For the last four weeks, our series Funding the Next Church has featured articles by leaders of new worshipping communities. These leaders have described new visions for Christian life together, and for supporting mission with money. Today, Rev. Sara Hayden explains the why behind the how of recent weeks, with a fine article about theology in practice. I’m particularly drawn to her suggestion to measure success by the biblical notion fruitfulness. Finally, on a personal note, I’ve just realized that I first met Sara almost exactly 10 years ago when we began seminary together. I’m grateful for the fruit that’s ripened in her work with new churches, near and far.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Flipping the Funding Model
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). In consideration of funding the next church, this wisdom hits the mark. This is a note to simply say, don’t give up on funding the next church.
I work as a mission architect with 1001 New Worshiping Communities, a nationwide initiative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a movement that has launched nearly 215 new church starts in the past four years. The work is exciting and enlivening. Fewer national funds support this work than in previous church-planting decades, and at the same time, this movement has grown more rapidly and engaged more diverse leadership (women and men of all ethnicities and backgrounds) in a greater number of local contexts than ever before. Coincidence?
Mainline denominations often supported new church development projects in the 1980s and 1990s through mid-council funding. In many cases, a single project was awarded close to or over one million dollars to inaugurate a new ministry, most often in a suburb.
My parents served as founding members of such a church start: a new Presbyterian church that offered the first progressive Christian witness in south suburban Kansas City in the early 1980s. During this new church development heyday, funds flowed into projects in new, developing suburban areas and the resulting architecture (both physical and corporate) successfully attracted a key team of leaders from already-existing congregations (first), who hired a visionary, full-time pastor (second), who moved to the area (third), and connected with individuals to form a core team (fourth), which launched a new worship service that attracted folks new to the area who were looking for a compelling faith community to be a part (fifth). Most of these projects are self-sustaining, large-membership churches.
Fast-forward thirty-plus years, and the landscape of our mainline church-planting differs in key ways: 1) belonging to a church is no longer a given or even an interest for a majority of Americans; 2) our synods, presbyteries, and denominations offer fewer grants and resources to inaugurate churches. But one thing is still true: At the heart of Christian community is our collective allegiance to a God who moved into the neighborhood, and showed us by experience what the kingdom of God, and thus life and its myriad relationships, can be like.
The question is not, then: how can a presbytery or synod provide a “[insert mainline denomination here] presence” in this specific context? –but rather, how is the gospel reading our context and enabling us to meet people where they are, to be in relationship with them, and to (all of us) journey together toward where God is calling us to be. If you can answer that question well, you have your local funding strategy. Living out this strategy is good stewardship.
Entrepreneurial leadership demands a commitment to place and a realization that relationships (local and communal) trump everything. Let me be clear: the strategic resourcing (coaching, assessments, cohorts, internships and residencies, even grants) behind the Presbyterian 1001 church launch project is designed to support leaders so these new communities and the leaders themselves can thrive. But ultimately, the next church exists on the front lines of a particular time and place. Diversified models of leadership (bi-vocational, volunteer) and funding (crowdfunding from people of goodwill both locally and globally, for example) enable more types of communities to thrive, because it enables the community itself to self-determine the model that works best for them long term.
When a project or leader approaches a national church or a funding partner with the expectation that the partner will fund something that the leader and community are themselves unwilling to fund, the result more commonly reflects the adage: “If you want advice, ask for money.” In this mixed economy of church (that meets people where they are in a particular community but also transforms) leaders need start-up funding, but they also need a budget ultimately locally raised and based on an awareness of the local economy.[i]
The church does not teach stewardship in order to float its budget for ministry that has not yet happened. The church teaches stewardship as a way of life. This will take time. But in communities awakening or re-awakening to God, almost nothing can be more important than realizing that your life, and all its assets, are a gift. The most important thing about stewardship–and the gospel–is not what it does for us but what it does to us.
At its best, new worshiping communities engage in giving both rigorously faithful and freeing (it is they and their partners, not a mid-council budget or a grant system, that determines the budget that works for them . . . and it also requires sacrificial giving, first and foremost, by the leadership team, including paid staff). If you are worried about the budget of your church, start giving. If you are not willing to give, ask yourself why anyone else would? Local partners of the church–secular businesses, schools partner churches, fellow entrepreneurs– follow a witness that whose treasure and heart are aligned.
If “fruitfulness” is the bible’s term for success, then the fruitful next church ultimately produces transformed people going out to be the witnesses of God to a both hungry and over-fed world. It looks like a community taking God’s story seriously enough to live it out when the worshiping gathering ends.
Check out the rest of the Funding the Next Church series:
Humbly Walking for Seven Years, And… by Jodi Houge
From Consumption to Collaboration by Scott Simmons
Partnering with New Congregations by Justin Grimm
The Great Login in the Sky by Andy Greenhow
Rev. Sara Hayden is the Associate and Director of Internships, Cohorts and residencies at 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency.
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