Commentary by Professor B: As I research/write a new course on “church multiplication and growth,” I am encouraging students to think of creative new ways to fund church planting. Having planted a church myself, as well as having written/coached many church plants, I believe the usual funding model is inadequate and forces church plants to be less contextualized. In the past 25+ years, I have seen that reliance upon external funding and external contexts often rob a church plant of its contextual intelligence.
Here’s an article published by Missio Alliance about this problem. I will be using this article in my new course to encourage students to design innovative ways to address it.
“The Big Problem with Barna’s Study on Church Startups and Money”
by Jared Siebert, Missio Alliance, 5/9/16.
… 5 Ways Too Much Money Can Rot Your Church Plant
Planters and denominational folk, please pay attention.
1) Excessive external funding can kill a church’s feel for context.
… Church plant structures and expectations need to be tied to context. Intimately. The best kind of church planting is committing long term to a specific location among a specific people group. We’re at our best when we tie our fate to people and place. It worked for Jesus and it will work for His church. Your life, your practices, and even your finances all need to be shaped by context. This is fundamental to incarnating the gospel.
Too much external funding interferes with this process. Tuning your communal lives to your context takes feel. It takes tension. To do it right your church will need to live somewhere between what the people want and what the people can afford.
2) Excessive external funding robs us of creativity.
You’ve heard that necessity is the mother of invention? Excessive external funding robs us of necessity. Without the tension created by necessity you won’t be as likely to actively seek out novel contextual solutions. Forcing your church, as much as possible – to be here in this place with these people – creates irreplaceable fuel for your church’s imagination.
This lack of invention doesn’t just affect the local church either. It spreads to the broader church too. One of the great gifts that planting gives the broader church is inventiveness. Less local innovation means less denominational innovation. Calling us to double down on the same old models should be a sure sign that we have a growing imagination deficit. More money won’t fix that.
3) Excessive external funding robs your church of its survival instincts.
The will to survive properly resides within the plant itself. Denominational coffers should never house your church’s survival instincts. Instead, the will to survive should come from a deep collective sense of God’s calling, love for each other, and your deep burden for the needs of your context. Your survival instincts have to be built together piece by piece over time. Too much outside financial support messes with this process. It can also make people outside your church the owners of your church. Not good.
4) Excessive external funding can mess with your sense of calling.
Planters would also do well to check their own motivations for church planting. The kind of planting work we have ahead of us will not be for the faint of heart. Reaching the hard to reach peoples in North American culture is going to take time. The harder to reach the more fruitless years you may have ahead of you. Are you ready to put in 15+ years with next to nothing to show for it? That’s not an uncommon missionary reality. Google it. It may soon be our reality too.
And for even more about this problem (and some solutions with examples), check out the Abingdon Press book, Growth by accident, Death by planning: How not to kill a growing congregation. Three of the above five missteps with external funding mentioned by Siebert are addressed with solutions in my book.