I bet if I were to poll most potential planters in the country what their top three barriers to getting started in church planting, most would have finances as one of if not the top barrier in their list. A traditional church start-up can be very costly. There’s rental costs, equipment costs, websites, mailers, advertising, childrens ministries, events, coffee, and salaries. This is strictly a traditional church start-up. Many church plants are going to a house church/missional community model for planting which eliminates a lot of the above, but this type of plant is not for every planter. In fact, that might be a blog post for another time.
So, the biggest financial challenge is how does the planter take care of his family? How do you plant the church and put food on the table? Does the planter just plan on making sacrifices for his family to eat beans and rice and his kids will never do anything fun ever again? I don’t think this has to be the case. However, at the very least, the planter should be willing to do whatever it takes in order to see the mission accomplished. But, that’s a short-term solution. What about for the long-term? There have been a few days when we’ve had financial crises or worry about money, and I’ve wondered what it would have been like to work as a garbage man or sell insurance! Going to work in an 8-5 job with a dependable paycheck where work is left at work sounds very appealing sometimes. Those days the call to be faithful and to stay the course where God has called and led is often the only motivation that keeps me going. So, what options are there for the planter?
1. Bivocational Church Planting
Many denominations and networks are trying to plant more and more churches. The need to plant often exceeds the amount of funds available. So, one option to overcome the funding issue is to work bivocationally. This is where the planter works either a part time or full time job while planting the church. There are many planters and established church pastors who take this route all the time. It allows a pastor to bring in income and pastor on the side. It also takes a pastor out of the comfort of the office and meeting lost people. The major downside of working bivocationally is the time commitment. When one is working a part-time or full-time job, that’s time away from the ministry. Also, it’s time away from family. There’s only so much one can balance well, and usually most don’t have the discipline to juggle all three effectively. So, a man is either a bad husband and father, a bad employee, or a bad pastor. Bivocational work is often necessary or desirable even if it is not often ideal.
In order to devote more time to the church plant, a planter can raise money from other churches and individuals to help him spend more time directly working on the church plant. Think of fundraising as start-up cost to help get the plant off the ground. This is the route I’ve chosen to go with Redemption. At the time of writing this, I am a full-time church planter. I’ve connected with our denomination, other churches, and individuals who have felt led to partner with us financially to help us get started. Without the generosity of many, I believe we would have struggled much a lot more, especially in the initial phases. The benefits are that fundraising allows a planter to only juggle pastoring and family instead of secular employment as in the bivocational model. The downside of this model is that fundraising is often a labor and time intensive process.
Before we started fundraising, I developed a church planting prospectus, started building a list of people I knew and churches where I had connections and started reaching out to them. Whenever you are doing fundraising and partnership development, it can be a discouraging process. It takes hustle, intentionality, and being willing to hear “no” an awful lot. It also takes a lot of organization to know who you’ve contacted, who you’re waiting to hear back from, and who to contact again. Again, this is a workable option like the above, but I wonder if there’s an even better way to plant churches that’s sustainable for the long run.
3. Passive Income
In this model, a planter has developed a stream of income in a passive way. There is still some work involved, especially on the front end, but much less time and flexibility of hours. This may look like many things. Maybe the planter is one who comes up with ideas for real products and licenses them out to companies for royalties. It might look like selling digital products, such as ebooks or membership courses, running websites that generate ad revenue, or youtube channels. It may look like building a platform in niche industries where one can sell real products to those markets. With the way that the internet allows for entrepreneurs to be anywhere in the world and make an income, a planter could theoretically do the same. The beauty of this model is that a planter could develop a passive income stream well in advance before he plants a church. This would free him up to worry about the church plant and give him the flexibility he needs take care of his family as well as the church.
The downsides to this model is that it is a relatively new way to bring in income for a planter and his family, and there are not as many case studies (that I’m aware of) that can be modeled. But, I believe this may be the wave of the future for church planting especially as culture and the government become more antagonistic to church plants. It will be harder and harder to get fundraising for church plants when a church cannot get a 501c3. Who knows what God has in store for the future, but this seems like a great way for digital tent making for church planters and ministry leaders for the future.