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?