Keys for successful fundraising for your church plant
Church planting is not for the faint of heart. As pastor Ron Slyvia describes it, “church planting [is] the extreme sport of ministry.” It’s unlike other ministry positions because there are no existing people and programs. Church planters dive head first into the great unknown. As a church planter, you start from square one and build a church from the ground up. When I planted in 2012, I began with nine people, my living room, a bible, and a strong sense of calling from God. We had no facilities (other than our homes), no programs, and very little money.
I wish someone would’ve told me back when I first expressed a sense of calling to plant a church that a major part of the job for the next few years was going to be raising support.
Unless you are the rare breed that has a career flexible enough to allow you to pour yourself into all that goes into planting a church alongside of your job, then you are going to have to work really hard at raising funds to provide the means necessary to support yourself and your ministry. You are going to have to raise the money you need to do the ministry God is calling you to do. Sylvia says, “raising money for a church plant may be the most extreme part of this extreme sport.”
Until you’ve built a core group large enough to transition the church you’ve planted into a financially self-sustained entity, fundraising will be one of the many hats you must wear as a planter. And even after ascending to self-sustainability, you’ll still find yourself raising funds for special projects.
Now I realize that fundraising for your church plant is not the sexiest or most spiritual-sounding idea for some of you, but the fact is, it’s just part of the job – and it’s important. So with that in mind, let me offer you three keys that I’ve learned in the past few years about fundraising. If you’ll implement these axioms, I think you’ll find your fundraising efforts more effective. (By the way, these principles are not limited to church planting, they’re just as applicable to other ministries, non-profits, and companies.)
Key 1: People give to a compelling story and vision
When it comes to raising funds for your plant, you must sell people on your vision for the church, and that vision begins with you. Take time to think through your personal story and how the Lord led you to plant. What are the milestones of calling and confirmation along the way? How did you get here? Your personal narrative matters. People are much more akin to get behind a person than they are a program. If they believe in you, they’ll give to your church plant.
A major part of what should be woven into your story is what compels you to plant. They need to believe that your desire to plant is more than a flippant impulse. You must be able to tell a clear and compelling narrative of what led you into planting. Why can’t your city afford to go any longer without the church you envision? What is the why for your church plant? What is the burning conviction you feel for starting a church? You must show your potential supporters and investors the need.
I planted a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Yes, Birmingham. One of the most churched cities in America. Why in the world would there be need for another church in Birmingham? For me, it was because Birmingham is still one of the most segregated cities in America. Especially, as Dr. King put it, on Sunday mornings at 11AM. This reality bothered me ever since I moved to the south at age 13. Growing up I had friends that I played ball with, hung out with, and went to school with, but we were never part of the same church. To me, this was a problem. My vision for a new church was one in which the walls of separation were torn down and everyone worshipped together. While Birmingham may not need another white church or black church, it definitely needs more multi-ethnic churches! This was a critical piece of my story and vision that I shared with people, and my audience was time and again compelled by this conviction and vision for something new. As a result, many jumped on board to support the effort. People give to a clear, compelling vision.
Key 2: People give to specific needs more than generalities
When I was in college, I went to Passion every January. If you’re unfamiliar with this conference, it is a three day gathering of over 40,000 college students in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the unique aspects of Passion is that its founder, Louie Giglio, has always made the conference about more than bright lights, Hillsong anthems, and powerful messages. Every year he challenges students to give sacrificially.
The conference sets up a massive “Go Center” in the Georgia World Congress Center,” providing a way for attendees to get involved in fighting for justice and caring for the poor. The Go Center is more than a giving kiosk, it is a gigantic, interactive area that puts your five senses upon real, tangible needs. Instead of simply asking for money to dig a well, the Go Center challenges you to carry a jug of water for a half mile and experience what many in the world are forced to do multiple times a day, just to get clean water. Then the exhibit informs you that if forty people give fifty dollars, you can be part of digging a new well in India. It is a compelling approach to fundraising because it highlights real, specific needs, and then it offers accessible ways to be part of the solution. Every year I am blown away to hear how much money is raised at Passion!
There is something to be learned from Louie and the Passion team. People – even poor, broke college students –will give sacrificially and generously to tangible needs. Your fundraising efforts need to be specific and accessible.
So instead of saying, “I need to raise $30,000 for the lease on our space,”say, “Our church facility is going to house programs for struggling parents in need, provide space for after school tutoring programs, and our foyer will be a place where college students can study, sip coffee, and connect. If we can get 25 people to give $100 per month, all of these ministries can become a reality.” Do you see the difference?
You need to present the need for support specific. Don’t ask for support of generic line items, help people envision the people and programs their money will actually go toward.”
Key 3: People give when there are multiple opportunities presented.
As you share a compelling vision, be sure that you provide multiple ways for people to jump on board and support. Not everyone can be a three year supporter of the church or make a large donation. (But some can, it doesn’t hurt to ask!) Others might be able to make a one-time donation, or offer to serve you in some other way. You need to give people multiple on-ramps into serving your church plant.
Here’s what you cannot afford to do…
Don’t make the mistake of casting a compelling vision and then fall short of making a clear ask. You need to make a clear ask! “I need your help to see this vision become a reality. Please consider supporting this church plant.” As a mentor once told me, “Make a bold ask and leave them to the Holy Spirit to figure out what they’re supposed to do.”
If you’ll implement these three fundraising keys, I believe you’ll see an increase in support, and that’s good news, because we need more churches making Jesus known and advancing his Kingdom.