Finance Fridays: Church Planting and Finances

Earlier this week I was asked what are the top five things that I think church planters need to know when it comes to church finances.  It was a great question, and after giving it some thought this is what I came up with:

  1. Fundraising. Let’s face it, starting a ministry from scratch can be expensive.  Even if you do it on the cheap, church planting is a a costly endeavor.  Fundraising can be exciting, energizing, and motivating or it can be a grind that sucks the life out of you.  More than likely it will be both.  In the initial stages of church planting you need to be investing a minimum of 50% of your time into developing the resources that you will need to plant the church.  This is not something that you can delegate, this is not something that will just happen.  Fundraising is hard work, but it is worth every minute invested into it.
  2. Salaries. Regardless of what you might think, your salary is not enough and you need to increase it.  I can not tell you how many conversations that I have with church planters that go like this: “well, I can sacrifice for the first few years and my family of 12 can scrape by on $15,000 a year… it’s for the church.”  The numbers may have been changed to protect the innocent, but the concept is valid.  Church planters are used to doing crazy things… otherwise you would not be planting a church in the first place.  While it sounds noble to scrimp on your salary early on in a plant resist the urge.  Why?  You will be starting a fresh work of Christ in a place that needs Jesus… there is nothing the enemy will not throw at you in an attempt to stop that work before it ever starts.  In my time as a church planter we ran into all sorts of crazy things: slashed tires on my wife’s car, bail agents visiting my home in the middle of the night, and sketchy characters attempting to extort money from the church were just the beginning.  With all the stress that you and your family will be facing in this effort why add to it with the monthly worry about making ends meet.  And let me just put an end to something now, thinking “I really don’t need to raise ALL that money… I will just take a smaller salary” is not wisdom, it is laziness.
  3. Reserve Fund. Many church plants are funded heavier in the early days than in the later stages of a plant.  Stashing some of that money in a reserve fund is not only wise, it will probably save your ministry at least once in your first five years.  I recommend putting aside somewhere around three to six months worth of expenses into a savings account.  I used the ING Business Savings account and earned a little interest on ours.  Why is this so important?  A plant has very little history to draw off of when planning out its’ spending.  You have no idea about whether your donors will drop off in the summer for a few months, or if they will continue to give regularly.  A reserve fund will protect your cash flow in case of a sudden giving drop off whether it is due to the summer vacation season, a natural disaster, or just three weeks of blizzards in the winter time.
  4. Modeling Generosity. A huge part of church leadership is modeling generosity.  If you are not giving to your church, whatever the reason, you will not be able to ask others to give with any effectiveness.  This is part of number two above.  If you are not able to be generous with the funds that God has entrusted to you, whether it is tithing to the church or giving above and beyond that initial tithe, you will not be leading a generous church.
  5. Enabling. Call this one playing the martyr.  If you are enabling a church’s bad habits by over giving or over extending yourself financially and emotionally you are doing more harm to your church than good.  As the pastor of a church plant the burden of leadership is huge… but it also has limits.  If you are giving an inordinate percentage of the church’s total budget, or are consistently finding yourself paying church expenses out of your pocket because the money is just not there it is time to rethink how you are doing things.  Whether the initial budget was unrealistic and you need to do more fundraising, or the core team is not supporting the ministry financially, burning yourself out will not help the church, in fact it will hurt it more than anything else.  Take the time to stop and rethink why you are doing what you are doing, and how to better lead your congregation so that there is a deeper level of buy in.

I would probably be fired from my day job if I didn’t mention this part.  My assumption is that you are not planting a church because you like handling the financials or doing the book keeping.  As I talk to planters and people involved with planting networks across the country the horror stories of church plants shutting down do to mismanaged finances are far too common.  Find people to surround you and help you with the finances.  Dime, the company that I work for, does a phenomenal job of ensuring that a church’s finances are done accurately, up to date, and with accountability.  We work with a great deal of church plants across the country, and we would be honored to serve you as well.

What are YOUR top five things that church planters need to know about church finances?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.