One of the greatest challenges most planters face is fundraising. Renting a space, hiring a worship leader, developing a website and hosting a block party – they all require money. And it can be next-level cringeworthy to imagine a sit-down meeting where you ask someone to take out their wallet. You don’t want to feel like a charity case, but you have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay!
How can you successfully raise support without feeling like a beggar or losing your soul? And how can you move from novice fundraiser to expert without any training? If you follow these five important steps, you can see God provide in ways you never thought possible.
1. Stop asking for money
This is the first step because without it you’re doomed. You might be thinking, “Wait? What? I thought this was an article about asking people for money?” No, it’s more than that. Our lives are about intimacy with God and everything a believer does should proceed from a heart of faith as an act of worship.
When you invite someone to support your church plant, you’re not really asking them to pay for your groceries or pick up the tab on the new sound board. What you’re doing is inviting them to worship through giving. In 1 John 3:17 we read: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Giving is an issue of the heart more than of a bank balance. Remember the poor widow in Mark 12? She gave more, even though she had less. Why? Because she gave in faith with a heart radically dependent on God.
Isn’t it a beautiful thing that God put you into a position where you can invite people to worship with their money? Instead of seeing yourself like a sleazy salesman, imagine yourself as a worship leader, inviting people to open their hands and join God in his mission. When this paradigm shifts in your mind, it changes everything. Instead of being reluctant to set up a lunch meeting, you do so with eagerness and expectation, because you get to watch God’s people act in faith and worship in obedience to the Great Commission.
Maybe they will give to God cheerfully, or maybe they will decide in their heart that it’s not the right season or investment. But whatever they decide, it’s not between them and you. It’s between them and God. So stop just asking for money and start giving the invitation to worship.
2. Don’t false start
A major barrier to successful fundraising is presenting a half-baked idea. When you do this, it’s like committing a false start at the beginning of a race. You jumped the gun without an official signal. When does this happen? When your heart isn’t ready, your vision unclear, your timeline not solidified, your budget not built. Why would you ever expect an intelligent business woman to give to an ill-prepared missional endeavor? One reason wealthy people have money to give is that they don’t make bad investments.
Consider the prophet Nehemiah. His 52-day construction project was preceded by four months of prayer. When it came time to give King Artaxerxes the big ask, Nehemiah’s immediate response was to pause and “pray to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4). He had wept for the city, developed a clear vision for the wall, mapped out a timeline and gotten very specific about the resources his project required. The plan was fully baked – with the essential spiritual ingredients of weeping, fasting, meditation and prayer.
If your planting prospectus is fuzzy and unsoaked by tears, you’re not ready. Push pause and go back to your prayer closet, because a false start will put at risk a gold-medal finish.
3. Develop a robust list
At this stage in the process, it’s time to break out the spreadsheet and brainstorm a list. Who can partner with you in the work? This is an important exercise that should take a full day to complete. Don’t just think about your present day friends and acquaintances. A big vision requires a big list of everyone connected to your life.
As Steve Shadrack says in the book “The God Ask”, you need to, “Go back and think through every year from childhood up to the present. Reconstruct and write down all the activities, clubs, teams, churches, jobs, neighborhoods and school classes you were ever part of.” And after you’ve done this, go back through and jot down every name you can possibly remember that was connected with these groups.
Over the course of years, you have connected with thousands of people. You might have lost contact with them, but an invitation to partnership can be the perfect way to give an update on your life and share what God is doing. It will take some time to gather contact information like email addresses and cell phone numbers. Social media is your friend here.
Finally, write a pre-call letter that you can send via snail mail, email or direct message. Make it personal and tell them your story. Let your contacts know you will be calling them in the next two weeks to set up a time to meet face to face. If you haven’t hit at least 100 contacts, you need to keep working till you have a robust invitation list.
4. Meet face to face
It would be nice if you could send out a letter and watch as the checks stacked up in your mailbox, but that’s not how it works in real life. Statistically speaking, less than 15% of people who receive a support letter will respond by giving. You don’t need to have a degree in economics to realize those are terrible odds. And it’s not because people are inherently mean or uninterested. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened up a support letter, felt impressed to give and then set it on the kitchen counter and forgot about it. People are busy and inundated with communication. Conversely, people you meet face to face are four times more likely to give to your plant.
And remember, you’re not asking people for money. You’re inviting them to worship. You don’t want them to just give you a check. You want them to join your support team. The No. 1 reason people don’t give is that they haven’t been asked. And they don’t want to just key in a nine-digit routing number for direct pay. They want to be a part of a story that changes people’s lives.
You are the teller of that story, so the old-fashioned practice of meeting face to face always trumps letters, emails and phone calls. Yes, driving to meetings and buying lunches will take more time and money, but the face-to-face invitation is the No. 1 approach of successful fundraisers.
5. Make your invitation specific
When I tell new church planters they need to be specific with their invitation to give, they generally squirm in their chairs. The response goes something like, “Shouldn’t we just share the vision and trust God with the results?” No, that’s not what you should do. That’s like pulling up to a Home Depot and telling a team member you want to build a house and expecting them to load your truck with the exact materials you need.
Several years ago a new planter sat down with my elders to share his pitch for a new church partnership. After the young man told the vision for his plant and the impact he hoped to make in the community, he concluded with no specific budget or request. In the end, we chose not to partner. Not because we didn’t like him or want to see a new church planted, but we knew that a lack of specificity would result in a lack of progress. Sadly, the church plant dissolved only two years after its official launch.
When Nehemiah cast his vision to King Artaxerxes, he asked for letters of passage and timber for the gates and walls. He didn’t leave the king guessing. How else would he know how to support the work? Likewise, when you meet with a potential partner, be clear about your budget and tell them specifically what your invitation includes. What is your fundraising goal? How much are you hoping this partner can contribute? When do you need the money? How will you keep them updated on the progress? Wise stewards know a clear plan yields a greater harvest, so don’t schedule the coffee meetup unless you’re ready to be specific.
And finally, fellow laborers, remember that God owns everything. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills – along with the balances of a thousand bank accounts. We serve a generous God who invites you to ask, seek and knock. Trust Him for your need and respond in joy as Jesus provides!
Published May 10, 2023