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Ecclessial Mercenaries

Soon after the Church of the Exiles website went live, I started to get some e-mails in asking me who was funding our little church plant.  I think everyone assumed that either Resonate or the Free Methodist Church in Canada (through the Life Cycle Project) was funding it.  They were shocked to find out that Resonate doesn’t fund church plants (neither does Emergent Village as far as I know) and we never applied for funding from the Life Cycle Project (although that is an option).
Why no money?  I am not opposed to the idea of outside funding and we do have some needs (a small soundboard would be great) but we don’t have that much financial needs right now.  We don’t have permanent office space or salaries and our technical needs can be met by modest (cheap) means rather than expensive ones.  While some of us in leadership have had staff positions at churches, we are all working outside the plant.  People call us bi-vocational but that seems to suggest two paychecks.  We are doing it out of passion and fueled by coffee.  I could say that we were lucky in finding affordable space but it also came through Wendy probably making 100 phone calls to pubs, schools, businesses, churches, and other third spaces trying to find a space that would work.  It wasn’t so much luck as perseverance and desperation :-). In some ways we have taken on the business philosophy of bootstrapping.
During that time as I have shared that with other prospective planters, the response has been disbelief but I am not that sure why.  My grandfather pastored a small Free Methodist church in Davis, Saskatchewan (Rural Municipality Number 461, just outside of Prince Albert, neither the church or the town exist today) during the Great Depression.  There was literally no funding as Saskatchewan was bankrupt and he was paid in potatoes, turnips, and wild game meat which was all that many in the congregation had to give.  From his records, the only money seemed to come from his atheist father who would send up money for train tickets home at Christmas.  Now that was a different time and context and seems like worlds away from today but a quick read of most of the churches in Saskatoon show very modest and humble beginnings and a character that was created out of the shared struggles as a faith community.
For some of the people I have talked to there seems to be a desire of instant success.  I am not sure where it comes from, whether it be from the instant churches of 200 that get planted out of larger churches who hit the ground running with a building, staff, and mature congregation and leadership or if it is just part of the church culture that worships size and success (whatever that is) and 10 people getting together and praying and worshipping in a rented room isn’t success.
A while ago I asked someone why they needed so much funding.  Earlier in the conversation that couple had described themselves as “ecclessial mercenaries” – people who would church plant for whoever would pay the bills.
Of course they had their list of needs.
  • A Macbook so they could run both Windows and Mac software
  • Essential software, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, InDesign, and After Affects, Dreamweaver.
  • Projector, Sound system
  • Web host that can handle streaming audio and video.
  • Comfortable office space with a street front access
  • Rental space for worship in a historical location.
  • Salaries for him to be high enough so his wife would not have to work.
  • Operational funding for two years at least.

The one thing that work has taught me to do is question statements by people.

  • What do they need a Macbook to do that my Compaq Armada m700 won’t?  Not picking on Mac users here.  The same question could be asked about what does he need a Macbook for that a G3 won’t do either.  Yes the Macbook is a far superior notebook and OSX is a better OS than Windows 2000 but for the money (1/10 of the price) that you don’t have, something cheaper may work pretty well.
  • What are they using Premiere, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator for that Premiere Elements, Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro , Ulead Video Studio, or even Microsoft Movie Maker (shudder) software won’t do.  Again, I worked with an excellent and talented digital media creator for years that can do things that would make some movie makers blush.  He also does great stuff with crappy tools as well.  My point is that there is cheaper alternatives to professional grade software that creative people can still make things look very good with. It may be a pain in the neck (and other places at times) but if the money is tight, you have to make do. If you have someone with professional talent, it is a great investment, if not, it is a waste of money.  One church I know of bought the same animation software that they used to create Jurassic Park with.  Even if someone was capable of mastering the interface, they would have needed a server farm to render their creations.  In the end it was a massive waste of money.  I have loved Microsoft Office since 4.x under Windows 3.x  but again, it comes down to is there anything I really need that Open Office and NeoOffice can’t do?
  • Had they not heard of Google Video or ODEO?
  • They had talked of their respect for Wendy and I so I asked, if it is okay for Wendy to work and for us to raise a child (however poorly we are doing with it), why can’t other church planter spouses work?  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with stay at home parents and Wendy and mine schedule stinks right now where we go weeks without a full day off with each other but if the money isn’t there.

I was being a pain and it was a good conversation but I think one of the things that church plants need to figure out is cash and how to do things without it.

I am not that sure if it is any different than it has always been.  You need to start something before it you know if it going to turn out.  I can’t think of too many startups that were guaranteed instant success but they just kept working towards what they knew they had to do.  Kind of like the graphic from Andrew Jones old post on How Do You Build a Cathedral.

Another way of looking at it is from this interview with a designer turned wine maker, Courtney Kingston (of Kingston Family Vineyards)

One of the biggest challenges for me was going from a job that was reactive (e.g. a highly scheduled day managing other people) to starting a business with a blank slate every morning. Every day, there were a thousand things that seemed urgent that I needed to do to get things going. It was a little paralyzing and I didn’t know where to start. My friend Rob gave me a great piece of advice: decide what *one thing* is critical to your concept’s success. Write “ONE” on a little yellow stickie, and stick it on your computer monitor as a daily reminder to accomplish one thing–no matter how small—that will get you one step closer to that goal each and every day.

The person who helped clarify this for me was Guy Kawasaki in his book, Rules for Revolutionaries and his idea of starting out with what you have and going from there making it better and working towards your final vision.  The vision and ideas for Exiles are a lot more than what we have no but slowly we are making out way there as a community and no it doesn’t take a lot of money to start.

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14 Comments

  1. Jay says:

    Jordon, thanks for this great post and your willingness to be prophetic in pushing against the corporate church planting model. While I have hitched my ministry to a denominational structure (the UMC), I agree totally with your approach to starting this church, and I look forward to seeing how God will be at work in your faithfulness.

  2. Brian Mullins says:

    Good post, Jordon.

    Our house church has been meeting for three months now, and we have yet to collect an offering. Last week we needed more chairs, so folks started asking if they could chip in to buy some. As more people begin attending, it’s easier to justify collecting and spending money do they can be more comfortable, hear better, be more visually stimulated, have more for the kids to do, etc. And eventually it becomes this money-sucking beaurocracy that none of us want.

    I am a Mac user. Bought a Powerbook back in 2004 and do pretty much everything on it; movies, tracks for worship on Garageband, web stuff. I could argue that it was a sound investment, as most of my PC compadres have replaced theirs twice or three times, suffered innumerable crashes or virus issues. My PB runs as well now as it did when I bought it. And the DR is almost as bad for computers as Saskatoon.

  3. jonny says:

    i think this sort of thinking about monies is bang on….

    at grace we have never employed anyone – been making stuff up and journeying together for 13 years now.

    in the uk there isn’t a lot of money around in church planting anyway so if you pursue that path it’s out of vocation and passion anyway i suspect

  4. justin says:

    Jordon,
    I stop by pretty regularly from down south (Spokane, WA) and just wanted to say thanks for the questions you posed, as they are quite timely for me. Thanks again. Grace and Peace to you guys…

  5. andrew says:

    It’s hard to be that voice when so many denominations and planters simply assume that large inputs of cash are necessary.

    I comment on this briefly, on my oft-neglected blog, but at a conference I recently attended, an American planter stated that amongst other things, “church planters must pay musicians to ensure high quality worship.”

    I still have no idea what she meant…other than the fact that her type of planting demands huge industrial inputs (tractors, chemical fertilizers, pesticides), while you’re pitching a pre-industrial agrarian vision (relying on a horse and attention to the soil).

    How very Wesleyan…

  6. Scott says:

    i hesitate to jump in this fray as it could soon become an opportunity for unpaid planters etc. to brag about their level of commitment, thereby demeaning the contribution of those who are lucky enough to have money. i plant without funding, though it is not always for altruistic reasons. if you can get a denomination to jump-start you, you would be crazy not to take their money. who among us would refuse a private financial endorcement? as for those of us who have chosen (or not been chosen) to do it alone it is a passion, not a job. this by no measure should insinuate that those who are paid are any less passionate.

    both roads have their ruts…

  7. Robert says:

    I’m thinking maybe I have a little bit of a different take on it… first it depends on what your main purpose is church wise… I planted trying to reach those who had given up on church… We had no money… no sponsor… no advisors… I just read everything I could… tried my best to listen to God… and pushed on… We have maintained and grown… We are almost 9 years old and it has been hard, hard work… but also very fuylfilling. We are doing really well now, but in some ways our growth was stunted by not having some things that could’ve made a difference in the beginning.
    I am now a part of the Association of Related Churches… http://www.relatedchurches.com The reason that we joined this group was to be able to sow into new church planters… there is an opportunity for a church planter to get money for start up… publicity… facilities, etc… but beyond that… they have training and evaluation… and if they are not ready, they can go through an internship… Almost all of the churches that have started this way have been tremendously successfull and only one has not made it… thats in five years of planting. And I think the biggest reasons are the availability of training and resources.
    Don’t get me wrong… you have to have passion, first and foremost… but teaming together with people to get you started well makes a huge difference.

  8. ed c says:

    The same can go for other small nonprofit organizations. Small means ease in adaptation, and that is very attractive with anything new since mistakes will be made.

    It should also be noted that there is real power and freedom in partnering with other organizations. Churches may benefit greatly by a study of their communities in order to find the organizations who either share similar values or who are open to partnerships.

  9. joe says:

    hi jordon.

    after leaving an established church job over 8 months ago to plant, here are my two cents:

    *pigeon holed: as a full time minister for over 10 years, i feel that i don’t have much to offer the everyday work world. which of my skills transfer over? is it worth my time/energy to work for $10/hr?

    *$$: our greatest cost has been my salary, which btw, is 50% of what i was earning previously – so ‘sacrifices’ have been made. outside of a video projector ($1100) and rent ($200/mth), our plant lives on next to nothing.

    *free stuff: i used to be hooked on microsoft office/outlook, but no more. google/gmail provides excellent programming free of charge. i do however use microsoft word and powerpoint, both of which were donated to the church. webspace and design? donated. sound system? part of our rental cost. office space? coffee shop…which is free, and provides free wifi, and i haven’t paid for a coffee in 6 months ‘cuz i’ve befriended the staff. free stuff is out there…find it.

    *indulgences: i bought a middle of the road macbook. could i have saved $700, and purchased a middle of the road pc laptop loaded with piecemeal software? sure. was the mac a necessity? no. do i feel much cooler at the coffee shop where i work? yes. ;)

    *one person income: my wife and i made a conscious decision for her to work part time, and spend the majority of her week at home with our 2 and 4 year olds. at this point in time we can swing it, so we are. in future if that’s not possible, she’ll return to the full time workforce. until then, we see our kids as our greatest responsibility at this time, so we’ve made life choices to reflect that.

    either way, good food for thought with this post. save some of it for when we put a camera in front of your mug for the church plant doc.

  10. Jordon says:

    Joe, with your work with media and ThinkerLabs, I would say that you of all people could justify using a MacBook (although the admission of PowerPoint when you could use Keynote is suprising).

    Again, I don’t have a problem with people taking the path of funding and I think it is a good one if it works out but to wait and say that I “need” these tools to be bought for me before I start because I am entitled to it, is what I am ranting about.

    Same thing with Wendy working. Now despite working at Safeway for eleven years now, she isn’t full time yet but still have a flexible schedule that allows for one of us to be at home with Mark for all but one night of the week and that other night my brother is at home with him.

    Again, my frustration isn’t with a lot of people who have taken a risk and a cost to following Jesus, it those that want to lead without paying ANYTHING which I find so weird. It is a great game that is talked/blogged but not one that people want to dive into.

  11. joe says:

    jordon:

    *powerpoint over keynote: it was free, and currently it’s the program of choice for our volunteers so at this point in time it’s the best solution.

    *entitlement: yes, this is a huge issue. and i feel it’s compounded by the ‘if you build it they will come’ attitude. not true.

    *mac: for the record, 90% of the vids on thinkerlabs were created by iMovie. why? to again show (and encourage) that you can do a lot with a free, entry level programs.

    *$$: i think this will be an even greater issues for plants in the next 10 years. funding, stewarding, bi-vocationality, multiple income streams…these are big questions. i can’t see how the majority of new forms of church will be able to ‘pay the bills’ in the future. there is a new economy facing the local church (both new and old). i’ve got big questions about this…

  12. Jordon says:

    I never got into it as I can’t find the reference but I have read in both Forbes and Business Week that our generation has about 50x’s less disposable income at our stage of life. I know Tom Sine has written on this before.

  13. Tom says:

    Jordon,

    I’ve been lurking on your site for a couple of years. I’m a sucker for your “contextless links” posts. But this post really resonates with me. I’m not going to get all confessional on you. However, I do want to (publicly) acknowledge that it has been quite tempting to become an ecclessial mercenary, especially when the gap between our dreams and our resources continues to widen.

  14. ron cole says:

    Joe said…”*$$: i think this will be an even greater issues for plants in the next 10 years. funding, stewarding, bi-vocationality, multiple income streams…these are big questions. i can’t see how the majority of new forms of church will be able to ‘pay the bills’ in the future. there is a new economy facing the local church (both new and old). i’ve got big questions about this… “

    I think this is the biggest challenge. Even existing churches now are struggling ( most ) just to make ends meet. If your lucky you can balance the books and a little left for anykind of missional outreach. Alot of folks in the 20-30 age range are sharing living spaces, incomes are slightly better than minimum wage. It’s not that they don’t have the education…there just aren’t a whole lot of well paying jobs out there.
    So if our concern really is about being more missional for the poor and marginalized. Maybe away towards a form of church that doesn’t require a lot of dough is the way to go. Is it possible to have a church on a shoestring budget…where most of it’s money goes out the door instead of in. Is there way to have a church, that exists solely on volunteer staff, where people donate, or lend there ” tech toys “, music, audio, video toys for the community.Renting space instead of owning it.
    I’m thinking, dreaming that this might be the way of the future. Jordon, I’m sure it’s a struggle for you, Wendy and Mark.I admire your passion, along with your friends at ” Exiles “, to push the limits of being church to a place where not many travel.