethinking-church-plant-funding.html

[2] http://thesummitnetwork.com/plant/

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