The Struggle of Planting a Self-Sustaining Church

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The greatest struggle in church planting has really nothing to do with the spiritual endeavors that take place. Instead, it has everything to do with finances. Ask 100 church planters what stresses them out and most (ALL) if they’re honest would say “money.” Even those who come in well-heeled there still is a timeline for when their support will run out, albeit longer than most planters. The good news, in an odd and comforting way, is that this is nothing new.

As I’ve been slowly working my way through Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer I’m given a snapshot into the life of a frontier missionary. Father Kino journaled everything that happened nearly on a daily basis. With such exhaustive first hand accounts, couple with other journals from the ship’s captain and others, we’re able to get an inside look at what it was like to be a missionary in the late 17th century in Mexico and the American Southwest. Ironically, many of the same struggles that we face in church planting today were present there … well, minus the possibility of starvation and martyrdom (in the U.S.).

There are a few nuggets that are worth pointing out. Before that, it would be helpful to add a little context. Whereas today many planters are funded by denominations, networks, and supporting churches and individuals back then Kino was supported by the crown of Spain along with other benefactors such as wealthy societal elites who had a passion for “lost souls.” While the king of Spain kicked in funds from the very beginning it was understood that long-term each mission (or church plant) was to be self-sustaining. “It was understood that eventually the California missions must be at least in part self-supporting through agriculture. The king could not supply them indefinitely. The colonists came prepared with seeds, and planting was at once begun” (Rim of Christendom, 163).

Again, the tension comes into understanding this world in light of our context today. We also know this missionary work was done under the umbrella of colonialist expansion and conquest even as much as they tried for it not to be so blatant. “At the suggestion of Bastida, the viceroy ordered him to eliminate from his documents the word ‘conquest’ and substitute ‘pacification and settlement’” (Ibid., 169). Missionaries and soldiers together engaged in the work of establishing presidios and missions. But the point I want to make is the universal struggle of seeking to start self-sustaining churches (or missions).

As a result they grew crops, dove for pearls, and used any gold or silver they came across (whether mined for or given to them) to help cover their expenses and sustain them. So how then do we translate this to today? The impetus is still the same, right? A self-sustaining and self-supporting church. So what does that look like? Particularly in lower income communities where the pastor / planter may never have the option to rely on the new church to help cover their livelihood. Maybe what we should ask instead is this …

Where do you envision your church / ministry to be in 5 years? Or maybe put it in another way … What will this look like 5 years down the road?

If your answer is along the lines of having a church large enough to cover your salary that will ultimately send you down a certain path or direction. If your answer is to still be at this work regardless of whether the church can pay you or not will mean probably a different path. It is this “different” path that we’re passionate about here.