The God of Word

A special thanks this morning to Matthias Media for allowing us to reproduce selections from an excellent series of articles by Dr. John Woodhouse, principal of Moore Theological College, on the rightful place of the Word in Christianity.

Have you ever been assailed by the accusation that your faith is too cerebral – that God is much more than a collection of doctrines, even scriptures? So has Dr. Woodhouse. But in his first article he leads his readers through a thorough examination of the Old and New Testaments to show that the Scriptures were always at the centre of the spiritual renewal God was bringing about:

“We might crystallize the point of all this in a simple proposition: Where you have the word of God created faith in God (and nothing else can create real faith in God) there is all of biblical Christianity. Where the word of God is lacking there is no Christianity.

“What does this mean for the accusation that evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on words has become an intellectual’s religion? There is, I suspect, some truth in the accusation. However, it is one thing to recognize that our faith and life are less than they ought to be. It is another thing to blame that inadequacy on a particular doctrinal emphasis. Noticing symptoms is one thing; diagnosis is another, and prescription is another again.

“If our Christianity has become too cerebral it is not because of an emphasis on words. Words are not the property of intellectuals.”

That’s only a taste – the rest of the article is well worth reading over at The Briefing.

Stay tuned for two more insights on the Word of God in the coming weeks.

– Ed.

Financial self-sufficiency and viability

Greetings all!

Part two of Ed Stetzer’s seven part series on the top issues facing church planters. This week our guest speaker for February’s Multiply conference addresses the thorny issue of finances:

In my last post in this series, I unpacked the leadership development and reproduction issues faced by church planters as reported by our “panel.” Todd Wilson, Director of Exponential, his team, and I looked at responses from some of the best-known church planting practitioners in America and the issues flow from their observations. We hoped to discover the top issues in the ministries of planters that work with these leaders.

We discovered that these experts believed that leadership issues were the greatest challenge faced by church planters. Now, let me say that this is not a scientific quantitative survey, but rather an informal qualitative survey, now combined with our (Todd, me, and the Exponential team) advice and input but flowing from their responses and in the contexts of their plants.

Now, I should not have to add this to every post, but since I am about to talk about funded church planting, there is always someone who comes by and says, “But you don’t have to do it with money, you could be a house church.” Yes, I get that. I’m for that. I write about that probably more than you have (unless you are Neil Cole or Felicity Dale), and I invite others to talk about that.

But, during small church week, I am asked if I’m anti-megachurch. During megachurch week at the blog, people complain that I don’t like missional-incarnational communities. Then, I talk about bi-vocational ministry and “clergification” and people ask if I am against paid ministry. You get the point. So, consider this “contemporary church plant week” and thank God for what He is doing in those kinds of churches. And, if you are in a different setting, listen in and learn about a different way to do things than you are. It will be good for you. 😉

In surveying these leaders, leadership development was the first issue, but finances were a close second in frequency.

In our conversations, the financial issue was a big concern for many planters. We found that money management in the church, and personally for church planters, are ongoing concerns. Internal giving (and the lack thereof) and external fund raising are other concerns. Often these issues are not confronted but avoided, which can lead to all sorts of personal and ecclesial disasters for the planter. And, put on top of all that, for most planters the administrative/financial part of ministry is what they enjoy least.

The financial strains of planting represent one of the most significant challenges for planters. Many planters come from a relatively safe and stable job (including pay) into an entrepreneurial, risk-taking endeavor with an uncertain future. Often planters are thrust into fund-raising for the first time in their lives with little or no training. Many plants take years to become financially self-sufficient, relying on other churches and donors. The journey to financial self-sufficiency often places a heavy burden on the church planting family.

In Viral Churches, Warren Bird and I talked about the need for financial self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is almost always assumed as a goal (and rightly so, from a missiological perspective). For centuries, it has been a missiological axiom that churches should start and get to the point where they support themselves (and, among other things, reproduce themselves). But, as this chart shows, it can take awhile.

The chart shows the percentage of church plants that reported they were self-sufficient at each year mark (assuming they were still in existence, with about 2/3 of those started in year one still existing in year four). (You can see Viral Churches for all the research info.)

So, what are the big considerations? Here are a few based on the interviews and observations. There are several things to consider, but here are five ways to break this down.

1. The BiVo Challenge – The financial realities of planting leads many planters to be bi-vocational. Let me say that I am a big proponent of bi-vocational ministry. But, that is generally not the goal of most church planters (though I think more should consider it, but that is not this project). Employment presents a unique set of challenges for planters and families. For many bi-vocational planters, fulfilling the work for their full-time position becomes the necessary priority—you need to be a faithful employee. Outreach, ministry, and service, however, are also important and are limited as a result. A fully-funded lead planter is generally assumed to be the goal and most would say that it is best for the church and the planter when possible. I would say it this way: if the plan is to have a full-time pastor, it is best to start with a full-time pastor, if you have a plan and resources to get to full-time status before running out of full-time funds. We have some good statistical evidence that there are some positive outcomes with full-time pastors starting churches using this approach.

2. Tension Over Talking/Teaching About Giving – Tom Nebel and Gary Rohrmayer tagged this one as “Church Planting Landmine #7” in their helpful book, Church Planting Landmines. Often with good intentions, they overreact to the perceptions of lost people. No doubt, money issues need to be handled differently in church. So with those concerns they avoid talking about money at all (which robs people of the giving experience). Conventional wisdom is that people new to church do not give much during the early years. But you have to wonder if one reason they are so slow is because church planters overreact on this issue.

3. Limited Budget Experience – Most planters lack training and experience in budgeting. While many have been involved in preparing a budget for an individual ministry in a previous job (e.g. student ministry, worship ministry, etc), few have been responsible for an entire church budget including the process of turning vision into a financial plan. Some planters become paralyzed and have trouble moving forward while others blindly move forward without a budget. For bi-vocational planters, the budgeting process is often simply allocating salary to their part-time planting work since there are little to no additional funds to be budgeted.

4. Flow of Funds Trap – Related to consideration #3, the lack of experience causes another issue. Planters who raise considerable funds for a large launch face a common trap—misunderstanding the difference between cash flow forecast (i.e., having the right funds at the right time) versus total cash commitments, which are not limited to a specific schedule. The result is that some planters over commit funds at specific times even though they’ve raised enough total funds.

5. Personal Financial Impact – Like many who start new initiatives, planters often drain their savings and retirement accounts to pursue their dreams. Putting start-up costs on personal credit cards is also more common than you might believe (and a really bad idea). Not only does this cause incredible stress for the planter and family, but good strategy can be sabotaged. Planters know that the ultimate answer to the financial need is in the harvest. So, launch day is often hurried with an eye toward generating offering to offset personal investments and ministry needs.

“Conclusions and Observations” are coming in the last installment of this series. But for now, key questions about the handling of money, fund-raising, teaching, and offerings should be considered for planters and planting support personnel. Issue #3 for the next post will cover core team building and volunteers.

You can see Ed Stetzer’s original post here, as well as links to his whole seven part series. We’d like to encourage you to hear Ed for yourself. Tickets to Mulitply are now on sale through our web site. Make sure you’ve reserved your place for February 23!

Yours in Him,

Ed.

NITC pictures + much more online

Greetings all,

Thanks to all of those who contributed pictures from National In The Chute 2011 – they’re now online at our Facebook page. If you’ve got more to add, fire them off to us via administrator@genevapush.com.

And when you’ve finished having a look at the friendly faces, don’t forget to take in some of the extremely wise words from the likes of David Jones, Mikey Lynch, Andrew Heard and a host of other experienced pastors and hard working church planters.

Enjoy!

– Ed.

Ed Stetzer’s 7 top issues facing church planters

Greetings all,

We’re really looking forward to having Ed Stetzer at our Multiply conference on February 23 in Sydney next year. Over the next few weeks I’ll be re-posting his 2011 research on the Top 7 top issues faced b

y church planters. Although it’s not a scientific study, it is a helpful one filled with advice that every church planter should consider. This information will help you plant, or help you help others plant for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.

Issue 1 – Leadership Development and Reproducing Culture

Planters face incredible pressure to find quality leaders quickly. Yet the limitations of money, critical mass, and spiritual maturity in new churches create an under-stocked leadership fishing pond. Planters can make critical mistakes as a result.

Think about the person who shows up on launch Sunday due to a postcard they just received in the mail. Your hope is that your first attendees will be people open to the first-time consideration of the gospel. And, that means people who are asking questions and starting their spiritual journey—they are often not ready to be spiritual leaders since they are just considering things of faith.

Just before I wrote this section, we had our first preview service at Grace Church, where I am serving as lead pastor. (I am not leaving my LifeWay Research job; this is a volunteer role working alongside a full-time team.) We saw a couple hundred people come Sunday. Many of them are new, seeking, and sometimes hurting on that first Sunday. Most are not ready for leadership.

Simply put, many church planters find open people but often have few prepared leaders. Leadership development is the most frequently cited challenge of planters according to our research in this survey of church planting leaders and thinkers. Leadership issues included recruiting and developing leaders; implementing teams; creating a reproducible leadership development approach; developing a leader/ oversight/elder board; hiring and leading staff; discerning changes required to facilitate growth; healthy decision making; and delegating and empowering volunteers.

So, based on our conversations and observations from those who responded to our qualitative survey of experts and planters (see the last earlier mention and appendix for methodology info), here are six key considerations church planters should consider and/or make in the process of developing new leaders:

1. Lack of Experience—Many planters come from previous roles where more established leadership development and volunteer mobilization processes are in place. As planters, they are now responsible for implementing a new process from scratch, often with little help. They are responsible for creating momentum where none exists versus maintaining existing momentum. They need to be aware of their own lack of experience and the lack of experience on the typical team. Our church planting leaders were concerned that they often lacked that awareness.

2. Feeling the Need for Speed (Volunteers)—My friend, Stephen Gray said, “Every plant is a new adventure full of excitement and potential doom… they need to have nerves of steel and thick skin” [Stephen Gray with Trent Short, Planting Fast Growing Churches, St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 2007 p. 23]. Planting can be lonely and messy. Amid the long hours and hard work, it is easy for planters to conclude that any “warm body” interested in helping is an answer to prayer. Planters tend to put leaders in place prematurely based on availability. More established churches are slower, vetting potential leaders before delegating responsibility.

3. No Core Leaders—Many planters lack a strong leadership team, leader/staff/elder team, or other structure early in the church’s life. Thus, they can lack an accountability team for the first few years. This can result in an increased burden of responsibility, a lack of ongoing encouragement, no one to “watch their back,” a lack of advice on key decisions, and a lack of peer fellowship.

4. Feeling the Need for Speed (Paid Staff)—In the absence of experience and a proven staff selection process, planters tend to hire too quickly (similar to consideration #2). Planters also lack the experience to fully understand the pitfalls of hiring family members and friends. Dealing with bad hires adds further strain and discouragement, creating setbacks in momentum. (Keep in mind that we recognize we are talking about a specific kind of church plant there and this will not apply in all cases.)

5. Need for Resources—Volunteers and financial resources are critical in the early days. The senior pastor of the average U.S. church (about 85 people) is at staff capacity. If a church waits until they can afford a second staff person, they face the prospect of losing momentum due to a senior pastor working beyond capacity. Then leadership barriers prevent them from growing and hiring more staff. Studies show the average new church has about 40 people the first year, placing a huge financial strain on the planter and delaying additional staff hires. When dealing with the type of church plant we are discussing here, this is a major challenge. (Note: other models, like a house church, would not have the same issues, but that is for another study.)

6. Realities of Reproduction—Planters have probably heard that if a church does not plant another church in their first three years they likely never will. Many have a vision for being a reproducing church and developing a reproducing culture. But the realities of implementation are discouraging. The same barriers (experience, budget, leadership shortage, spiritual maturity, momentum, etc.) can cause the reproduction vision to move from vision to pipe dream.
Having a realistic (not pessimistic) view of the leadership obstacles should inform planters and their support systems (networks, denominations, churches). Great questions that reflect these realities can inspire better systems, strategies, and preparation to plant healthy, evangelistic, multiplying churches for the glory of God.

The experts we surveyed believe that leadership issues are the greatest challenge faced by church planters. Now, let me say that this is not a scientific quantitative survey, but rather an informal qualitative survey, now combined with our (Todd, me, and the Exponential team) advice and input but flowing from their responses and in the contexts of their plants.

My next blog will address the most awkward of the 7 Top Issues – Money.

Hope you benefit from the content, and don’t forget to get your name down so you can catch up with Ed at Multiply in February

Cya then,

Scott

10 church web features focussed on newcomers

Greetings all,

Steve Kryger has done it again. If you managed to get to National In The Chute 2011, you’ll probably just want to skip my guff and click on the link below because you won’t need convincing that he’s a quality thinker when it comes to digital ministry.

For those of you unfamiliar with Steve, he’s the mind behind Communicate Jesus, a site that mines the web for resources and tools well suited to Christians communicating the Gospel in a digital age. At NITC this year he gave an excellent talk on harnessing technology to help your church planting team.

Last week he posted an excellent article on church web sites that do particularly well dealing with newcomers. We thoroughly recommend it to anyone church planter thinking through their web presence for an Australian audience:

10 church web features focussed on newcomers

Get clicking!

Geneva Push Team

Thanks for digging deep!

Greetings all,

This is just a short note to say thanks to everyone who was able to dig deep and help Geneva Push help church planters during our fundraising drive over the past five weeks.

I’m pleased to report that we were able to raise $46,000 towards our running costs for 2012 and we have several promising grant applications to help fill up the remainder. If you could take a moment to pray for a positive outcome that would be much appreciated; we should know the results by the end of next week.

This is also a great opportunity to praise the little groups and individuals who gave “…gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Cor. 8:3). We’ve had several large donations from church planters whose congregations are only just out of the starting blocks. We’ve also had ten people sign up to give $50 a month, showing that even a little can mean a lot to an organisation like ours.

Frankly we’re very encouraged and hope that you will be too. If you’d like to help us out, we’re always happy to hear from you. In fact Scott Sanders will be calling people who’ve already expressed an interest in the coming weeks so be prepared to give him a warm greeting. But for now we’ll stop the official fundraising now and get on with our primary goal: encouraging and raising up church planters.

Thanks and God bless,

Mark Hadley
on behalf of Geneva Push Team

A graphic gem for church planters

Greetings all,

Every now and again you come across one of those pages on the Internet that represents a golden bookmarking opportunity. Steve Kryger’s post on 14 sites for inspiring sermon series artwork over at Communicate Jesus is one you’re definitely going to want to save.

It’s a blog posting listing some of the best, low cost or free sources for Christian graphics online.

Any church planter familiar with trying to sort out the graphics and promotion for a new sermon series knows exactly how valuable that is. Of course we’re all tempted to just copy and use a picture we see on the web without troubling our conscience about whether or not it’s legal – but how does that honour God or serve His Gospel?

Trying to be faithful, we usually head off to web sites like istock.com and thinkstock.com which are great, so long as your money holds out. Then there are others like Pixelperfect.com, Morguefile.com and Creative Commons searches for free photos. But getting Christian specific themes that extend beyond the cliched Jesus-and-Mary or Praying-Hands shots can be really hard.

So thanks, Steve, for sharing this great list of resources: hi quality, contemporary graphics, videos, banners etc. on Christian themes like holiness, sin, the character of God, books of the Bible and more … for next to nothing, or nothing at all.

14 sites for inspiring sermon series artwork

Like we said, get bookmarking!

Ed.

Video

Planters supporting planters

Greetings all,

We thought you’d benefit from seeing first hand how keen members of our Australian church planting community are to support other couples breaking ground for God. This is a video that Chris Ekins from Coast Evangelical Church worked into his service this month. Rather than just pass on prayer points, he wanted his congregation (a church plant in its third year) to meet the team behind Mackay Evangelical Church (a church plant in its first year). So he decided getting together online was the best way of achieving the result…

And this is not a one-off. Coast EC has done a number of reports like this. So it’s not just making its members aware, it’s engaging them in a journey.

If you want to be part of a congregation that has church planting in its DNA, we can’t think of a better way of beginning than directing their eyes to people who are doing what you’re on about.

And if you have some good ideas to share on how to do that, feel free to share them with us through administrator@genevapush.com.

Cheerio,

Ed.

Video

Partner in planting hundreds of new churches

Greetings all,

We are absolutely convinced that an influx of hundreds of new churches is required to multiply the number of people who trust personally in Christ as their Saviour across Australia.

We believe that new churches are the best platform for followers of Jesus to live as salt and light (Matt 5:13-16), to demonstrate love in practical ways (Jn 13:35) and to intentionally make more disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:19-20).

Please see The Task: Geneva’s Strategic Vision for more details.

The impact of Geneva

By God’s grace, in the last 18 months we’ve assessed over 40 potential church planters. We’ve developed an Australian coaching program with 30 experienced planters from around Australia. We’ve run two Geneva Refresh conferences and two National In the Chute Conferences to support, encourage and equip church planters. This work has resulted in 14 new churches and we’re planning for another 16 new churches to be started in the next 12 months.

Our financial need in 2012

With the growth in our ministry activities, our 2012 budget is now $260,000. We praise God for the $150,000 of generous support pledged already. We still need $110,000 to continue resourcing the vision in 2012.

Your partnership needed

Your ongoing support will unleash hundreds of church planters to lead church planting teams reaching new people for the glory, honour and praise of Christ.

We would greatly appreciate you considering making a major contribution to the work of $1,000, $3,000 or $5,000 or express your support with a smaller gift of $100, $300 or $500.

Give today.

In gospel partnership,

Al Stewart, Andrew Heard and Mikey Lynch

Why we’re convinced church planting needs your support from Geneva Push on Vimeo.

Blues the path to real joy?

Greetings all,

Caps off this week to Pete and Liz Woods over at Ropes Crossing where they’ll be putting on a blues concert to encourage interest in their church plant.

For those of you who don’t know, Ropes Crossing is one of those bright, shiny, bursting suburbs in Sydney’s west. The Woods are well aware that the people moving in often have little or no connection to their new community and are working to fill the gap. Last Sunday way Family Sunday at the Ropes Crossing Public School Hall, with Pete speaking on the real family issue of ‘Forgiving Others’. You can get regular updates by contacting Liz and signing up to their newsletter.

In the meantime, take a moment to pray for:

1. Blu Ropes – Saturday, October 29 at 3:30 PM

2. Supporters Evening – Saturday, November 12 at 7:30 PM

Cheerio,

– Ed.