04 Q&A

04 Q&A


Q: What are some ways you personally have dealt with financial struggles related to church planting? Based on these findings, is there something you would do differently if you had the chance? 01

Ray is the founder of Ambassador Church and Ambassador Network, a multiethnic, multiplying mission organization to support the church in planting new churches, developing leaders and consulting churches in a multiethnic context.

One of the most challenging ventures a pastor or missionary can do is to plant a church. It is a supernatural task of the body of Christ giving birth in a local community. But beyond the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, there are some natural challenges every church planter faces.

When I planted my first church in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the mid-90s, I had little training. I never took a class, received specialized training or had a coach to guide me through the process. It was learn-as-you-go and trial by fire. One of hardest trials was finding resources to support the day-to-day needs of a new church—needs like a salary, equipment purchases and facilities rental. Nobody taught me how to raise support. It was like parachuting into the jungle and learning to survive by faith. God was gracious in provision, but I had to learn the hard way what to do and not to do.

While training and coaching for planters is more developed today, funding is still a major challenge. Giving is declining among the younger generations. Churches are downsizing. Denominations are struggling. And while giving is down, demand for resources is increasing.

Based on this research, there are some things I would consider if I were planting a church in the 21st century.

First, I would look for support in addition to funding from donors. Creative bivocational work could be a necessary and strategic means of leading a church toward self-sustainability. Additional non-ministry work would enlarge the mission field of relationships.

Second, I would cut the debt load. While I value seminary education, I would reconsider putting myself in debt for a Master of Divinity. I might consider a slower and less expensive degree program.

Third, I would partner with churches that have a heart for multiplication and launch out of an existing ministry, rather than pioneering. Churches launching churches have greater resources.

Fourth, I would join a network or denomination that would provide both the financial and the coaching resources to help me succeed over the long term.

Every church planter, network and denominational leader should take this research to heart as we focus on planting more churches.

In 1997, Brian and his wife, Amy, moved to northwest metro Atlanta and launched West Ridge Church. West Ridge has grown to nearly 5,000 in weekly attendance. Since its beginning, West Ridge has been a multiplying church. They have now helped to plant over 250 churches in the U.S. and overseas. He and Amy are co-authors of It’s Personal, a book designed to help church planters and their spouses thrive on the journey of church planting. Brian’s passions include spending time with family, mentoring young leaders, and engaging in global outreach through community transformation and church planting. Brian and Amy reside in Dallas, Georgia, with their two sons, Taylor and Zach.

When my wife and I started West Ridge Church over 18 years ago, we made a decision to go into personal debt to help get the church off the ground. I anticipated that the church would pay me back at some point for this incurred debt. This was a mistake. That decision put a strain on our family and created tension for me, because the church could not pay me back for several long years. Eighteen years later, I’m blessed to lead a healthy, thriving church, but if I could do it all over again, I would not allow my family to go into debt to start the church.

One of the challenges common among church planters is knowing how to create an organizational structure that looks out for the pastor’s compensation and benefits package. Many planters feel guilty about making sure the church looks out for their financial well-being—but if those structures are not in place, it’s an issue that can create a lot of tension between a pastor’s family and the church. I faced this challenge for the first five years of our church’s existence. An outside entity like a denomination or a network can help young churches create healthy systems and structures early on to take this uncomfortable burden off of a church planter.

Q: In your experience, what role have financial issues played in church plants that have not succeeded? 02

A recognized leader in the Multiethnic Church Movement, Dr. Mark DeYmaz planted the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in 2001, where he continues to serve as Directional Leader. In 2004 Mark co-founded the Mosaix Global Network with Dr. George Yancey, where he serves as president and convener of the National Multiethnic Church Conference. In 2009 Mark founded Vine and Village, a nonprofit focused on spiritual, social and financial redemption in Little Rock’s emerging University District. In 2015 he became an Adjunct Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he also serves as Director of Multiethnic Church Development and Community Engagement in the Center for the Development of Evangelical Leadership

I’m concerned that financial models for church planting today are frontloaded, with church planters being told they must raise as much as $250,000 prior to launch. They have to launch big. They have to be financially sustainable within three years through tithes and offerings. But is all that really true?

Especially when it comes to planting in the urban core, such thinking puts an unnecessary burden on the church planter. It creates unrealistic expectations. Church planters do not need more pressure—or, more specifically, pressure to start big. Instead, they need to start thoughtfully. They need to be thorough and methodical, to grow at a pace that fits their context, to stay the course and persist through obstacles. And they need to avoid comparing themselves to other churches.

All this is with the goal of being sustainable within seven to 10 years.

Doug serves at Stadia as the Director of Project Management and Coaching, helping church planters clarify and implement their vision. He stands alongside church planters, leveraging his 15-plus years of church-planting experience to chart out a path toward realizing the God-sized dream of making disciples through church planting.

Finances play a significant role in church plants that close. For some, finances are the dominant reason for closure. For others, financial stresses are an outcome of deficiencies in other areas. For example, a planter who doesn’t contextualize the gospel will struggle to gain relational momentum. Or, without an adequate team to start the church, energy will fade.

The challenge is figuring out if financial struggle is the problem or a symptom of the problem.

Chris currently serves as the Executive Catalyst for Mission Orange County, which exists to mobilize and multiply churches in Orange County to collaborate within their cities to impact every man, woman and child with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chris is also a Senior Leadership Associate with Slingshot Group, where he is focused on helping Kingdom-minded leaders and organizations thrive. His passion is to help leaders and churches move forward by maximizing their focus, clarity and performance. Chris worked for 17 years as a pastor and champion of several ministries at Mariners Church in Irvine, California.

A lack of finances is a significant cause of burnout for a church plant’s leadership. On a regular basis, we see the toll financial issues take on the efforts of church planters. So often they become disillusioned and weary in the struggle to make a church sustainable.

At the same time I’m concerned that the dollar has become the focus. And therefore our model of church planting is inadequate—as though the entire planting strategy is dictated by the amount of money that needs to be raised. We’ve embedded in the mind of the church planter that success only happens if you raise a lot of cash, and that measure of success is not healthy or biblical. I think we need to get away from being so dollar-dependent and focus more on being disciple-dependent.

Q: The study found that funding with a built-in end date is correlated with greater financial strain on church planters. Why do you think this is, and what might supporting/sending organizations do differently? 03


Funding with a built-in end date can be troublesome when it isn’t contextualized. The tendency is to think that every planter will follow the same general timeline to sustainability. This is a misconception. You simply cannot have a one-size-fits-all timeline for funding. Each timeline must be shaped by the context of the plant and the planter’s unique philosophy of ministry. The planter and the organization work together to determine the timeline, based on these factors. For example, if a planter is starting a church in an wealthy suburban context, we can assume the timeline for sustainability will be much quicker than in an urban poverty context.

Secondly, planters have to be flexible and adapt to the reality of the church plant as it unfolds. Most church planters do not plan on having a small start to the church. They dream big! But when reality does not match dreams or plans, the planter has to adapt by adjusting spending and fundraising to compensate. An organization can support the church planter by building in opportunities to reflect on current realities and providing key resources like coaching, management teams and bookkeepers to help the planter identify and execute the needed changes.

Dr. John Davidson is Director of Discovery and Development for the Assemblies of God. With the goal of having a healthy church in every community in America, John helps to coordinate church planting and leadership development among current and future ministers.

A built-in end date for funding can create fear that may lead to desperation. And desperation often leads us to act irrationally and do things we wouldn’t do if we were thinking clearly. For instance, financial desperation may drive a planter to do whatever is necessary—even avoiding talk about finances—to get people in the door of the church, when the primary goal should be discipleship—even in the area of finances.

To counter the desperation, supporting organizations could consider flipping the script. Rather than setting a date to cut off funding, they could create financial incentives for planters who hit mutually agreed-on goals. That’s using a positive motivation, rather than a negative one.

Q: Most church planters agree that, in order to last over the long haul, a new plant needs to be self-sustaining by the four-or-five year mark. Is this true, in your experience? If so, why do you think this is? 04


In life, it typically takes seven to 10 years just to learn what the questions are, let alone to begin addressing them with confidence. So it is today with church planting. There’s no way around it—no shortcuts or fast tracks to developing a mature and healthy body of believers. If you’re trying to plant a church that reflects its community, establishes transformative work and creates economic systems to sustain that work long-term, it simply does not happen quickly.

Thus, it is my belief that it takes seven to 10 years for a church plant to move from survival to stability, and at least another five to seven years to move from stability to long-term sustainability. While a church, like a child, may look mature for its age, time cannot be learned; it can only be experienced.


Disciples make other disciples, and church plants that thrive are disciple-producing congregations. As disciples grow in faith, they sacrificially support the mission of the church. By the four- or five-year mark, the church has had time to produce multiple generations of disciples to support the ministry of the church.

Also at the four- or five-year mark, patterns and behaviors have become ingrained in the life of the church. If a church isn’t self-sustaining by this point, they must change their DNA in order to get there. That’s why it’s important for a new church to develop a culture of generosity from the very beginning.

Q: Based on these findings, what are two or three best practices for supporting church planters so that there are fewer financial strains on ministries and families? 05


When a church plant struggles financially, the planter focuses on the finances. That’s one reason Stadia believes strongly that coaching is a best practice for church planting. Coaching helps the planter identify the underlying reasons for financial struggles and then develop a plan to resolve the issues.

Stadia also gives fundraising training to every planter and sets fundraising milestones. Until these milestones are reached, the planter does not move out of the fundraising stage—which gives the church plant a buffer of resources at the very beginning.

Stadia has also found that planting in partnership with a network of local churches can significantly reduce the risk of financial struggles. Our planting networks provide funding but also provide a care network through a management team. When struggles happen, the planter has a relational network of mothering churches to help both financially and strategically.

We also provide bookkeeping and project management to church planters. This means there are expert eyes on the finances that can alert the planter and network to early warning signs. The project manager helps the planter create a financial plan to support the new church’s vision and identifies how much funding is needed from outside sources to make the vision a reality.

Finally Stadia provides care for church planting spouses through a ministry called Bloom. Bloom is a peer-based relational network that equips church-planting spouses to lead within the church and also offers care through peer relationships. Sharing financial struggles with peers significantly reduces stress and feelings of isolation. And sharing knowledge about how to handle financial and other problems means planters and their spouses get ideas from others in a similar situation.


First, train and equip church planters to become experts at sharing vision and raising funds. Too many church planters don’t have access to great training and strategy development, which takes a huge toll on fundraising and managing finances.

Second, help church planters find multiple revenue streams and partnerships for planting. Get other churches, networks and individuals involved in the church-planting journey.

Third, as Coach John Wooden always said: Be quick, don’t hurry. Too often church planters accelerate their efforts so they can pass an offering basket and have a regular stream of income. But when planting is hurried, vision and mission are compromised. We need to slow church planters down so they can focus on people, strategy and fundraising, which all lead to a sustainable church plant.

Fourth, we need more healthy churches to develop a heart for multiplication and then invest more time and resources in church planting. If more churches did this, we would eliminate many of the financial struggles common to church planters. The church growth movement forced churches to invest in facilities, staff and programs, and with these investments the church shifted to growth by addition—which is often more expensive than church multiplication. Growth by addition has hurt churches’ ability to invest in church planting.


First, good assessment prior to an individual’s decision to plant is critical for heading off some of the potential problems. Supporting organizations and denominations should strategically assess an individual’s credit worthiness and debt load before endorsing their plan to start a new church. Prospective planters who assess lower in these areas could go through a process of financial resourcing and stabilization before they enter into the stresses of church planting.

Second, those giving guidance and support to church planters should ensure that no planter goes it alone relationally or financially. The latter flows from the former—a church rich in relationships is usually a church on solid financial footing. Financial pressures are compounded when planters experience the loneliness of being solely responsible for the sustainability of the new church. Making sure every new church is in close relationship with a thriving existing church can help to alleviate these feelings of aloneness. When parent churches commit to shouldering the financial load of a new church, the planter’s marriage and family will know we’re not alone.

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Appendix A - Data Tables

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