Here are some proven numbers Church Planters and leaders might want to keep in mind:
The number one priority of the church plant needs to be evangelism. If we are simply shuffling Christians around from an established church to a new church we’re more than likely taking time from the one productive thing we can do here but not in heaven--reaching others.
Jesus reminded us, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”--Acts 1:8
A new church sets the evangelism emphasis early on. There is a one-to-one relationship between the outreach of a church in its pre-launch phase and the evangelism of that church after launch. If no one is coming to Christ before launch, don’t expect it to happen afterward. So, if ten percent of the launch team is made up of pre-believers the church can expect that about ten percent of its church will be pre-believers after launch. If twenty percent are unchurched before launch, then twenty percent of the congregation after launch will likely be unchurched.
The obvious application is, put evangelism on the front burner at the start. If evangelism isn’t put on the front burner, it tends to wane into non-existence pretty quickly.
The church plant will double its launch team when it launches. It doesn’t matter how large the crowd is on launch Sunday, when the hoopla dies down and the well-wishers go back home, the vast majority of new churches end up with twice what they had on their launch team.
This number has been proven over and over again for the last several decades. First Sunday attendance numbers are great for denominational newsletters, but they tend to be fairly meaningless. The church will settle in at double its launch team, actually double the launch team seems to be all the growth new churches can handle.
So we encourage church planters to secure at least 40 committed adults before launching. A 40 adult launch team would double to eighty and, with children, provide a base of about 100--a good size to get going that first year. Churches with less than 40 committed adults on the launch team tend to struggle with critical mass issues for the first two years--if not longer.
How can we maximize this number? Have two launches. Or more! In the third church plant I pastured, we didn’t launch until we gathered the 40 committed adults. We doubled that at launch to about a hundred, grew to 130 over the next several months, then had our “Grand Opening” and settled in at twice that. We were well on our way from there.
Established churches might keep this number in mind when launching a new service--40 committed adults to start is wise.
Most church planters will need at least three sources of income in our new economy. One source, obviously, is the tithes and offerings of the launch team and the new church. A second source is the outside fundraising done for the new work. But unless those numbers are extraordinary , the planter will have to look for resources elsewhere.
Here’s a quip from an article I wrote last year, entitled, “Only Two Jobs?”
Most of the churches we have started in the past couple of years require the planter to be carrying two jobs (at least). The economy has changed. Fund-raising has been a tougher task. Ends have been harder to meet. I started listing the planters we are serving and yes, most of them are working more than just the ministry job. I thought of our ethnic planters, and our planters serving in areas hit extremely hard by job-loss--most are bi-vocational. And I thought of our Growing Healthy Churches Network leaders--many of us are working at least two jobs. Hey, I’m working two jobs too! If you have a ministry job that pays salary, housing, insurance, retirement with loads of great benefits, thank God, really thank God! If you don’t have to work two or more jobs count your blessings. (And I realize that having two ministry jobs like I do is an incredible gift from God.) But in this changing economy, you might have to work two jobs (at least) for a season.
I am not actually talking about the spouse’s income being that third source--that often causes more family pressure than necessary. I am talking about the planter being creative in a changing culture and finding another job, another source of income.
In the past we typically encouraged planters to raise outside support for up to three years. I encourage planters to extend that to four years (if not five!)--especially if the church is focusing on outreach.
The good news about raising money for a church plant is we will be able to tell pretty early on how things are going. The good news is we are not asking for support as missionaries for the rest of our lives. But extending that support from three years to four years is not that difficult and it makes the money-issue a lot easier.
In the last two church plants I led, we asked for at least a three-year financial commitment. And at the three year mark we went back to some of our supporters and asked them to extend. The churches were both doing well, and in typical fashion, our denomination at the time cut the support they promised (Crazy, but normative for most denominations. Don’t get me started…) And I suspect they both would have made it without continued support.
But when we asked some of our financial givers outside the church to continue for a year--or two--some obliged, and many were excited about staying on the team.
“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”--2 Corinthians 9:23
Our support approached $100% the first year, then 80%, then 60%, then 40% and finally 20%. The last two years we had minimal amounts coming in from the outside, but it really helped us, it really took the edge off. And in our case, when we went to plant a third church, we had an easier time raising funds because many stayed on.
Years ago I heard a quote that has stuck with me: “When you spend nickels and dimes on advertising you get nickel and dime results.”
So here’s the principle: Invest more than a nickel on getting the word out about your ministry.
I realize that one ministry trend is to see marketing as opposed to missional and some churches proudly announce that they “spend no money on advertising!” That tends to be both not true and not biblical.
Churches that don’t spend on marketing always have some sort of sign, some sort of website and some sort of community presence. That’s called marketing, even if you find the term distasteful.
And Jesus was pretty clear that a missional and opportunistic approach is great, but we’re also to go to the “highways and byways”--Luke 14:23 (The Parable of the Great Banquet)
Getting the word out has to be a priority (See number one!) Does it reflect that in our budget? I encourage planters to take the money that would be spent on equipment and use it on advertising. We can beg, borrow and steal equipment. Well, maybe not steal, but there is a ton of equipment sitting in storage (in established churches) and on Craigslist!
Be wise, invest in getting the word out. I suspect that if you spent more (five times?) than you’re spending now on reaching the highways and byways, you won’t be sorry.