The Real Cost of Planting a Church

By Chris Dowd

These three aspects of funding a church plant will help you clarify the real cost of planting a church.

As soon as you talk about money and financial planning, you must dive into the details. When it comes to money for church planting, we need to do the same thing.

Let’s begin by doing a few word studies:

1. ‘Occupation’ versus ‘Vocation’

Words create worlds. These two words bring a lot of meaning and clarity to this conversation. The Latin root words, occupare and vocare, are the difference between a job and a calling: a space to occupy versus a voice to listen to. An occupation is something I “have to do,” whereas a vocation is something I “get to do.” Many are feeling called to church planting, but the thought of finding funding scares them away from even getting started. Due to funding concerns and fears, we are not planting churches at the rate our culture needs. In response to this need, consider these four major funding models in our culture today:

  • Vocational: The planter receives his pay from the church members and attenders through tithes and offerings. You are a full-time planter with a full-time salary.
  • Bivocational / Covocational[1]: The planter receives a portion of his salary from the church and the rest from a part-time job in the marketplace.
  • Trivocational / Variable Multi-Source Funding[2]: The planter and the church are funded through outside sources (churches, denominations, networks, etc.).
  • No-vocational / Volunteer: The planter is fully funded and benefited through a full-time job in the marketplace and does not receive any funds from the church.

Do resources come from the harvest, parent churches or the marketplace? The answer is “Yes.” Followers of Jesus should be giving and taking care of those who labor among them (Luke 10:7, 1 Tim. 5:17, Gal. 6:6). Parents care for their children, and churches need to plant churches (2 Cor. 11:8-9, Phil 4:15-18). It also is possible, not just from a pragmatic point of view but from a missional and philosophical point of view, that resources could come from the marketplace where you are living out the gospel (Acts 18:3, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:8).

2. ‘Church Starting’ versus ‘Church Planting’

Your cultural context and church planting model are significant components of this topic. You cannot divorce these essentials from the conversation. You must plow before you plant. You must adequately exegete your community before you determine the specific model to reach them, which directly impacts what kind of funding is needed. This issue brings up two different questions:

— Ecclesiological question: If the first step is to gather as many people as possible in one room at one time for a worship service to hear you preach, then it will cost a lot of money upfront.

“Launch Large” models require large launching budgets. For example, missiologist Stephen Gray has stated, “All that being said, if you are not willing to invest multiple thousands into a church plant, don’t even begin. Remember the old adage, ‘You get what you pay for’? Whoever coined that phrase must have been a church planter! If you are a denominational leader and you want to start a fast-growing church by rubbing a couple of dimes together, remember, ‘You get what you pay for.’ The quickest way to kill a church plant – or at least doom it to a life of anemic survival – is to shortchange it.”[3]

The problem with this strategy is that it tends to lead to church starting and not necessarily church planting. The planter begins to focus on raising thousands of dollars before he even starts and then reaching churched people through attractional models to be financially self-sustaining within three to five years, when network or denominational funding runs out.

— Missiological question: If the first step is to plant the gospel in a community and see how God multiplies disciples as He did in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26), then that funding looks different. In this strategy, the question is, “How much does it cost to plant the gospel”? If the calling of God is to plant churches and not start worship services, then what is the actual cost of church planting?

3. ‘Spending’ versus ‘Being Spent’

I love what Paul says to the church in Corinth: “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” (2 Cor. 12:15a, ESV) The phrase “most gladly” is the adjective hēdeōs, which communicates extreme joy. “Paul was not reluctant or hesitant to sacrifice for the Corinthians; he was thrilled, or overjoyed, at being able to spend and be expended for them.”[4] The church planter understands there might be financial and physical costs associated with this effort, but neither will prevent him from moving forward.

This idea also reminded me of one of my favorite church planting passages, in which Paul expresses his heart for the church in Thessalonica: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:8, ESV). Let’s take a closer look at this verse in light of what we have discussed.

Being affectionately desirous of you … you had become very dear to us

I love the bookends of this verse. All this effort grew out of genuine love for the people of that community. This passion is the difference between pursuing church planting as a job (occupation) or as a calling (vocation). Do you have a genuine love for the lost and the bride of Christ?

Our coming to you was not in vain (2:1)

We must understand verse 8 within the context of this chapter. In the first verse, Paul mentions that they came to Thessalonica. There are a few things to note here. First, “we” indicates “team.” Team members who are also willing to “spend and be spent” can help with the costs of the church. Second, costs also associated with a team coming and living within a new context. Here, I want to remind you that churches plant churches. Other churches gave so Paul could go and be among these people. (Phil. 4:15-16)

To share with you not only the gospel of God

There is no financial cost to show and share the gospel within a community. The goal is to plant the gospel and watch a community of believers begin to gather and grow together.

But also our own selves

This phrase is where we find the actual cost of planting a church. Yes, there are financial costs, and your stage of life and the model needed by the community will dictate just how much those costs are. But regardless of what financial investment is needed to care for you and your family and to invest in a new gospel community, it will always ask you to invest your life (Rom. 12:1). It does not ask you to give until you burn out and quit, but it will ask for all of you and your team. Pray to the Lord of the harvest for team members who are all willing to share the gospel and their very lives.

Because we love you, we came to be with you, to share the gospel and our lives. That is Church Planting 101. How much does it cost to live that out?


[1] Brad Brisco, Covocational Church Planting: Aligning Your Marketplace Calling and the Mission of God. (Nashville, TN: Missional Press, 2021), 15.

[2] Peyton Jones, Church Plantology: The Art and Science of Planting Churches. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 352.

[3] Stephen Gray, “How Much Does It Cost to Plant a Church,” February 24, 2012, accessed May 25, 2022,

[4] John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary (Chicago, Ill., 1994),

Published June 20, 2022

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Chris Dowd

Chris Dowd serves as the director of church planting at Liberty University and teaches both residentially and online. He is currently a leading elder at Bedrock Community Church in Bedford, Virginia, where he leads the teaching team and their network of church plants. Serving in state convention leadership since 2010, he has held various roles within the SBCV and most recently as director of church planter development. His research and writing interests include church planting, church ministry and theology, which fuels his passion for the local church. Since 1994, he has served in local church ministry as a communicator, a course charter and a coach.