One of the greatest fears of the church planter is running out of money before the new church is self-sufficient. This is especially true for the urban church planter. When I started the journey toward church planting I consistently found myself up against the suburban church planting model that allows for the new church to be completely self-sufficient in three years, including the six-month ramp-up period for the church planter to move into the community and launch a new church. The realities of the city are much different than that of a suburban community. In fact I was told on a couple of occasions from other urban planters that it would take at least five years before you could become a self-sufficient church. Although they were well-meaning, this only helped to stress me out, making the ticking financial clock sound louder and louder with each passing month. (If you’re thinking about urban planting, you will definitely need more than three years to become self-sufficient…unless through a miraculous act of God the community that is assembled is already tremendously generous!)
The fear of dwindling money can serve to create a scarcity mentality making you see your fundraising partners solely as bags of money. When I started IKON, I had 22 different churches partnering with me financially to make this possible. Twenty-two different churches from all across the country banded together behind the vision of IKON and generously supported nothing more than a dream. Now that’s a pretty remarkable collection of churches and by no means the norm, however it created several challenges for me that I was unprepared for.
Some things I realized:
1. Churches want a return on their investment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they expect hundreds of baptisms/conversions in the span of a few months. (Although this may very well be a metric they’re hoping for—don’t leave this unspoken.) Usually what churches are looking for is connectivity. They’re looking for a relationship that goes beyond sending money every month/quarter/year. They want their connection with your church plant to be something that helps their own people grow by exposing them to something new/different. This means they will more than likely want to send teams of people your way to help out in some way…a short-term missions trip of sorts.
I did a horrible job with this. In all honesty, I saw this as more of a burden than anything positive. I consistently viewed these offers of help as taking away opportunities for growth from the people of IKON. So I did everything I could to steer clear of the asks and instead of finding a win, separated IKON from opportunity.
Here’s the reality that I should have strove for. I should have seen this as a wonderful opportunity for the people of IKON to mingle and interact with other like-minded Christians from around the country. I should have seen this as an opportunity for these churches to help me ingrain the DNA of service I so desperately wanted for IKON. One missions trip could have ingrained more into the life of IKON than a series of sermons on the topic. Why? Because it would have been flesh and blood examples right in front of their eyes. This was a huge missed opportunity on my part.
What I needed was a plan, and that’s exactly what I lacked. If you’re a church planter, you need a plan for short-term missions trips coming to you. If you’re an organization, you need to help the church planter develop a plan. If you’re a supporting church you need to ask the church planter what their plan is. Here are three things I’d recommend be a part of your plan:
• Make your intentions to the missions team known: I want you to exemplify service to this church. You are here not only to serve us but be examples for us to look to.
• Create opportunities for your people to serve alongside the missions team. Don’t simply let the missions team serve and then interact relationally with your people in the evening. There needs to be co-serving and co-mingling.
• Make sure that you have created a missions trip template. What will all missions trips look like? You can create options for the teams to choose from, but you need to make sure that you’re not planning every trip that comes in. Bonus point: Develop relationships with organizations in the city that your people are serving in. When missions teams come to the city, have them set up a time to serve that organization on your behalf. This will save you time and increase your relationship with local organizations.
• Have someone from your church lead the missions team on a tour of the city before they serve the city or your church. This will give them a great deal of context. (What better way to develop passion for the city in a member of your own community than to have them share about the city!)
There are certainly other criteria to add into this list, but at least this gives you a starting point.
Perhaps a question for you to ask yourself: If you wouldn’t want the DNA of the particular church to be a part of your own church community, then do you really want them to be financial partners with you? If you don’t want the people of a particular church to interact with your own church community, then do you really want them to be financial partners with you? These questions may help you in locating the right partners…
2. Churches want regular communication. This should be a “duh” statement. I would say that I did a decent job with this at first, but as the rigors of the church came into play it became increasingly difficult to stay on top of it. In fact, it simply became just another “thing” on my to-do list. I’d recommend passing this off to someone from your church to do well. Remember that churches want to share with their people exciting stories of what God is doing in other parts of the country. They are trying to expand their congregation’s outlook beyond their own local community.
3. Churches want what’s best for you. If you’re partnering with the right churches, those that share the same DNA as you, then you can rest assured that they want what’s best for you. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help where you’re struggling. Partnering churches want to be more than bags of money, they want to be a resource for you. I wish I would have realized this and known what to ask for when we were struggling with various things. Unfortunately I realized this a bit too late. It was in our last year that I asked one of our partner churches to help us clarify and better communicate our core values. It was a tremendous experience and a wonderful help to us, unfortunately I waited a little too long.
Your partner churches are established churches that are doing some things right; highlight for yourself what it is that you think they are doing really well and ask them to help you when the time is right. Do you have partner churches that have a tremendous volunteer culture? Then ask them to help you develop that. Do you have partner churches that are knocking it out of the park when it comes to evangelism or arts or music or preaching or discipleship? Then ask them to help you develop this within your own community. This can happen in a variety of ways. Don’t think you have it all figured out because you’re a church planter…you need help and a lot of it. Partner churches can be the greatest resource you have at your disposal. Don’t leave it unused on the side of the road.
Fundraising partners are more than bags of money. They are valuable relationships that can help you in myriad ways. Expand your vision, expand your horizons, expand your understanding of partnership, and the scarcity mentality you’re wrestling with will soon be replaced with a vision of abundance because you’ll have more than you ever thought possible.