Demystifying Church Planter Funding

By Clint Clifton

Before we start this conversation, it’s important to note that church planting isn’t always a full-time vocational venture. Many church planters choose to work full- or part-time jobs to support their families while church planting.

This is a perfectly valid option and has three significant advantages to it. Before moving ahead with full-time vocational funding, you should give some consideration to bivocational or covocational church planting.

Advantage #1 – Your work is not on a time schedule
Since supporting organizations only provide funding for a few years, full-time vocational church planters must concern themselves with the speed of their work. This adds pressure and stress to the already difficult process of planting a new church.

Advantage #2 – Evangelistic contacts often are more natural in a work environment
While full-time planters have to create or discover environments for developing new evangelistic contact, planters with jobs in their focus communities often have a very natural environment for friendship, discipleship and evangelism.

Advantage #3 – The budget for the church we are planting is much smaller
Financially speaking, the goal of a new church is self-sustainability. You are aiming to get the new church, as soon as possible, to the point that it can sustain its own ministry without outside support. Removing your salary from the budget of this tiny new church makes financial self-sustainability a much easier task for the new congregation. It also allows you to focus the bulk of your financial energy on reaching those far from Christ, rather than on providing support for a payroll.

Pursuing full-time, vocational church planting

Even given those advantages, some church planters prefer to give full-time, dedicated attention to the church planting venture. Generally speaking, candidates for full-time vocational church planting are those who:

  • Have some ministry experience or training – If you don’t have any ministry training or experience you shouldn’t attempt to start a church. Church planting is difficult and has a steep learning curve. You will do much better if you spend a few years learning church planting from someone who is experienced before venturing out to start something yourself.
  • Have a strong and committed sending church – Churches plant churches – that’s how the gospel has spread from the Middle East more than 2,000 years ago to where you and I are today! Just like the church at Antioch (Acts 13), compelled by the Holy Spirit, they sent two of their leaders to go found churches in other places. Do you have a church standing behind you? Do you have church excited to send and support you? If not, let me urge you to stop your church planting plans and find that kind of church to align with.
  • Have completed a recognized church planting assessment
  • Are comfortable and competent in fundraising – Utilizing their existing network of churches, denominations, family friends and coworkers. Let me be clear here: If you are a person who “hates talking about money” or “doesn’t like fundraising,” you should not attempt full-time vocational church planting. An effective full-time church planter also is effective getting friends, family and church to support them financially.
  • Have avoided excess consumer debt – I recommend that any planter preparing to fundraise have less than $10,000 of personal debt (excluding his home). This may knock many people out, but it’s an important factor to consider in the planning process. Church planting is not a lucrative occupation, and successful fundraising depends on the generous support of others. Though you may have many reasonable explanations for your personal debt, no church or denomination wants to pay the interest payments on your past choices. If this is your situation, your first priority is to get a good job and pay down your debt. Having a lot of personal debt doesn’t disqualify you from planting, but it should delay you. Once you are in a reasonable financial situation, you can start raising money for your church planting efforts.

If you decide to pursue full-time, vocational church planting, you should understand that your income will come from a variety of sources, not just one. Church planting is a lot more like NASCAR than it is like the NFL. In the NFL, you sign a contract with a team and that team pays your entire cost—but they also have full authority over you. You have one logo on your helmet and that’s your team logo.

If you are a NASCAR driver, however, your team budget comes from multiple sponsors. You may have a larger sponsor that provides a hefty portion of the budget and also has a lot invested in your success. Maybe that’s your Sending Church, your home church or your denomination. But you probably also have a lot of other folks who want you to be successful too. So you also may have a bunch of smaller stickers on your car.

Virtually every vocational church planter will need to have at least four types of partnerships in place:

1. Sending Church – Your first and most important partnership is with your Sending Church. Your Sending Church is the organization taking primary responsibility for your new church until it is self-sustaining, self-governing and self-propagating. Your Sending Church will serve as the collection point for all monies and is responsible for your general oversight provision and accountability as a church planter.

Tip: Ideally, your Sending Church knows you and your family well. They believe in your ministry and are willing to stick with you until your new church is up and running. When deciding on what church will serve in this role, it’s important that you not simply choose the church willing to contribute the greatest amount of money but the church with the highest level of commitment to the success of your new church.

2. Denominational/Network – This is your “tribe,” so to speak, the group of churches are most aligned with you philosophically, theologically and methodologically. Though denominations vary widely concerning the amount of funding they provide and the length of time they are willing to provide that funding. You generally can expect a financial partnership of three to five years that decreases each passing year, generally totaling between $30,000 and $100,000 with the majority of that funding coming in Years 1 and 2. Denominations and networks also offer non-monetary benefits like training, coaching, care and support.

3. Supporting Churches – Other churches with which you have some relational or denominational association will support you from their missions budget for a defined period of time. Minimally, you will need to secure four or five churches to “sponsor” you, usually at a few hundred dollars per month, although I’ve known some church planters to enlist as many as 30 or 40 supporting churches.

4. Individual Supporters – This is your network of family, friends’ coworkers and acquaintances that may support you monthly for a given period of time. Individual supporters usually give between $25 and $100 per month and usually commit to do so for a 12-month period of time.

Remember: As the planter, you are responsible for relating to each of these organizations independently. Each one has separate rules and guidelines about who they will and will not support and what exactly they expect of those they do support. Make sure you are aware of each organization’s expectations and requirements before deciding to move ahead in partnership with them.

Church planters regularly get into the process of support-raising without having done much homework, only to find out they don’t qualify for the organizations or that they can’t live with one of the required expectations or guidelines. Before seeking a formal partnership, be sure to read carefully all the materials you receive from these partnering organizations and talk with planters who are endorsed by them.

Hopefully this tutorial has helped demystify how church planter funding works for full-time, vocational church planters. If you have any specific questions feel free to reach out to me by emailing [email protected].

Published November 15, 2021

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar, a multiplying church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board. He is the author of several books and periodicals on the subject of church planting, including Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel Centered Church Planting Guide and Church Planting Primer and is the host of the Church Planting podcast.