If a church plant doesn’t become self-supporting by year four, it’s unlikely to do so. I’d heard this fact from Daniel Im based on research conducted by Lifeway.
As I prepared for a meeting at our church plant, now in its fourth year, I wondered whether this statistic applied in Canada. I looked up the Canadian church planting report, and discovered a shocking fact: 58% of church plants in Canada never become self-supporting.
Read that again. Even as a I type it, I have a hard time believing it. At the same time, I’m guessing that more churches in the States will have a hard time becoming self-supporting too.
We should, I think, respond in four ways.
The days of expecting a church plant to reach maturity in three years are gone. If we are going to plant churches from the harvest, we need a longer runway. Church plants are increasingly becoming mission outposts in which evangelistic fruit can take years to develop.
This isn’t an excuse. It’s a reality in our post-Christian society. Generally speaking, we should expect that it takes five to eight years to plant a church rather than three.
Every church should contribute to missions. As part of its missions portfolio, I’m convinced that every church should support church plants. As the runway becomes longer, the need for funding will grow. As more churches support more church planting, we’ll have the funds to cover the longer period it takes to get established.
As church plants become established, these churches can also begin to invest in the next generation of church plants.
Bivocational ministry is a great option in a post-Christian society. It can embed church planters within the communities they’re trying to reach. It can help create a church culture that isn’t as reliant on professional clergy. It can also relieve some of the financial pressure, given that salaries are usually a large part of the budget. Bivocational ministry can also be challenging, but every planter should consider it as an option.
Church planting doesn’t have to be expensive. We can and should continue to fund traditional models of church planting that rely on paid staff, rental locations, sound equipment, and more. We should also look at other low-cost, easily reproducible models. As Ed Stetzer says, we need to open all lanes in church planting.
Yes, we need more money for church planting. We need longer runways. But we also need more bivocational planters and creative models.
If you’re a planter, be encouraged, even if it’s taking longer than you thought. Keep going, and keep praying that you’ll become self-supporting. If you’re not a planter, please pray for those who are. In the coming years we’ll have to work closely together to see churches planted in a way that’s sustainable in an increasingly challenging environment for church planting.