This article comes from conversations with a couple of guys who are both seasoned church planters as well as experienced sending pastors: Steve Nicholson and Michael Gatlin. And the financing required to begin a healthy church plant and sustain it as it grows into a self sufficient church is always a great topic with these two!
We asked these guys to give us some of their best wisdom on financing healthy Vineyard church plants over the long-haul. So whichever perspective you are coming from, either the planter or the sending church, here are some great thoughts you’ll want to pay attention to.
One of our goals is to help Vineyard churches develop a plan to reproduce over and over again, without completely depleting their resources or destroying the sending church. Being a great sending church takes a great deal of planning and intentionality. No matter how much you love the idea of church reproduction, you simply cannot give away your best leaders and the financial support that will follow them to the new plant without praying and thinking through the consequences and developing a plan for the sending church to stay healthy and live to reproduce again.
Steve Nicholson, senior pastor of the Evanston Vineyard in Illinois, has developed and utilized one plan which has allowed their church to reproduce over and over again—21 church plants so far. As a medium sized church that wasn’t overflowing with all kinds of extra resources, Steve wanted a plan so that they would “never hesitate to plant another church.” The plan works like this:
Once a planter has been identified and worked through enough of the process that the sending church is comfortable with their leadership, that planter’s tithe is set aside for the future church plant. Along the way, as team members are agreed upon and recruited, 50% of their tithe is also set aside for the new church plant. The other 50% stays with the sending church. Once the plant is released they gain access to those funds. This simple 50/50 plan accomplishes several things.
First, the sending church is alleviated from the need to set aside money from their own strapped budget to fund the new start-up, and the existing church is learning to live without the income slowly over time as a team comes together. Secondly, the new church leaders see how important their consistent giving really is. “With this approach, we have been able to do it over and over again and we have been reasonably happy with how it’s worked.”
Another plan that could be used separately or alongside of the first one is for the established church to consistently set aside a portion of its income for church planting. Michael and Brenda Gatlin, pastors of the Duluth Vineyard church in Minnesota, mentioned the way they designed their budget from the time the church was very small to support church planting both domestically and internationally. This budget designates 10% of the income to be used for ministry apart from the Duluth Vineyard: 3% goes to our national movement, 3% is set aside for domestic church planting and 4% is allocated for international church planting. Michael adds, “When we were a group of 40 people, that didn’t amount to much each week. But over time and as the church grew, those became sizable accounts that have allowed us to participate in substantial ways.”
New church plants also need to be wise about how they spend their money. Steve said, “Actually, I tell them not to spend any, or hardly any, of this money in the first year. Just wait until the second or third year.” He continued, “the first year is all about meeting people and drinking a lot of coffee, and meeting more people. If you aren’t meeting people in the first year, there won’t be a church in year two and three.” Occasionally, both Steve and Michael said that they may give different advice depending on the circumstances and strategy a particular church plant is using, but generally this holds true: save your money and meet some more people.
One particular area that church planters have traditionally been known to overspend is on a sound system. We always recommend that they keep it very simple in the beginning. Remember that the most important thing is to first gather and begin to disciple some people who might eventually want to hear what comes out of the sound system!
Here are three basic principles regarding the financing of a church plant.
First, spend less than you bring in. We know this sounds crazy, but give it a try. If you don’t have the money for something, perhaps it’s because you don’t really need it yet. Seriously, give it a try.
Second, it’s the people you have gathered that will fund the church plant. Ultimately in church life, it’s the people in the church who will contribute money. Many planters, and pastors for that matter, spend lots of time looking for money outside of their churches. But it is through the people who are a part of your church that you’ll find the money to do what God is asking you to do. The money doesn’t come out of thin air; the money comes from having people. Part of the reasoning behind Steve’s 50/50 system is to teach the church planter this concept early on in the process.
And lastly, consider being bi-vocational. We think in most situations it is very good for the church planter to be bi-vocational for at least a little while. This is partly because there is simply not much to do during the day time while people are working and unavailable, and it gives you the opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter. And you might as well add to your own personal income stream a bit. Make sure you decide on a job that allows you to be free in the evenings and on weekends so that you will have the opportunity to interact with people and actually plant the church.
We desire to regularly reproduce our churches in a healthy and sustainable way, and fund them to the best of our ability. What thoughts do you have?