Where do you find enough money to start a church during tough economic times? Starting a church in good economic times is daunting enough, but starting one during difficult times borders on foolishness. Foolishness or not, church planting has never been a sport for the faint-hearted. In fact, I have always called it the extreme sport of ministry.
But raising money for a church plant may be the most extreme part of this extreme sport because it takes vision — plain and simple — and a clear way to communicate that vision. Josh Husmann, lead pastor of a new church plant called Mercy Road in Indianapolis, raised more money in one day than the average church planter does in a year. How? He clearly communicated his vision at the recent Next Nuts & Bolts Church Planting conference in Ocala, Florida. And left with a $20,000 check.
All conference attendees had the opportunity to enter their church master plans and compete through a series of interviews with church-planting experts. In difficult financial times, Josh brought the key elements that unlock finances for a successful church plant.
This equation determines a church plant’s funding capacity:
(Vision + Leadership) x Networking = $ Capacity
Unless you are independently wealthy, starting a church will take more money than you currently have at your disposal. If you cannot raise money, you cannot start a self-sufficient sustainable church. The average church plant raises $100,000 in the first four years from outside support. Only 60 percent of those are self-sufficient by year four.[i] If a church is not self-sufficient by year five, it tends to represent a patient on life support rather than a vibrant life. You may love God with all your heart and know his Word better than Billy Graham, but if you cannot raise money you will not have a church in a few years.
Vision fuels finances. Without vision, you will always be driving on financial fumes. Eventually the fumes will evaporate, and the dream will die. One of the biggest lessons to learn in raising finances is that people give to vision, not to need. If you cannot cast a vision that captures the hearts of people, you will never have enough money to fund the church plant. Casting compelling vision is part of a fundamental skill set to raising money.
Several months into our church plant, we hit a financial wall. We needed $18,000 to continue moving forward as a church. Asking our small church plant of 125 to give a one-time offering to meet our $18,000 need was a God-sized request because they had been giving less than $1,000 per week at this point. This was a vision test for me. Could I cast a vision compelling enough to move the hearts and wallets of this small band of believers? Was this worth their investment?
After the service everyone was waiting around to see if we made our goal. I still remember walking in the back room to ask the offering counters, “Did we make it?” I still see one man’s face in my mind.
As he turned around, tears were streaming down his face. “Yes, we made it.” Relief engulfed me. “How much was the total?”
He looked at me and said the words that are forever etched in my heart: “They gave $50,000!” Vision fuels finances.
Vision must be clearly articulated in a church master plan. The arduous work of painfully writing out a master plan is part of your vision. The vision becomes clearer with each draft of your master plan. When it is complete, it’s time to enlist financial support.
Leadership accelerates finances. Financial supporters have to “buy you” before they fund you. Most supporters invest in the planter over the plan. Successful church planters should be entrepreneurial leaders who have a track record of leading people. A pastor can lead an existing church, but it takes an entrepreneurial leader to start a church from scratch.
In a study on the “Top Issues Church Planters Face,” leadership was cited as the number one issue. The report was a result of listening to over 40 national leaders who have over 600 years of cumulative experience working with hundreds of planters. According to the study, “Leadership development is viewed by most planters as a non-negotiable obstacle to becoming financially viable and growing the church.”[ii]
Your leadership ability will accelerate or stagnate your church plant. If no one is following you, you are just taking a walk. A planter must develop their leadership while building partnerships to move forward.
There are three levels of partnerships:
- Prayer partners
- Financial partners
- Launch team
Some will be your prayer team, which is critical for the success of the church. Some will be your financial team, who will make the dream a reality. Some will be called by God to join you in the new church. Some may be all three, and all are critical for a successful launch.
When God calls an individual to start a church, be encouraged that he is simultaneously speaking to others about funding the church. The church planter’s job is to find those people and churches. This is the time to cash in all the relational chips in your life. God has prepared you for this season and this calling. Contact every person you know who likes you: friends, family, ministry connections, college roommates, and launch team.
Utilize Facebook, Twitter, email, snail mail, and any other means to contact everyone you know or have known about the new church plant. Leave no rock unturned. Do not say “no” for them. You have no idea who God is speaking to about partnering with you.
Networking exponentially increases your funding capacity.
It’s not what you know, and it’s not who you know; but it’s who knows you that counts. If you have not learned the power of networking, stop what you are doing and read Jeffrey Gitomer’s book The Little Black Book of Connections, and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Your networking ability could catapult or cripple a new church start.
Many church planters have limited network relationships. An under-networked planter needs to get involved with church-planting organizations, training opportunities, coaching networks, denominational training, and church-planting conferences. Meet people and ask questions. Be a learner, not just another church planter looking for a handout. Everybody wants money, but few want wisdom. Seek wisdom, and money will follow.
There are two levels of financial support: individual and organizations, including denominations. Individuals will give because they love you; churches, denominations, and larger organizations will give because they trust your leadership and plan. Focus the majority of your fundraising time on organizations over individuals. Individuals tend to give dollars while organizations give thousands of dollars.
Learn to broaden the net of fundraising. After every appointment, ask the question, “Do you know anyone else who may be interested in this church plant or has a heart for this city?” Every person is the potential door to a group of partners in this calling God has put on your life.
The best method developed in recent years is a “Partner Meeting.” Steve Stroope, pastor of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, first introduced me to this concept in 2002, when we partnered to launch Journey Church in New York City. We have since partnered with several other church plants together.
A partner meeting is an onsite vision tour for financial partners and potential financial partners. This is a time to put your vision on steroids and show how God is going to use you to build a church in this particular city.
Build your partnership team on the mall concept. Malls secure their anchor stores before they begin construction, and then fill in with smaller stores. Work diligently to secure the right “Anchor Partners” for your new church. Partners bring prospective partners. Potential financial partners want to know who else is committed to this plant financially. For example, when I know that Lake Pointe Church is financially committed to a church plant, I am more confident of the plant’s ability to succeed. Ask your financial partners who else they think might be interested.
Set a date and invite all financial partners and potential partners to a meeting in your city. For a successful partner meeting, you must plan it carefully and include times to socialize, like lunch or dinner, a vision tour of your area with possible locations you have researched, and a business meeting to discuss your master plan and financial requirements to launch your church. The church planter leads the vision tour and master plan presentation, and asks the “Anchor Partner” to lead the budget meeting. An Anchor Partner is already financially committed and can invite others to commit financially with them. If a partner does not commit at the meeting, then follow up one week after the meeting to ask for the commitment.
Raising financial support will be one of your greatest challenges, as you ask potential partners to give to the vision that God has called you to lead. As you ask, remember that you are speaking for hundreds that don’t yet know Christ in your city. Eternity rides on your audacity to boldly ask people to financially join you.
[i] Center for Missional Research study, Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007
[ii] Exponential & Ed Stetzer study, The 7 Top Issues Church Planters Face, January 2011