The Cost of Planting...
Can you think of a good reason NOT to plant a church? There are a plethora of good answers: a declining community, a bad location, no church planter or core group and no vision for reaching the lost. I am sure you could add finances to the list. While the cost of planting a church can be significant, it largely depends on the context in which one is planting. In 2002, we planted Northside Community Church in Knightdale, North Carolina, a suburban community just outside of Raleigh. The church planting team of 3 individuals spent roughly all of 2001 traveling to different Advent Christian Churches in North Carolina to share the vision, generate excitement and elicit support for the church plant. Our local conference Home Missions Board had also loaned Northside funds to plant. After our first meeting place fell through (a rented school auditorium), we rented and retrofitted a 5,000 square foot commercial store front in the heart of Knightdale.
Our monthly rent in 2002 was $4,500.00 per month. In today’s economy, it’s safe to say that the rent would be significantly higher. At the time, the Home Missions Board of our Conference had a difficult time understanding why our rent was so high. It did not take much to see the disconnect: most of the Home Missions Board members were from rural towns that were not functioning as a bedroom community to a large, capital city. If you simply factor rent and utilities only, the cost to plant Northside and keep it going for one year was in excess of $60,000.00. If you factor in salary for the planter, funds for outreach and marketing and a budget for ministries, the cost would easily would have doubled to $120,000.00 for one year.
Church planting can be done in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts. No matter the method or the context, there are fundamental questions that every church planter, conference and denomination needs to ask if they are serious about planting a church:
1). Where are you planting? This is foundational. When we planted Northside, we originally intended to plant in North Raleigh, an upper class area that was booming with growth. By the time Northside would have started, there were going to be 50 new church plants ahead of us. There was no need for a new church in North Raleigh. For many denominations and conferences, planting in an area where they once had a church can be a goal. If a church closed in that community, it is vital to assess the death of that church before jumping back in and trying to start over. A church planter, conference or denomination should be focused on where there is a need.
2). What type of plant are you planting (fast growing or slow, steady growth). While God certainly gives the growth in any church, a church planter needs to have a vision for what type of church they are planting. Using nature as an illustration, the sagauro cactus grows only one inch each year. On the other hand, a distinct form of bamboo can grow 35 inches each day. Climate, soil and location are no doubt contributing factors to growth, but the DNA of the plant is the ultimate factor. At Northside, we did not set out to be a mega church. Our DNA is focused on relationships, so size has always taken a back seat to depth.
What are your expectations/vision? I was once asked when I thought Northside was considered successful? I was not exactly sure how to answer that at the time. The more I thought about the question, I more I went back to the expectations and vision had for when we originally planted. A church planter and their team need to have clear expectations rooted in their calling. While these expectations are certainly subject to God’s sovereignty, a church planter or team need to have clear, measureable expectations in which to assess themselves.
Is Bi-vocational leadership an option? In many parts of the United States, church membership is on the decline. As a result, churches are no longer able to afford full-time clergy. Rather than viewing success in a church plant as affording full-time clergy, a church plant could consider moving the goal post with regards to staffing. At Northside, we have operated with a bi-vocational model of ministry since our inception. We currently have four staff members, all bi-vocational and this with giving that exceeds $350,000.00 per year. Our intent has been to be one inch wide and one mile deep in our staff focus. While this model might not work in every setting, bi-vocational ministry should not be relegated to declining or dying churches.
What is your leadership willing to bring to the table? Church planters, their teams, their supporting conference or denomination have to be all in. When I felt called to plant a church, there were three affirmations that I continually reminded myself about my call to plant a church:
1) I can’t stop thinking about it.
2) It’s bigger than I am.
3) I am willing to give my life to it and for it.
Our church planting team felt so strongly about Northside that we traveled for one year, visiting over 40 Advent Christian Churches sharing with them our calling. If a church planter view themselves as nothing more than a hired hand, it could spell disaster for the church plant. I often tell our congregation that Northside is worth a life. I believe that even more 16 years later.
However those questions are answered, the topic of finances will certainly come up. The truth is, there is not a one size fits all approach to financing a church plant. Church planters, conferences and denominations need to have an understanding of what and where they are planting and what will be needed to ensure that every effort is made that the church plant is healthy and thriving. Looking back at the year before the church was planted, I believe there was a lot of excitement and awareness that was generated in visiting churches and sharing the vision. Many of those pastors who are still around today often speak about that moment when the planting team visited and shared the vision. In some ways, you could say that Northside had a surrogate mothering relationship with 40 Advent Christian Churches in North Carolina.
From a conference or denominational perspective, I have often thought of financing a church plant akin to having children. My father once told me that if you wait until you can afford to have children, you will never have them. I believe the same could be said of church planting. While we certainly need to be good stewards with what God has entrusted to us, I suspect that for many, the unknown cost (financial as well as other areas) outweighs eternal investment.
How much does it cost to plant a church? Maybe the better question for the Advent Christian Church is how much is it going to cost us not to plant? (Proverbs 29:18)