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I can’t get Julie Clawson’s words out of my head — 

We couldn’t attract enough people willing to give enough money to pay our salary and so the church failed. 

Julie was responding to Dan Kimball’s critique of missional churches as opposed to attractional churches.  Julie was stating a “crass” (her word) reality of church planting life — some new church experiments fail.  Or at least they fail to be self-supporting enough to sustain the attention of a staff.  

Julie explains that they succeeded in many other ways — 

Our church became family to each other – opening our homes (literally) and seriously caring for each other and for our community. Throwing parties for the “poor” and the mentally disabled, working to improve the local environment, helping the struggling get back on their feet. 

I like Julie’s apologetic for the missional community and encourage you to read her entire post.  I identify with Julie because Debbie and I started a church about 20-years ago, and it was hard.  Ours, however,  is a thriving, growing congregation today.  What’s the difference?  What do aspiring church planters need to think about before taking the big leap?  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Determine your church model.  Some church planting models are complex and elaborate — launch teams, property acquisition, extensive PR, and paid staff.  Others are simple — house churches are a good example.  If your church planting vision is more complex, then keep reading. 
  2. Realize church plants need money.  How much money your church plant needs is determined by your overhead (rent, materials, staff, programs, etc).  House churches minimize the overhead, sometimes completely, giving all their contributions to charity.   More typical church plants may have a launch team, months of preparation, and other start-up costs.   Good budget planning is part of good stewardship.
  3. Project your income.  Potential income streams are only limited by your creativity.  Some church starts open as businesses, planning that sales of coffee or art or books will pay much of the overhead.  Income can also flow from outside donors, grants for programs, attendee contributions, and denominational support.  Even our 151-year old church has a mix of income from offerings, investments, bequests, and special donations.  Bottom line: If you can’t figure out where your money is coming from, you’ve got a problem.  It’s not enough to hope it will all work out.  
  4. Evaluate your community giving.  In 2007 Intuit released a charitable contribution report listing the top 10 most generous and stingiest communities.  Might help to know where your community ranks in overall charitable giving.  
  5. Understand the implications of your mission.  Julie said they were engaged in “Throwing parties for the “poor” and the mentally disabled, working to improve the local environment, helping the struggling get back on their feet.” I don’t know their entire mission, but this one will not pay for itself.  If you know that going in, you can prepare to have income in place to pay for these ministries and more.  “Crass,” as Julie says?  Yes, but reality, too.  
  6. Monitor and adjust as you go.  We’re doing that at our church this year.  New churches are even more economically fragile than established ones so close financial oversight is critical.  If you’re not a numbers person (I’m not) find someone who is.  You’ll be glad you did.

Of course, what I’m leaving out here is the God-moment.  The economic miracle, the unforeseen gift, the generous benefactor, the Powerball payoff.  Okay, maybe not the Powerball, but all the others.  However, when the financial miracle happens, you’ll be glad you did all this other stuff first.  

No church experiment is a failure.  All attempts at announcing the Kingdom are commendable.  Some are just more sustainable than others.