Moving Toward Sustainability in Your Church Plant

By Travis Cunningham

How you teach, model, and celebrate generosity impacts the sustainability trajectory of your plant. Here's how you can help create a lasting culture of stewardship.

For Sustainable Ministry

When I was preparing to plant Story Church, I was constantly told to put our church on a three-to-five-year window to become internally sustainable. While I don’t think this is a model that we should perpetuate in modern North American church planting, I do think it is an approach that can help you navigate ministry in the current financial landscape.

From the moment we begin fundraising for our church plants, we are on a short clock for when we begin to lose external givers. So, as a result, we need to replace them with internal givers. I believe the way we move toward financial sustainability is through a simple discipleship plan.

A Culture of Generosity

Because church plants are disproportionally filled with new believers, we must begin at ground zero. This is why it’s essential to develop a biblical theology of money and stewardship. In your new believers class or membership process, begin exposing your congregation to what God thinks about money and how we should use it.

Cast a beautiful vision for what a generous life looks like. If all obedience to God leads to joy, then obedience to God with our finances should likewise be a joy-filled experience. Share regular stories of how generosity has impacted your life, church, and community. Create easy processes for people to begin giving for the first time or to set up recurring giving. All these are minor components of a larger picture of how we are discipling our new churches.

Here are three plumblines of how we can accomplish this goal.

1. Teach on generosity

Jesus says in the Great Commission to teach all that He has commanded us. We often think about how we should teach on the gospel, community, and mission. Do we also think we should be regularly teaching on money, generosity, and stewardship? Perhaps our frustration with a lack of generosity in our churches is a byproduct of our lack of teaching on the subject.

Here are some ways we try to teach on money at Story Church:

  • A weekly offering talk. On any given month, we will teach from the Scriptures why we give, how we give, who we give to, and what the impact of our giving is.
  • A monthly giving and spending update. We attach powerful stories of God’s grace in our church through our giving.
  • An annual three-part sermon series. We will usually dive into 2 Corinthians 8-9 and consider how we as a church are growing in our generosity.
  • An annual ministry report and plan. We look back on the previous year and celebrate God’s goodness to us through His generosity. We look forward to the next year and set some goals and a budget that we will prayerfully seek to accomplish.

2. Model generosity

As a church planter, you probably have a low income. You probably spend from your own pocket on church expenses often. This, however, does not exempt you from being a regular, sacrificial giver. Commit at least 10% of your income to the local church you pastor.

For the church organization, we are committed to at least 10% of all of our giving being sent out for local and global missions. This means we say no to a lot of things we would like to do. Through it all, this sacrifice is worth it because we want to model generosity as a principle we corporately live by.

3. Celebrate generosity

When most people think of non-profit giving, they think of the non-profit as a pass-through. What I mean is that people give to a non-profit for tax benefits, expect that non-profit to house the money for a short time, and then give it away to some other need like ASPCA or Habitat for Humanity. In the local church, though, the giving is almost always circular. When we give to the local church, we aren’t doing it for pass-through or tax benefits. We are spiritually growing because they give. People are being saved. New believers are being discipled. Kids and youth ministries are being launched. Local missions programs are being formed. Marriages are being restored. Addicts are finding recovery. All of this is the power of the gospel in a local church.

When someone gives to your church, he or she is enabling those stories. So, celebrate those givers and their stories. What we celebrate, we form. Therefore, celebrating generosity forms generosity. Steward the stories in your church and watch them multiply.

Sustainability in Practice

Your teachings on generosity can effectively come from the stage, newsletters, and social media. Remember, too, that you can instill these prinicples through smaller classes, counseling appointments, regular phone calls, snail mail letters, and one-on-one discipleship opportunities. These investments can be even more personal and powerful.

My hope for your church is that your vision will always outpace your budget. In your church planting journey, you will always seem to be chasing this elusive concept of sustainability. But what do we do when we fall behind? We wash, rinse, and repeat.

So, keep teaching, keep modeling, and keep celebrating. Trust in your God to supply.

Published April 22, 2024

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Travis Cunningham

Travis Cunningham serves as the Lead Pastor of Story Church in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. He is married to Katy and has two kids: Peyton and Owen. He earned a Master of Divinity from Western Seminary. Story Church was planted in 2019 and desires to see the Inland Empire region of Southern California transformed by the gospel of Jesus to the glory of God.