This is an idea whose time has come. It is easy, simple, saves money, and I think it seeds the mission of God in N America for generations to come: STOP FUNDING TRADITIONAL CHURCH PLANTS and instead fund missionaries to inhabit contexts all across the new mission fields of N America.
Traditionally denominations have funded church plants. They do this by providing a.) a full time salary plus benefits for three years, and b.) start-up funds for equipment, building rental etc. to a well-assessed church planter (read entrepreneur). The goal is a self-sustaining church in three years paying its own pastor’s salary and assorted sundry costs of running the church’s services. The costs are astounding, perhaps 300-400,000 dollars or more to get a church plant going.
Today, in the changing environments of N American post Christendom, this approach to church planting is insane. For it not only assumes an already Christianized population to draw on , it puts enormous pressure on the church planter to secure already well-heeled Christians as bodies for the seats on Sunday morning. This in itself undercuts the engagement of the hurting, lost peoples God is bringing to Himself in Christ.
Of course this approach worked for years. In the post WW2 period in N America, denominations were either:
a.) feeding off disenchanted protestant mainline Christians/ dormant Roman Catholic Christians seeking a more vibrant faith, or
b.) planting their brand in the ever expanding suburbs where there were no churches yet and thousands of young (mainly white) Christians were moving there looking for a church.
In either case, a young man (it was normally a man) with preaching and organizational skills could get a church rolling in three years.
A second wave of church planting began in the 80’s with the rise of seeker service churches. We’ll call this the “Willow-creek” effect. These new plants focus on “making church relevant” to boomers who had wandered away. Hundreds of mega churches were planted. These churches fed off the boomers who had been brought up in church, knew “The Story,” but had left. There were also a large number of dormant ex-Catholics and Lutherans looking for church American style. Also, surprisingly, these churches also fed off an amazing number of younger Christians who left their staid traditional Bible churches. Three years was doable in this form of church planting as well. It took a pastor however who had unusual entrepreneurial skills and organizational talent.
Times have changed however. The market of these various Christianized (in some way) populations is shrinking and all but saturated in N America. Instead we live in a society that is more and more post Christian, non-Christian, outside the orbit of the regular church. N America has become a mission field of its own.
I contend therefore we should NOT be funding the traditional Christendom based church plants. We should be funding missionaries.
Instead of funding one entrepreneurial pastor, preacher and organizer to go in and organize a center for Christian goods and services, let us fund three or four leader/ or leader couples to go in as a team to an under-churched context (Most often these places are the not rich all white suburbs where evangelicals have done well planting churches).
Fund these leader/leader couples for two years instead of three. Fund them only with health insurance (in the States) and a reasonable stipend for housing. This gives them space to get a job on the ground floor of a company, at the bottom of the pay scale, learning a skill, proving themselves. They can do this because they have certain benefits and a place to live for two years.
The goal here is NOT (I REPEAT NOT) to have self-sustaining church organization in three years. It is to have three to four leader/leader couples working together with jobs each that can offer 15 hours of labor to work together to organize and form a gospel expression way in their context. They will be self sustaining in that they all have jobs. They will be committed to this context/neighborhood for ten years.
These leaders will have time and space to then a.) get to know and listen to the neighborhood and the neighbors b.) establish rhythms of life together which include worship, prayer, community, discipleship and presence among the neighbors, c.) discern God working in and among the neighbors and neighborhood, d.)bring the gospel to these places wherever God is working. This includes reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, healing, righteousness, and new creation. D.) develop a way of bringing those coming into faith in Christ into a way of growth and discipleship.
I believe that you put three or more quality leaders together in one place for ten years you will have a new expression of the gospel i.e. a church in each context. Gospel as a way of life will take root. Many will brought into the Kingdom. Imagine what could happen if we funded 100’s of such teams.
THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE?
Many will say this is impossible. Where would you find such leaders? Who would sacrifice for such a thing?
a.) More and more “twenty-something” seminary graduates cannot stomach the thought of doing either a traditional church plant or going on staff in a traditional church. They are prime candidates for a new way of ministry engagement
b.) Such students can make more money eventually (give it two years) by going this route, have a lifetime skill, and learn how to be flexible and mobile in the market place. This only looks like hardship to those who still see with the eyes of middle class professionalism.
c.) This is impossible under the current grids of professional ministry. Seminary grads however need to be coached. They need to see they have marketable skills. Skills such as reading critically, appropriating, writing, speaking/presenting in front of people, being able to treat people with grace, respect. They can do this because the service industries (among everybody else) are clamoring for such skilled persons. The employers just need to get to know you. In the current economy then, the highly skilled must be able to start at the lower rungs of employment. By funding missionaries in the way proposed, this affords them unusual ability to learn a skill and develop at these bottom rungs of employment. Within two years their value is proven and they are being paid well enough to be self-sustaining.
So there it is. Laid out in full. To all denominations, individuals, churches that want to plant churches, benevolent organizations: STOP FUNDING CHURCH PLANTS. Instead fund missionaries. We can call it “Mission mobilization N America” or something like that (I ain’t good with names). If anyone is interested in funding this revolution let me know via this website! What do you think? Doable? What are the hurdles to overcome? I’ve got ideas, what are yours? Are people already doing this? Let me know if you would. Let the revolution begin 🙂