Planting a church is a difficult ministry calling. The commission of reaching unchurched people with the Gospel and discipling them to Christian maturity is difficult. Add to that the task of leading new believers to form a new, self-sustaining church within three years, it makes for a challenging job.  Oklahoma City, South Lakes church planter, Joey Dean, recently shared with the Messenger how his church was able to move from church plant to sustainable church.

Plan accordingly

  • As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Sit down and come up with a strategy that moves your church toward sustainability.  This was a key starting point at South Lakes Church.
  • “Our initial goal was to dwindle down the amount of support we received from our church sponsor Moore, First. Every six months we reevaluated our financial situation and reported back to Moore, First asking them to lower their monthly support. Moore, First never asked us to do this, but we were determined to get to the point where we were not dependent on outside support. Each time the church looked at their outside support, members took on more of the responsibility of replacing the outside monthly income. Within the first year and a half we were able to cut out our dependency on funds from First Moore. And all the other outside sources were naturally stair-stepping down. By the time we got to the end of 2018, we were completely self-sustaining.

Share Openly

  • Once a plan has been put in place, share the vision with the church. Many people are unaware that the majority of church partnerships end after three years.  Being open and honest in the beginning will help pastors avoid surprising their members later when outside financial support begins to go away.

 Build-in accountability early

  • Hold people accountable to giving. Dean shared that on the first Sunday of South Lakes’ existence he, “literally gave out index cards and asked everyone to anonymously put down what they were going to tithe monthly, so we could come up with a budget.  I wasn’t so much concerned with the dollar amounts that people were pledging to give, as I was the faithfulness in giving.”
  • Every month as South Lakes, the elders receive a giving report for all their covenant members. Dollar amounts are not included in the report, but the elders do receive a list of all covenant members who gave for that month.  If a covenant member went three months without giving, an elder visits with that family and asks them about it.  The purpose is not to guilt people into giving, but to ensure that everyone understands the important role that everyone was playing in working towards self-sufficiency.

Communicate Constantly

  • While working toward self-sufficiency, share financial reports. When a partnership runs out or diminishes, share the news with the church. Be transparent with everyone.  Remember, they are not as fixated on the monthly finances as you are.
  • Think about sending out a monthly report to every member, updating them on the financial outlook of the church. Include a percentage breakdown of how many members gave that month, total dollar amount given, and any outside support dollar amount.
  • As Dean shared, “Every time we would downsize the amount of our outside support, we would share with the church the progress and challenge them to increase their giving. We would always say, ‘remember next month we are going to go from this much money a month (of outside support) to this much money. The margin for you not giving is a lot smaller. We let people know we were decreasing our outside support and we needed their support.”

Celebrate Regularly

  • Don’t become so fixated on the giving numbers that you forget to celebrate progress. Encourage people by telling them “good job.”  Too often, the only time that church members hear about finances is when the pastor preaches on giving because the offering has been down.  Counteract that trend by celebrating financial milestones.
  • This may simply look like sharing with the church that enough internal support was raised to meet budget for that month, or perhaps, you had a record percentage of members give. Celebrate those occasions.