Securing Funding for Church PlantingBy Bradley Bell
April 8, 2021
My favorite basketball coach was the one that nobody else liked. He wasn’t the head coach who made the decisions about playing time. He wasn’t the strategy coach who wrote up the scouting report. He wasn’t the networking coach who got you recruited by the big schools. He was the fundamentals coach. See? I told you no one else liked him.
From my first day of junior pro to my last day on the varsity, his mantra remained the same: “You’ve got to see the big picture.” Perhaps it was his military background, but the cadence of his mantra made most players ignore it (or abhor it). But for some reason, it caught my attention. Seeing the big picture meant more than just this practice or this game or this season. It meant doing things the right way, working hard in the offseason, and aiming for long-term goals.
At the risk of being a coach you won’t like, what I want to argue for in this article is that when it comes to raising funds as a church planter, you’ve got to see the big picture. It may not be flashy or provide the most immediate results, but it does invite you and others into a process that is less about “go fund me” and more about “go with me”.
Focus on Relationships
The idea of fundraising, especially in an American context, inevitably centers on the concept of a transaction. You need to raise a lot of money. Who can give it to you? Yes, ultimately the Lord. But it will come at the hands of donors, especially from among your home church, other churches, friends, family, and network. Which brings you to the transactional question: how do you get it? Better have a good marketing plan!
This approach, however, fails to see the big picture. Raising funds for something as sacred as a church plant must center not on transactions, but relationships. The first relationship I have in view here is your relationship with God. In his fantastic book The God Ask, Steve Shadrach points to the story of Nehemiah. There Nehemiah was approaching the most rich and powerful person on the planet to raise funds for his calling to rebuild Jerusalem. When the awkward moment came to make the ask, Nehemiah didn’t turn to his pitch deck. Instead, we read, “Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:4). Thus it was not a “man ask,” but a “God ask”.
Raising funds as a church planter is first and foremost an invitation to a deeper relationship with God, an opportunity to experience greater dependence than maybe you’ve ever known. That in itself is worth the risk.
This brings us to the second kind of relationships at the center of raising funds: those with potential donors. Let’s not over-complicate or sentimentalize this point. Simply put, the people most likely to give you money are those with whom you have some sort of relationship. Why’s that? Because they trust you. That means you need to have been investing deeply in relationships long before you enter the fundraising stage. Who are the family members and friends that have seen your genuine transformation and experienced your love? Has your home church watched and benefitted from your devotion and service? How has your passion for God’s church and God’s mission allowed you to connect with other churches? What networks have you admired and locked arms with in some way? If you’ve been sharing your journey with others, chances are there’s a surprisingly long list of people who would take some measure of interest in your road ahead. Invite those relationships to go deeper.
Supplement with Vision
Now comes a section that I realize has the most potential for interest—which is why it will be the shortest (my coach would be proud!). Let me say what you already know: vision is important. Church planting books that help develop your vision is important. Being able to articulate your vision in a compelling way is important. Seeing people give because they believe in the vision is important. But recognizing that vision isn’t the magic formula for raising funds—that’s more important.
Instead, I would encourage you to think like a missionary. A missionary has the vision of the gospel itself, but she still can’t treat it like a magic formula. She must contextualize it into the language and culture of the people. In the same way, you must be prepared and willing to communicate your vision according to the “language and culture” of your audience. That could be vastly different depending on if you’re talking to Aunt Alice or Denominational Dan. Just see it as good practice for contextualizing in your church plant’s neighborhood. Ah, there’s the big picture!
Build up Partnerships
What happens when you combine the principles of centering on relationships and supplementing with vision? It leads to building up what I would describe as partnerships. These aren’t just people who trust you, who get the vision, or who give some money. Partnerships are reciprocal relationships. They are a commitment to being an ongoing part of what God is doing. Without partnerships, when the money runs out, you run out. But with partnerships, something lasting is guaranteed to happen, even if the vision is realized slowly.
That leads me to a line that might sound crazy: consider not taking people’s money who you don’t want to be in partnership with. In the short term it probably will feel good to receive a large donation with no strings attached (or knowing you will cut ties down the road). But that’s not the big picture. The big picture is reciprocity—not just what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. I know, the thought of leveraging your church plant for the sake of partners may sound exhausting. But it means making an impact much bigger than just the plant itself. See that big picture?
This also looks like being honest about how much you actually need. “However much I can get!” isn’t always the most helpful approach. Perhaps this means raising a smaller amount in order to have a smaller number of partnerships or slowing your launch phase in order to cultivate those partnerships more deeply. It also takes into consideration the finances that will come from your core team who, along with your sending church, may be your most important partnership.
When it comes to raising funds as a church planter, it’s not just about this season. Do it the right way, work hard, and aim for long-term goals. Keep your eyes on the big picture and see what God does.