Is $2 million for church planting a good idea? Yes! No! Help!

I would love to hear today from people who know something about church planting. The Presiding Bishop has included a new $2 million line item in the budget document she submitted to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee, and I have had a difficult time forming an opinion about it.


On the one hand, the notion that the Episcopal Church has the energy and resources to plant church is tremendously exciting to me. I earn my living, in part, by helping churches use their communications programs for the purposes of evangelism, and once upon a time did reports on how parishes could make themselves more visible and attractive to the people of their communities. I never thought we’d see the general church commit itself to planting new congregations and—ugly neologism alert—worshipping communities. So I am tempted to celebrate.

On the other hand, as far as I can ascertain, this proposal to spend a healthy chunk of money was never discussed with Executive Council or any of the interim bodies of the General Convention. We know how much money the Presiding Bishop wants to spend, but we have no idea who will administer the funds. We don’t know who will be eligible to apply and on what grounds grants or loans will be awarded, or how big those awards will be. (If I were the bishop of a small diocese that paid its full 19% asking and saw grants going to big dioceses that paid, say %% to 15% of their asking, I imagine I’d be displeased.)

I’d be more confident in the whole endeavor, which I reflexively want to support, if it wasn’t first introduced to the church as a line item in a budget presented to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee just 10 days before General Convention is to gather in Indianapolis.

My enthusiasm for planting new churches is in conflict with my concerns about whether we’ve thought this all the way through. Well, actually, no. We haven’t thought this through at all. But I am not sure whether this is primarily a matter of thinking, or a matter of making a commitment.

Can people with some experience or expertise in the field help me out here? Is a line item funded by the dioceses and administered from Church Center the best way to go about facilitating church planting? Should those of us who are excited by this initiative just grab the money while it is on offer, so to speak, and trust that we can work through the details later? Are there unintended consequences to this approach visible to eyes better trained than mine?

I have to believe that the folks on the Program, Budget and Finance Committee are asking themselves some of these same questions. Who has answers?

Comments (9)

I don't have experience in church planting, but I do have several clarifying questions. Is it prudent to be making available funds for church planting when the church is changing? Will these funds only be used for brick and mortar projects, or can they also be used for other expressions of church? Does making these funds available tie us to the traditional way of doing church, or do they open the windows of the church to new possibilities?

No.

June Butler

I would certainly hope that "church planting" means planting "the Church," the Body of Christ, where we are not visible now -- not spending more on bricks and mortar.

I would certainly like to know what the plan is for that money. Do we even know that it's for grants and loans? Or to provide resources? Training? Plant a couple of pilot congregations? As others have been pointing out, it's not actually enough money to do a lot. But I'm inclined to say that the dollar amount seems appropriate. I do think that we need to start doing more church planting, and this is a step in that direction....but right now, I don't think that the Episcopal Church would have ANY idea what to do with a larger amount of money dedicated for church planting...!

So basically I just want to know what the plan is, and I think that we need that information before we can reasonably be expected to vote on it. If it's some kind of top secret plan (or if there is no plan at all!) that's not good. Unless the plan is something that strikes me as totally insane, I'm inclined to support this. But I think right now what would be the most helpful is training/workshops/resources for those who want to plant new congregations but don't have the resources or training to do that. It's not something that most (Episcopal) seminaries cover, and it is a rather different skill set....

Elizabeth Anderson

The Diocese of Dallas has spent $5.5 million over the last 11 years in church planting and realized a gain of only 2400 asa. This is roughly $2,300 per ASA. Or, 11 new 200 member congregations in which case additional costs accrue. It would be interesting to study this like an epidemic. Do those 2400 people represent distinct people all brought in through separate encounters or is there a string of connected "infection" so that one new contact resulted in three or four new people they in turn brought in?

If this is the result of 11 intense years at the local level, what plan has the PB in place to effectively spend this money among our 16 nations?

In my previous denomination, I was a church planter. The congregation I served started with 12 people and a five-year partial, diminishing, funding commitment from our denomination. Without that funding commitment, the church would never have existed.

Although there appears not to be a plan in place for the use of these proposed funds, I do expect that the very smart people in charge of church planting at 815 (The Rev. Tom Brackett for one), who are extremely cognizant of the current trends in congregational life, would be able to devise an excellent plan. I would hope that such a plan might include shutting out those dioceses who do not pay their full asking, since I don't understand why there are no consequences for that decision.

There is hard data showing that new congregations grow at a faster rate than existing congregations. (See p. 2 of http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/documents/FACTs_on_Episcopal_Church_Growth(1).pdf)

But in many of our dioceses, including mine, there are insufficient funds available to completely fund new church plants from the diocesan budget. Allocating matching grants at the national level would make it possible for our smaller dioceses to dream bigger dreams.

I have been astonished that previous versions of the proposed budget of the Episcopal Church, a much larger and better-funded denomination than the one in which I previously was ordained (UUA), have not had a national funding commitment to new churches. $2 million of a $100 million budget is nowhere near enough, but it is certainly better than nothing and it has my support.

And what about the churches that we need to water, fertilize, or those that should be uprooted?

Frdude -- please sign your name next time you comment. ~ed.

I have been involved in three different church and ministry starts. I'm in the midst of a new one and trying to figure out how to make it work with very little or no institutional financial support (surplus funds are simply not available at present).

In New York City, there is an independent church with worshiping locations at various sites throughout the City. Their worship services are full, growing, and have mostly 20 & 30-somethings. Their new efforts do not always succeed, but generally do.

They recently announced a new church start in Manhattan and have dedicated $900,000 for three years (this is an independent group with no denominational backing). While these kinds of things are more expensive in NYC than perhaps most of the nation, this is not outside the real cost of starting a new church - at least if we want a parish that remains viable and is able to contribute to the common life of the diocese, etc.

In addition to money, a church start has to be given at least 5-10 years in order to succeed, with few exceptions. Church planting requires long-term commitment.

If we think we can can start and develop viable new parishes "on the cheap" and quickly, we deceive ourselves and the money will be wasted. If the Church commits to church planting, we must have the patience necessary and put forward the money needed for long-run efforts. I believe it is vital that we do, but we have to count-the-cost.

Fr. Bob Griffith
Imago Dei Initiative

It's not enough to revitalize congregations. We need to think about new communities, and we need money to do it.

I am a part of a church in Chicago that was started three years ago and is preparing to open our fourth worship site (we don't have a building). We average around 120 people per Sunday at each of the sites, most of whom did not have church homes and many of whom weren't Christians at all when they came to us.

I don't know how the PB plans to spend the money, so I can't have an opinion about whether it's a good use of funds. But as a church, we have to start funding new churches.

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