Bob Roberts Jr. one said that a church planter is somebody who can make grass grow on rocks. What he is getting at is that church planting means getting something going in circumstances that seem less than ideal.
When you start a church plant, you have nothing but a dream and a heap of faith that God will do something. At some point you will need to cast some vision around this dream, gather some people and get the ball rolling on turning your dream into a reality.
The next step would often be to gather the people who are with you for a midweek group (or potentially a Sunday meeting in a home), build some community, add a few more people to your number and establish some key values and DNA for the church.
Up to this point, money isn't that much of an issue. You don't need to hire any venues, and there is no need for the church plant to employ anybody. The only real costs you will incur will be cooking some meals and taking people for coffee, and these won't add up to very much at all.
This all changes when you reach the next stage of life - the public Sunday meeting. Hiring a venue is expensive. So is buying all the kit that you need to make Sundays work. As you grow your group numerically, it won't be long before it reaches the point where you can't provide the leadership you need alongside a full time job and the church will need to think of offering part time employment to you (or somebody else). At this point, money becomes a significant challenge.
Depending on what stage of the plant you are at, planting a church with no money is either very easy or very hard. Money should never be the be all and end all, but it would be foolish to pretend that it is not an important element of the church planting process. In this article, we suggest three things you should be thinking about when you want to plant a church but have no money.
How to Plant a Church With No Money - Think About Your Pace
When a church plant kicks off with a big grant from a sending church or network, then they can move much quicker to make a splash. There is the opportunity for the leader to be paid, either part or full time, and use their time networking, spreading the word about the church and accelerating community creation through spending lots of time with people. There is also the resource to hire a venue for Sunday meetings soon, to pay for adverts and flyering, and by doing these and other things you can create energy and momentum for a quick launch.
The blunt truth is that when you are broke, you just can't do it this way. Rather than starting with a bang, you need to put in a lot of steady graft to carve something out. Getting around people, making friendships with people in your area over meals, slowly but surely building trust and dreaming together with us is the order of the day for you. It isn't easy. You will spend time investing with people and get to the point where you think a friendship is forming, only for them to decide they want to be part of a church that is more established and better resourced. This is par for the course, and this type of planting requires the stamina to pick yourself up from the dust, and put yourself on the line again to build with others. Slowly but surely, if the Lord is in it, you will find a little group of people who resonate with your dream and want to be a part of what of what you are trying to build. Work with this group, build community, share lives and be church together. Don't wait until you have something 'more' but love and serve the people you have, all the while praying for the Lord to gradually add in the ones and twos and build you into something that has the capacity for more.
When you are planting with no money, the watchwords for you are patience, persistence and prayer. Believe that God wants to do something through you, but brace yourselves that you are going to need to put in the hard yards to make it happen.
How to Plant a Church With No Money - Think About Your Job
In order for you to move your church plant beyond the home, at some point you are going to need to solve the money problem. We will look at a few of your options for doing this below, but one variable that you have to play with right from the start is your job.
Gone is the time when church planters should assume they will be paid for their ministry (at least in the early days). Church plants with the capacity to do that are becoming rarer, and the need for planting is becoming greater. When the funds are not available for you to work full time for the church plant there are three other options open to you. Each of them has pros and cons.
The first option is to work part time for the church plant and supplement it with some other work. This is a very good option for planters when you have launched Sunday meetings and gathered a couple of dozen people (at Christ Church Manchester we tend to work on a rule of thumb that when Sundays launch, we try to give it one paid day and when the plant has grown to around 50 people it needs a second day). There are things that will need time investment to do, but probably not enough that would require someone to work full time. It would be much less taxing on the church funds than working full time. In the very early days however, this doesn't really solve your problem as it still requires money - the very thing that you don't have! Hold this as a good option for the future, but it probably isn't the best option to go for from the very start.
The second option is to work full time and do the church plant on the side. Whether or not this is viable depends on the demands of your job and what else you have got going on at your stage of life. If you have a high-pressure job and young kids, then it may prove an impossible combination - and giving the church what it needs would be at the expense of your family, which is definitely not a price worth paying. On the other hand, perhaps your kids have grown up and left home, or you are married without kids, or are planting as a single person. In this case, you might have a bit more scope to work and plant, especially if you work predictable hours and are able to put your work down when you leave the office. As well as thinking about the time demands of the job, also think about its impact on your emotional energy. Certain types of job are much more suited to being a supplement to church planting than others. One advantage of using this approach is that it probably leaves you in a reasonably good position financially, and you may be able to use some of your income to help fund the church plant. I know of one church planter who has continued working full time even as the plant has grown, and has used the growing funds available to employ others in the church. There is a certain leadership style required to make this work, but having a full time job is one way to cover your own bills and help pay for the costs that come with church planting.
The third option is to work part time and volunteer the rest of your time for the church plant. This trades some of the income generated in the second option for some extra time to invest in the plant. It makes it much easier to balance the competing demands of work, church and family, but it does so at the expense of tightening your belt for a season and living more frugally. Whether it is viable may well depend on your income, your costs of living and whether or not your partner works, but to the extent it is possible this would be my recommendation for those looking to church plant without much budget. A good balance would be asking your employer if your can reduce your hours to four days per week and then giving the other day to building the church.
How to Plant a Church With No Money - Think About Your Income
Having no money cannot be your permanent state of affairs in a church plant. It may be the case when you are first starting out but part of the challenge on you as the planter is to source the funding that you need to move forward into what God has called you to (the parable that Jesus told in Luke 14:28-30 could well be applied into this context as well as into discipleship).
The first place to look is the regular giving of the people that you have gathered. You want your people to grow as disciples, and this includes their financial generosity. Lead the way in this by giving generously yourself, and as you find others who are with you, have the conversation with them. Obviously this needs to be done with sensitivity and discernment. If somebody is on the fringe of your group exploring whether or not to join you, it is probably not the moment for the big financial pitch - winning their heart is a much more important priority. On the other hand, if somebody has decided that they are with you and are established as a committed member of the planting group then you should not shy away from having the money conversation with them.
The next obvious place to look for funding is your sending church (or network). Being sent is important because it provides affirmation of your calling and connection to the wider body of Christ. When they are in a position to do so, many sending churches try to provide financial help for those they send out, whether this is paying the salary of a planter for a time, giving a financial lump sum or even operating a shared bank account with a designated budget line for the plant until it is more established.
Often (but not always) when somebody is planting with 'no money' the issue isn't primarily a finance issue but a sending one, and the planters are trying to do something on their own that is disconnected from wider ministry. In this case the best option may be holding fire on the plant for a while and connecting in with a church that you resonate with for a season instead. As you become part of the church, share some of what you feel God has laid on your heart and receive their counsel and wisdom. They may have helpful advice for you and if they agree that God is in it, they may be willing to help you out financially as you go.
Even if the sending church isn't in a position to provide financial support there are other things that they might be willing to do. If they give you a platform to share about what you are doing, there might be individuals who could offer you some support. They may have old equipment that you could use, resources that they can make available or meeting rooms that you could borrow. They might even send you some people or give you permission to invite some members of the church to join you. In addition, you will have people who are praying for you, and this prayer could be the key to breakthrough in your finances as well as the other challenges that you face.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus - Philippians 3:19