We often hash through the pro/con essentials of church planting through traditional and bivo/covo means. We don’t often, however, stop to consider the distinct advantages of beginning our church-planting journey by starting a non-profit community organization.
What if that path actually provided better opportunities for discipleship, spiritual formation, more effective metrics and ecclesial innovation, among other benefits?
Let me suggest seven reasons to plant churches by first starting a non-profit:
1. Better focus on a specific restorative mission
When mission is the organizing principle, it not only provides a clear vision for engaging the brokenness in a community, but it helps to produce an internal missional culture. This missional focus provides a filter that helps to engage people that are serious about making a difference in their community. Further, this reality is extremely helpful for a church planter’s health and perseverance. Church planters don’t usually experience burnout because the mission is too intense, instead they experience exhaustion from the drama of trying to please consumers and critics. Mission centered work helps to keep planters healthy.
2. Creates opportunity for ecclesial innovation
In the book, The Permanent Revolution, authors Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim write, “Mission is the mother of adaptive ecclesiology.” In other words, if we begin with God’s redemptive mission, there ought to be lots of wild and wonderful expressions of church. However, when we start with ecclesiology then every church looks like every other church. Further, when we start with church, we frequently allow our idea of church to govern our sense of purpose and mission. This in turn leads to spending too much time discussing (or arguing) about the forms of worship, church structure and types of programs and fail to recognize that our ecclesiology flows more naturally out of a deep sense of mission. Jesus determines our purpose and mission in the world, and as we follow Him into that mission, we should discover different expressions of being the church.
3. More effective metrics
When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets, and butts. While there is nothing inherently wrong with counting these things, we need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give or how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing?
The fact is these three metrics give no real sense on the influence a church is having on its community. Do the number of people who attend a Sunday gathering give any indication of the impact the church is having on an individual neighborhood or city? The answer has to be a resounding no! There is no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church or how large a church’s building is. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count. But we must be challenged to not count what is easy, but instead measure what is important.
When starting with a non-profit the church can focus on measuring restorative change connected to issues of poverty, housing, education, crime, human trafficking, etc. Further, when the church is focused on community transformation it can rightly give greater attention to metrics relating to empowering the priesthood of all believers to engage in mission rather than counting program attenders.
4. Greater respectability with the community
In a post-Christian context, where people are at best skeptical, and at worst hostile towards the church, a non-profit can provide significant “street cred” with those outside the church. A non-profit that seeks to bring positive change to the city can gain immediate access to relationships and resources in the city. A non-profit can open doors that would otherwise be closed to the church. Moreover, the non-profit will provide opportunities for non-Christians who may not be open to attending a church program, to engage in a missional endeavor.
5. Richer discipleship and formation environment
Too often, the missing component in a disciple-making environment is the lack of connecting discipleship and missional engagement. For too long, the church has associated discipleship with the transfer of information, often within the four walls of the church. In doing this, we have neglected the biblical mandate to go and make disciples. In other words, making disciples happens best “on the move.” Traditional disciple-making strategies struggle to form people as missionaries because the model extracts people from incarnational mission. How can we be discipled into the ways of Jesus if we are not engaged in the mission of Jesus?
6. Greater financial sustainability
A non-profit can develop a stronger financial base through fund raising and grants. There are many people, both Christian and non-Christian, who want to donate to a cause they believe represents the best use of their funds. There is an increasing number of people who are skeptical giving to a church because too often the majority of a church’s budget goes to facilities and salaries. In addition, a non-profit can apply for a wide range of grants that are not available to churches. Studies also show that a clearly defined mission produces better givers. When people can make a direct connection to their giving and the impact those funds have on their city, they will always be more generous.
7. Greater IRS oversight and accountability
Initially this last benefit might not seem like an advantage – but it is. Having greater oversight and accountability is seen as a good thing from those outside the church. Further, it can protect the church from potential accusations around finances because the church is forced to keep better records.
This article was first published at missionalchurchnetwork.com.
Published January 10, 2022