What Will Keep You There?
The question before every church planter is “what will keep you there?” Meaning, how do you ensure long term roots? To me, that is the most important question. Why? Because if you can’t sustain yourself then your new church does not have a chance. If you’re sustainable and there for the long term then your church is sustainable and there for the long term.
It doesn’t cost a penny to plant a church, it really doesn’t. However, the planter does need to make a living and when that doesn’t pan out long term then either (a) the church folds when the planter leaves or (b) the church continues on with a leader who’s self-sustaining.
Fifteen years ago when I planted my first church I handed off the leadership to the co-leader early on. It was a year after we began gathering (and 2 years into the process) that I was asked to step into a more catalytic role with our denomination. The elders were on board encouraging me to step into this new role. The church didn’t skip a beat in moving forward. The other leader owned his own company and therefore didn’t even need nor want to take any income from the church. This also was key since most of the church was comprised of college students or college-age young adults.
While I stepped away the church continued on. What was especially key was then it became completely self-sustaining. Even when I was in the planter role for the previous two years I worked bivocationally as a hiking and mountain biking guide.
Why bring any of this up? Because most church planters (myself included) start off naively assuming they’ll plant a self-supporting church (i.e. pay the planter’s salary). Most new churches that I’ve either worked with or come across certainly do not become self-sustaining within 5 years. As a result you’ll need to develop a strategy or have a plan to keep you there long term. That could mean moving to where you’re planting and get a job, it could mean finding something part-time while you’re planting, start a business, or whatever. I’m not as much concerned with what you do as long as you put down long term roots. On a side note, that is why most effective planters are already from the area … since they’re “home” they won’t be tempted to jet out if things don’t move fast enough.
We initially moved to the PNW to plant. Ten years later we’re still here. That has taken a lot of different shapes, but I’m happy to say this is home. I was never in a rush to expedite the process because I knew more than likely I’d never plant a church that supports me so I took care to ensure I’m rooted here long-term. My heart has always been to have a no-strings-attached church and even then to focus on marginalized communities. While networks and denominations may have their timelines for you, the most important thing you can do is work your plan on your timeline.
Every church planter begins with a healthy does of naiveté. That is actually a good thing to have since you’re up against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. My encouragement is to go against the grain … slow down … rest … root your identity in the finished work of Christ … and then plant accordingly. This is not a sprint. When you plant (or begin the process) think in terms of 20 year increments (assuming you’re not the type to plant and move on, plant and move on, plant and move on, etc). When I first planted my aim was not one church but multiplication which is why it was easy for me to step into a more catalytic role. We did so knowing we had a call (or compulsion) to move and plant our lives in the PNW. We knew we had to get here sooner rather than later. That calling even came LONG before I even knew anything about church planting.
What will keep you there?