If your theological training went anything like mine, church finances were not on the radar. Maybe you eagerly accepted a call to church planting only later to realize the financially-heavy responsibilities of this call. Maybe you wonder if a church plant position will allow you to take care of your own finances while continuing to give faithfully to the church. Maybe you’re one of hundreds of pastors dealing with declining attendance and declining giving, while the needs in your community continue to grow.
You know who else found themselves woefully unprepared and (seemingly) under-resourced when it came to feeding Jesus’ followers? How about the disciples when they faced 5,000 men, plus women and children? The disciples looked at their need. Then they looked at some fish and some loaves of bread. The logical conclusion: Impossible, not enough. But Jesus tells them that they have something. He takes, blesses, breaks, and shares what little resource they have and God provides! Everyone ate to satisfaction … and there were leftovers!
I was financially clueless when I started out as a church planter, and I’ve experienced many challenges common to pastors along the way. But at each step—while planting new churches, leading mergers between struggling churches, and currently as an executive pastor of new church development—God has taught me how to turn to what’s at hand and to trust God to continue his mission.
The following are a few ways church planters might consider to begin steering their churches to financial health and abundant outreach. These small resources can be divinely multiplied for amazing results.
- Get help from within your church and/or network:Right now, there are trusted servants in your church who are called and equipped to teach you and guide decisions about the church’s space, systems, structures, and money. Are there accountants, financial planners, bank tellers, lawyers, or men and women who have run their own business or family’s finances with success and faithfulness? Find these people and invite them to help you learn.
- Minor in business:I don’t mean in your formal education (although, if you are still in that early phase of your training, taking a few general business classes could be extremely helpful). I mean that you should avail yourself of the vast array of resources that teach the basics of the business world, from economic trends to non-profit financing models to the role of social media in business. Here’s a good place to start.
- Practice, Preach, and Teach Stewardship:Your church is not in business for financial profit, but rather to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Nonetheless, Scripture has much to teach about financial stewardship, and this includes operating a church with the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and transparency. If you are growing in this area, then teach what you understand and welcome help where there might be opportunities for expertise from within the church plant.These practices must be connected with your own lifestyle. As a pastor, one of the most impactful things you can do for the financial well-being of your church is to commit yourself to tithing, even if you need to do so while becoming debt-free. While you do this, be transparent with your congregation about your commitment and the paths you took or are taking to financial freedom while continuing to give to God through the church. Here’s a great starting point for personal financial health.
Finally, pass on what you’ve learned. In a continent that carries massive personal debt as a way of life, many in our congregations need training and support in personal finances. If our congregations are not financially healthy, we will not be able to expect financial health for our churches. Excellent courses and training programs exist to help people achieve financial health. Invite members of the church who are called and who are already practicing responsible financial stewardship to facilitate a class at your church. Consider Financial Peace University, Crown Financial Ministry, Compass1 (with Howard Dayton). Here’s another starting point for the church world.
- Consider bi-vocational ministry:Pastors who work in a bi-vocational role are often able to reach a wider range of people while saddling their churches with less financial burden and freeing the church to invest more in outreach. If you have a sense of calling by God to do ministry in this way, a sense of community for accountability and belonging, a sense of being blessed by your role in spite of potential financial challenges and the demand on your time, and a passion for ministry and people, bi-vocational ministry may open you and your church to greater levels of outreach.