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.