This week marks the beginning of a new multi-week series: Funding the Next Church. Lost in our squabbling over established churches, in recent years many mainline denominations have launched sophisticated efforts to start hundreds of new churches. These churches often don’t look like the ones in which many of us grew up. And most take a different approach to buildings and grounds, not to mention worship and community. The Spirit is up to something in these new church plants. Let’s learn together from their wisdom related to funding the next church.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Humbly Walking for Seven Years, And…
Humble Walk Lutheran Church started as an unplanned birth, out of wedlock. Like all births, it was organic. Like some births, it arrived without any labor classes or savings accounts. It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “Oops! Look what just happened in this coffee shop. Go with it. Live.”
I was there. I witnessed the birth. It was strange, scary, holy, beautiful. It also happened to be 2008, a time when a recession was kicking our butts and many of my neighbors were scrambling to reinvent themselves.
Really? We are going to bring a new mission church into this mess? God said, “Yes. Live.”
Seven years later, it’s still a mystery and a mess. We are a Word and Sacraments community: our weekly Sunday worship gathering is our center. It’s been there from the beginning and enables us to do everything else, giving us new hearts and new eyes. It also happens to be our smallest in terms of number of people. A remnant. Sunday worshippers are wildly generous–they use words like, “net tithe” and “gross tithe,” gifts we receive from the evangelical world (we also received these people from the evangelical world).
Once a month, we gather for big rowdy hymn sing in our local bar — by far our biggest assembly. The bar crowd is a mixture of friends of friends of friends, people from other churches, a few worship people from Humble Walk sprinkled in and strangers who hang around the door frame. We pass around empty water pitchers and invite people to support the event. They do, with great generosity. For some, this is the only connection with a church. Others come for the raucous, heart-lifting singing. Some come because they cannot believe it’s happening in a bar. With beer. And babies. And drunks wandering by looking for the restroom and getting sucked into the music. Nearly everyone who makes their way to our Sunday worship comes via the bar.
We spend our summers inviting people of all ages to gather for community building events in a local park. We tie dye, host ice cream socials, play kickball. For a week at the end of summer, we gather every night for a meal catered, served and eaten with our park friends/neighbors. We sit in the grass, balancing plates on our laps and breaking bread. It’s a gift to us to be allowed into people’s lives. We would never dream of charging or asking for money at the park. We give it away all day long. It’s not a program; it is life together.
How do we fund all of this? It’s a patchwork. We are still heavily dependent upon our church-wide and synod support. When we began, we were told we would have funding for three years–with the goal being self-supporting going into year four. Remember that unplanned birth? I don’t know any three-year-olds ready to be on their own. Heading into year seven, I’m not sure this is our year, either. We have generous partner churches who see us as local missionaries. I concur. I don’t think we would ever send a missionary abroad without support so it makes sense that we partner with and support local new mission churches. Our regular people in worship give whole-heartedly as do many online through our website.
Even with all this support, we have gone skidding toward the end of the year facing a deficit. So, for the past three years, we have done a weeklong crowdfunding appeal. Successfully. People give because they have had some connection to Humble Walk–many of those connections are solely online. People follow us on social media and use ideas that we have road tested.
I have no idea how this all plays out. We have a church on the cusp of turning seven learning to read and bike without training wheels. We continually follow where God in Christ is nudging us to go. We let go of things that no longer have life, freeing us to follow, unencumbered by what was and look for what is and what will be.
We trust that we will find a way. Maybe that way is you. Maybe you need to support a mission church in St Paul. Many do because it gives them eyes and hearts to see new things. So that you might live. So that we might live.
Check out the rest of the Funding the Next Church series:
From Consumption to Collaboration by Scott Simmons
Flipping the Funding Model by Sara Hayden
Partnering with New Congregations by Justin Grimm
The Great Login in the Sky by Andy Greenhow
Jodi Houge was a student at Luther Seminary when she invited neighbors to gather in a coffee shop for worship. Humble Walk was born. Jodi lives in St Paul, Minn., with her musician/baker husband and two daughters.
Upcoming Learning Experiences
Hybrid Ministry in a Post-Pandemic Church
Understanding, Exploring, & Managing Bias and Burnout
Mere Science and Christian Faith
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