I don’t want to presume that I know how you ought to start a church, but I’m increasingly less than satisfied with the kind of approach to church starting that takes loads of start-up money. Often U.S. church planters spend a year or two raising funds for the launch of their new church. Here are the reasons I think this is often (though not always) unwise. I don’t want to labor to prove my points, as if there is no other way but my way. Rather, I am laying out some considerations for you to weigh if you are thinking about a church start. At the end of it all, you have to follow Christ. Here are my reasons for not raising funds:
1. It has no Scriptural precedent. Church leaders (prophets and teachers, Acts 13:1-2) found out God’s will, and immediately sent Paul and Barnabas out planting churches. When Paul and Barnabas started a new church, there was no launch date. It began with whatever believers were there, immediately.
2. It frustrates the church planter. After all, God did not call church planters to be fundraisers, but to evangelize and to congregationalize.
3. It assumes needs the Bible does not demand. In other words, planters are often raising money for superfluous things. State-of-the-art media equipment has no real relationship with what God requires for churches to start, for instance. Church starts require an instigator and, if possible, his companions, along with a place to gather. That’s it. Formal elders are not even required yet. Leaders who begin the work may be accepted as elders later, once there is a group who can recognize a capable and qualified pastor (same as elder). In fact, all the churches of the New Testament began without them at first.
4. It often presupposes that a lot of money will be necessary for the future success of the church. This is an unnecessary assumption. Like couples who are only able to live on two salaries because that is the way they began their marriage, so churches who start with outside funding may feel they must have such an outside income to survive. For instance, if three staff members and rental expenses, plus upfront money for expensive equipment and seating are supplied for the first couple of years, it might seem impossible to live without such income when the funding is finished, and so outside help may be sought again. It is much more stable for the church to be self-supporting from the beginning, and it is entirely possible.
5. It builds upon the unnecessary idea that pastors must be paid. This idea can be debated on many sides, but I can say that, at a minimum, it is entirely unnecessary for the first pastors of a church to be supported financially. I believe this was the New Testament precedent. It is true that those who have an apostolic function among us (similar to Paul, for instance) would need support because they move from place to place in their church starting. But leaders who plant a church as a sort of church planting pastor should not presume to need a salary when there are no people in the church.
The concept of a church planting pastor is really not found in the Bible exactly, that is, the idea of a pastor starting a church that he will serve for many years to come. This is a pastor (and pastoral team) who is building a church around his leadership. I simply think that expecting funding is presumptuous of the church and the leader when there are few people in the church.
I suggest that church planters immediately begin their work, if they are approved workers and actually called by God. Beginning small, especially with a house church network model, requires no initial outlay of money. A church planter can either begin where he lives, or move to another location to secure a job, allowing him to immediately be into his church planting labors. (Of course, overseas church starting may not allow for being bi-vocational.)
For ease and companionship, it may be wise to begin with two or three committed families of believers who will make the church’s core. So, instead of seeking money for the venture, the church planter is looking for people—a family or two to make the journey with him. Once found, a church is begun overnight, and often future leaders are already in the group. No cost is involved.
A quick word here is advisable concerning some church plants. I advocate church starts in their simplest and cheapest form, but by no means am I suggesting that simplicity means little content, lack of biblical structure, carelessness in doctrine, or any kind of independence from the headship of Christ. Also, sometimes a family who is simply unable to fit in to a local church that is available may wish to start its own church with just the family. Such a practice would not be right in most every case, especially if the cause of the church start relates to the family’s inability to mix well with other believers on peripheral issues, or to be accepting of diversity.
What I am saying is that church starting is not to be all that expensive. Theoretically, churches can begin with no money at all. And if we want replication, this is certainly the better way to go.
I have oversimplified, but not much.
See Christ Fellowship of Kansas City for an example of a house church network.
Copyright Jim Elliff 2010