How Much Does it Cost to Start a Church?

After struggling to plant a church in the early 90s, and sacrificing much to make it happen, I believe that it’s necessary for church plants to have the necessary funding to succeed. However, the big question is: How much is enough?

Most church planters would suggest that enough is typically a little bit more than what is available. However, there is a danger in over-funding, as well as under-funding for a new church.

Ed Stetzer notes that based on research of effective church plants: “The churches that received more funding for longer periods of time were overall less effective than churches that received less funding for shorter periods of time.” That is not the news that most of the church planters that I am working with are wanting to here.

I’d like to contrast two perspectives on funding. Stephen Gray has planted several churches and is now leading a church planting movement for the General Baptists. Neil Cole has also planted several churches and is now leading a movement that has started over seven hundred churches in six years. They present opposite views on funding.

Gray writes in his book Planting Fast-growing Churches:
Let’s not be shy about it: church planting is very expensive. If you are not willing to invest multiple thousands in a church plant, don’t even begin. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for”? Whoever coined that phrase must have been a church planter. If you are a denominational leader and you want to start a new church by rubbing a couple of dimes together, remember, “You get what you pay for.” The quickest way to kill a church plant. or at least doom it to a life of anemic survival, is to shortchange it. (p. 63)

Cole writes in his book Organic Church:
Too often we set up impossible standards for church life by importing resources that the indigenous church could never meet on its own. We create a codependent relationship, which is unhealthy and nonreproductive. Our resources are to be found first in Christ Himself and second in the harvest.

When Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful” this was meant as good news. Still, we read it as bad news, because it means that there are so many lost and dying people in the world. This is true, but if you were to tell a farmer that his harvest is plentiful he would rejoice at the good news, and so should we. The good news is not that so many are lost and dying, but that so many are going to be saved once we start taking the power of the Kingdom into their world. All the resources needed for a great harvest are already found in the harvest itself–finances, facilities, future leaders. All we need is to get out there an reap. There is much power in showing up. We neglect to remember the profound power found in just the story of “Christ and Him crucified.” We underestimate how powerful His resurrection is. (p. 179-180)

So Gray suggests that the amount needed to plant a fast-growing church will be somewhere within the $200,000 to $300,000 range within a two-year period.

Cole points out that Jesus told the disciples not to import resources into the harvest but to find all the resources they needed in the harvest itself.

I believe that church planters need to rely on the Lord of the harvest. If God is directing them to plant a church, than He will provide the funding needed, whether from the community, partnering organizations, churches, or missional employment. It’s time to expect God’s miraculous provision for accomplishing His work.

A few years ago, a promising church planter told me that he was shopping for the denomination that would offer him the most money to plant a church with them. Unfortunately the highest offer came from a denomination which he had doctrinal differences. So he accepted the next highest bidder.

Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Florida, notes, “Our two church plants are going to cost us about $2,450,000 over a three-year period. Some of this will be reimbursable and our church will contribute about $750,000 on the two churches.” In my opinion, that is too much money for too few churches. It is going to take the launching of hundreds of thousands of disciplemakers and churches to transform America. I wonder if God would expect this kind of funding ($2.5 million) to be released to start more than two churches.

For most church planters, the problem is not an abundance of funds; it is having a limited amount of funds. Steve Elzinga writes about this in Planting a Church Without Uprooting Youserlf

Denominations raise money to support the best church planters, who now have a short-term contract. Because this contract of support quickly runs out, most church planters, out of sheer necessity, look for the quickest, easiest way to reach enough new people to support them
How? By having a winning team. By building an inviting and user-friendly church. By entertaining the people with great sermons and music. By offering programs to engage both children and adults. (pp. 18-20)

It is not a surprise that the majority of church plants focus on reaching previously churched people (rather than unreached people) through attractional models. Without changes to long-term funding, this method will continue.

In Ed Stetzer’s analysis of the Church Planting Process among SBC Church Plants, he observed
Church planters consistently complained that they were under funded. Those who received part-time funding indicated that they would have been more successful if they received full-time funding. Those who received full-time funding wanted start-up funds. Those who were full-time with start up wanted additional staff. It is fair to say that funding was never enough for the church planter.

Will there ever be enough funding to resources a church planting movement
Melvin Hodges in The Indigenous Church notes that “a frequent hindrance to the development of the indigenous church has been the introduction of foreign funds into the structure of the work, with the result that the church depends on foreign aid for its support and advancement. This weakens the spiritual and moral fiber of the church, kills the initiative of the converts and dulls their sense of responsibility.” (p. 20) I am concerned that prolonged outside funding for church planters will have the same effect in America
When it comes to biblical economics, there needs to be a different perspective on funding the mission. For too many Christians and their churches, their financial resources are rarely connected to Jesus’ mission. Paying your tithe and getting your tax deduction can be very separated from actually contributing resources to “seek and to save that which was lost.”
In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne writes about how churches can “too easily merely facilitate the exchange of goods and services When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ.” (p. 159) It is time for individuals to open up their homes, their beds, their dinner tables, and be part of investing in the mission of Jesus
More and more, the model of full-time professional church planters will disappear. Instead, church plants will be started by missionaries who support themselves financially while remaining committed to making disciples who are making disciples. America will not be transformed by highly paid church planters, but by every believer together engaging in the mission of Jesus to multiply disciples all over the place When church planting and missional activity is no longer dependent on money, professional clergy, buildings, and physical resources, funding becomes less of an issue. Becoming independent of external funding must precede missional multiplication movements.

Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
1 reply
  1. Another World is Possible
    Another World is Possible says:

    Hey this is slightly unrelated, but if you’re a fan of Shane Claiborne and his book, then you should really check out the Another World is Possible DVD series. It’s a multimedia project by Shane Claiborne and Jamie Moffett (co-founders of the Simple Way) that emerged in response to their belief that things are not right in the world, and that they don’t have to stay that way. There are three DVD’s, one on war, one on poverty, and one on creation. You can find out more about them at http://www.awip.us.

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