What I Learned as a Church Planter: Fundraising Partners are more than bags of money

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Church Planting
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
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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 towards church planting I consistently found myself up against the suburban church planting model which allows for the new church to be completely self-sufficient in 3 years, including the 6 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 5 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 3 years to become self-sufficient… unless through a miraculous act of God the community that is assembled are 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 strived 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 the 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 the 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. 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 congregations 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.

  4. 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 an vision of abundance because you’ll have more than you ever thought possible.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: To Partner or Not To Partner

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church planting partnerships

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network
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I have often been asked about my church planting story, “If you had it to do all over again, would you partner with an organization to plant a church or would you go it alone?”

I spent 5 years fundraising for, training for, launching, leading, and pastoring a church plant in the city of San Francisco. There are several lessons I learned along the way; lessons from failure, lessons from success, and lessons from reflection. As I reflected on this question of partnerships the one thing I do know is that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.

My initial purpose for partnering with an organization in planting a church was two-fold:

  1. I needed money to make this dream of planting a church in the second most expensive city in the country a reality.
  2. I didn’t want to walk this journey alone. Church planting is an extremely lonely endeavor (perhaps one of the realities we blind ourselves to the most) and I was terrified as I stared at this reality.

My two criteria for partnering with organizations (money and relationship) were motivated out of fear. This is a terrible motivator for partnership.

The partnership relationship is a very important thing for a church planter, especially for the non-denominational church planter. There has been a rise in church planting networks around the country fro Ecclesia to NewThing to Acts 29 to Arc, etc, mainly to fill the void of the denominational structure lacking for the non-denominational church planter. This is a good thing. However, when looking for partnership one must begin to look beyond money and relationship as the sole criteria because, let’s be honest: every organization has money and offers a level of relationship. This will not distinguish an organization nor will it set you up for a positive and lasting partnership.

There are 4 criteria that I would recommend investigating when answering for yourself the question of partnership.

  1. Do your core values align? This is the sing-most important question for the planter to ask. First because it requires that you, the planter, have done the work of identifying your own core values. As a church planter it is important that you are planting the church that Go has called you to plant, to birth the vision he has placed on your heart. It is all to easy, especially in the throws of church planting, to never identify your own core values and instead adopt the core values of the organization you have chosen to partner with. Secondly, as your partnership grows, an alignment of core values will create a greater sense of unity and possibility moving forward. If your values are not aligned, you are only inviting strife and challenge down the road, perhaps even at a crucial moment.

    When I say core values, I’m not speaking of the church’s core values but rather your core values. At this stage in planting there are no church core values (at least there shouldn’t be–there is no church yet). Therefore, you have to align personally with the organization you’re partnering with. Ultimately the organization is looking to partner with you, not your church. (This is a blurred line that can create some challenges down the road if your values are not in alignment.) If you haven’t yet concretely identified your own core values, I’d recommend checking out Kouzes + Posner’s Leadership Challenge Values Cards set. It’s a tremendously valuable exercise that will help you discover your Core Values.

  2. What’s in it for them? The second question you need to ask is what’s in it for them. I know that we want to believe that church planting organizations are altruistic and simply want to give you money and make you successful, but that’s not the case, fully. Church planting organizations have people to answer to, investors, partners, etc. For me, one of the benefits the organizations we partnered with received was saying they planted a church in San Francisco. This was a benefit, it looked good in fundraising letters, it showed a commitment to urban planting, etc. However, this was not the primary benefit.

    Most organizations have a “pay it forward” agreement that is written into their contract. You need to know what is being asked of you and your church moving forward. Some organizations require you to give 10% of your offerings for the next 10 years, others ask for 13% for 12 years, others ask for a “partnership fee” which can range from $5,000/year on up for the lifetime of your partnership. It’s important that you know what the organization is asking in return, that you’re comfortable with it, and that you can fulfill that agreement. (I would add, don’t be afraid to negotiate the “pay it forward” to something you can be comfortable with, that you can fulfill, and that won’t hamper your vision.)

  3. What is expected of you? This is a two-fold question, first what is expected of your time and secondly what are the metrics of success and expectations for your plant.

    As a church planter your sole focus should be on the church that God has called you to plant. The organizations role should be to support you however they can. Different organizations have different expectations and demands on your time and you need to be familiar with those expectations up front. These, demands/expectations are not a bad thing. The motivations behind them are good, whether they are training exercises of sorts, meetings that discuss the future of the organization, networking opportunities, etc. However, if you are expected to leave your city for these sorts of events more than 4 times a year it is more than likely to much. It will drag on you and it will drag on your congregation. Be sure to take that into account, your schedule as a church planter is already going to be hectic and to add in one more thing can be a tipping point towards burnout.

    As for the expectation of success, you need to know the scorecard the organization is playing with. This will dictate what their expectations are of you and you will need to play by their scorecard. So you need to agree with it. If you are wanting to start a different church than is typical for that organization then there could be a challenge down the road for you. I would recommend talking with them up front about their scorecard, asking whether they would be willing to toss their scorecard aside for the vision of the church that you have, and then offering them a replacement scorecard they can use to evaluate you with.

  4. What do other people say about that organization? When it’s all said and done, you need to ask others about the reputation and reliability of the organization. Don’t simply ask those who have successfully planted with that organization but also those whose church plants didn’t make it. You will gain a wealth of information and stories, you’ll hear the frustrations and the positives, and this will help you gain a clearer picture of what partnership with that organization will look like, and perhaps how they have learned from past failings. Remember it’s important to ask specifics, and be sure to ask question that stem from your concerns.

Remember, partnering with an organization is a two-way street. You are not only courting them but they should be courting you as well. Don’t allow the fear of money and the loneliness of planting be the motivators for partnering with an organization. You need to make sure you have a good fit.

If I had it to do all over again, I would still partner with an organization or two to plant a church. I believe in partnership and I believe in the synergy and momentum that partnership provides. I would, however, enter differently into those partnerships and as a result I believe the partnership would not only be more beneficial for all involved but more successful.