When God was calling me to full-time ministry, I wrestled with the prospect of the financial impact. I had a well-paying job and knew our family income would drop substantially. I worried that we might not have health insurance and if my children would be able to go to college. Financial concerns are still common today as one out of five pastors makes less than $35,000 per year. A potential church planter must be prepared to deal with various economic stresses. The following questions may help you as you prepare.
In your personal finances…
Do you have confidence that God will provide, or do you fret about finances?
It took me months of worry and prayer to come to a place of faith. God spoke to me strongly through Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” These words came with a power that gave me assurance. We’ve never had much in the bank, but we always had our needs met including coverage for health care. Our children even graduated from college either debt-free or were free within a few years.
Are you a committed, cheerful giver, or do you give less than a tithe?
A leader in the church must believe in giving generously to God’s mission. I am glad that I had parents and fellow Christians that taught me to tithe. Because being a cheerful giver is basic to the Christian lifestyle, I only appoint people who tithe to leadership positions.
Have you learned to live within your means, or are you in debt and barely making ends meet?
Being entangled in debt limits a person’s ability to respond to God’s call to ministry, to move, or to just be generous toward others. Avoid credit card debt, large college loans for low-paying professions, and large car or house payments. If you are thinking of church planting, unload as much debt as possible. Your standard of living and personal budget should be similar to the people you are reaching. Don’t buy hastily; rather shop patiently and prayerfully. You can save a lot of money when you do research, compares prices, and learn to buy when things are on sale.
In your church finances…
Will your church budget include giving at least 10% outside your church or will all the money be spent on your own organization, programs, and people?
Years ago our church struggled financially, but we noticed a definite increase in our offerings when we began to give generously to various church planting missions. Perhaps the mission groups began to pray for us! Perhaps God knew He could trust us to be a channel of blessing to others.
Have you explored various options for support during the start-up years?
Many Vineyard church planters begin by being bi-vocational, but there are other pathways. I have a friend who did what many missionaries do and recruited about fifty people who pledged to support him at $25 to $100 per month. Then he sent out a regular newsletter to update his supporters with stories and prayer requests. Another friend launched large with around 100 committed people. His sending church gave them $20,000. Another model is to do a large-donor campaign where you personally share your vision with business people and pastors who want to bless the kingdom of God.
Have you had experience dealing with church finances or sought counsel on a church budget?
It’s good preparation for a potential church planter to sit in on a church finance committee. The following are examples of typical financial advice: Money spent on anything that fosters the building of relationships is well spent. Communicate clearly about your goals and vision as well as how people can contribute, and people will give. Seek counsel before committing your church to a building lease. It is better to assemble a good team of volunteers than to hire personnel quickly. Delay having a full-time salary if the church still needs equipment and supplies. The typical budget of an established church in the USA uses 45% to 55% of income for payroll, 30% for facilities, and 15% to 25% for internal ministries and outside giving.
Jesus said, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10). I hope these pieces of advice help you become great stewards of God’s resources. If you want to dive deeper into the topic of finances, check out Financial Wellbeing: Doing Personal, Church, And Vineyard USA Finances Well.