Friday, November 03, 2006

Show Me the Money! - Funding Church Planting

A tragic story has been playing itself out in Texas over the past several months. This story involves the possible misappropriation by some church planters and strategists of church planting funds given by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The allegation is that as much as 1.3 million dollars was funneled into house churches or other rapidly reproducing churches that, in fact, did not exist or did not exist for any significant length of time. According to a recent report at EthicsDaily.com, a subsequent investigative probe has already cost the state convention $100,000 and may eventually have a price tag of $150,000.

This story has been and is being covered in-depth by the Texas Baptist Standard and is being closely monitored by the independnt blog Spiritual Samurai.

I believe the heart of this story must be the funding of Church Planting. How is it being done? What is the best way to accomplish the task? Is it truly best for Southern Baptists to pool their funds through larger Baptist entities and allow convention employees beyond the level of the local church to decide where those funds are allocated? Is Church Planting a task for denominations, or is it a task that the local church should be performing?

I know that there are many differing views. Many probably will not like mine. They may even be upset by it. But it is my honest view, nonetheless. More and more, I am becoming convinced that local churches, not denominations, should be reproducing and planting churches.

The inevitable problem that we encounter as we plant churches denominationally is that, in most cases, the "product" (i.e. new churches) must resemble something that all of the churches represented and involved in the process of "sponsorship" can be comfortable with. Multiple sources of funding and accountability bring with them multiple views of acceptable worship style, church polity, leadership ... even the name of the church. Case in point: In many areas of Southern Baptist life, we are still fighting the battle of whether or not a "Baptist" church should have "Baptist" in the name. Churches are being rejected and disfellowshiped over this issue.

I have been a Southern Baptist for 25 years (longer than I have been a Christian ... really). I have served on Southern Baptist church staffs since 1989. Yet the Southern Baptist church that I planted and now pastor was rejected by our local Southern Baptist association six months after being received under watch-care because of this very issue of "Baptist in the name." This is something that I have lived through, and believe me, the scars run deep.

I am so thankful that our church was planted by a local church planting / reproducing model. My church is called Crossroads Fellowship. We minister in the beautiful village of Cadiz, Kentucky. Our mother church was New Work Fellowship in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Our sponsorship and planting plan was simple. New Work developed and prepared a core of people for the plant. This core gave and "banked" their tithes and gifts for a number of months in preparation for the plant. New Work brought me into the process and added me to their staff as a Church Planter. Their sponsorship was simply a generous provision for my family. Our steadily growing church paid its own bills. We gradually stepped down their sponsorship of my family by 50% over a three-year period, when we became a fully self-sustaining congregation. We never received a single penny of denominational support. Yet, we have given faithfully to the Cooperative Program since our inception.

On a Side Note (Chasing a Rabbit): I know personally of two churches planted at roughly the same time as ours in our area, both of which received significant, direct, monetary denominational support, yet neither of which has given any measurable amount in return to the Cooperative Program (according to the statistics that come out in our state newspaper each year). That sort of bothers me. Well, actually, it bothers me a lot.

Anyhow ... that's our personal testimony at Crossroads. We have continued that legacy through our direct financial support of a church plant in Cornwall, Ontario, and the Living Waters Fellowship in nearby Oak Grove (Fort Campbell) Kentucky. We don't give as much as some churches do the the CP. But we are supporting Southern Baptist missions, in particular Church Planting, through our direct financial gifts. So tell me ... are we doing something wrong? Or are we doing something right? Is there a wind of change blowing in the SBC, the CP, and Church Planting? I'm curious, and I' searching.

All I know is that if 1.3 million can be "lost" through one of our current systems, something has to change.

8 Comments:

Anonymous guymuse said...

I too have followed the BGCT story with interest. My problem with the whole story is why was money poured into church planting in the first place? In our own work of church planting, we have learned that those new works that do not get any financial assistance do better than those that do receive some level of assistance. A new work does not need money to get started, it needs sold out workers who feel God's call on their life to do the work. Sometimes it bothers me that people so needy are not getting any help financially, and yet they are the ones that survive the strongest.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

Guy-

You may be right. I think that it depends upon the context. Certainly, church planting on an international field is different from the methodologies that are needed in North America.

I guess my biggest "wonder" in the whole Texas thing is why so much money was pumped into so-called "house churches." As you and I both know, house churches have the least structure and "overhead" of any form of church. They simply don't needs funds. So why pump over one million $$$ into something that really shouldn't require any money at all?

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoff & Guy,

You both ask some very good questions. If we took the local church only planting other churches model out to its logical extreme, though, where would that leave us with the funding of international missionaries? Geoff, you say that church planting on an international field is different from the methodologies needed in North America. I am not saying I necessarily disagree with you, but I am interested to know a little more specifically why you think this is the case. It has always seemed ironic, to me, for example, that we as IMB workers are advocating church planting model overseas that have not, and are not working for us in the States. It would seem that we need to 'model' before we 'assist'. (Guy will get the play on words here. Maybe you too, Geoff, if you are familiar with New Directions.):^)

2:19 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

David-
When I say that I think CP methodologies in North America, I am primarily thinking of the context of what we often call "house churches" or "cell churches." (Rapidly multiplying networks of cell churches.) To the best of my knowledge, such methods have shown great promise internationally. I know that the movement has made some inroads in North America. But I really don't think, sociologically, that "house churches" will ever constitute a huge movement on this continent. Much of the U.S. is unchurched, but even the unchurched population has some ideas about what church "looks like." They have expectations. It is for this reason that I sincerely doubt that such a movement will ever sweep North America.

Also ... the expectations of pastors and staff is quite different here (both from the standpoint of the churches and the pastors). Churches in America expect a full-time pastor. Pastors expect a full-time salary. Bivocational pastors are more and more a rarity ... some even consider the practice downright "unspiritual." They think that the church should provide.

When I say that churches should plant other churches, I mean within our North American context. We are already here. Our "Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria" are right net door. The churches need to do their job. We will continue, and must continue, to support the work overseas, both with our monetary gifts and our volunteer hours.

I know a little about the "New Directions." I suppose it would be difficult to try to "assist" those Christians in other lands in doing things that we really don't wo that well ourselves here in the States.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoff,

Thanks for your comments, and the opportunity to think through this with you.

Here in Western Europe, the culture is similar in some ways to the US, just a whole lot more unreached. Some people (almost always foreign missionaries) show a lot of hope for the house church model, but I haven't seen a lot of response to it from Europeans either. However, George Barna, and a few others, seem to really think it is the wave of the future.

I am very disappointed to hear about the BGCT thing. Upon reading about the model they were supposedly using -- lay church planter training centers, working in collaboration with local churches and pastors -- I was optimistic for the potential, both for North America, Latin America, Western Europe, and who knows where else.

At the same time, I agree with Guy. It makes you wonder where all the money was going, and why you needed so much money to plant house churches.

Maybe third world situations are different. But if what we are advocating in Western Europe hasn't even worked for us in North America, I think we lose a good bit of credibility with the national believers. Thus, I see a lot of validity to your "churches planting churches" suggestion, even on a foreign mission field like Western Europe. At the same time, I am not at all opposed to churches planting "house churches" or multiplying "cell groups." I think there is a good middle-ground balance somewhere out there.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

David -

I agree. There has to be a middle ground. But I still think there is something in the American "psyche" that does not recognize a house or cell church as a true church. I'm sure that it will work in some places, but I sincerely doubt that it will be the wave of the future that so many of the "experts" claim it will be.

On the other hand ... I see culturally relevant churches with multiplying cell groups (within that church) as the way to go. That is my church's model. It allows us to, in the famous words of Rick Warren, "grow larger and smaller at the same time."

3:38 PM  
Blogger David Montoya said...

You have produced and excellent blog on this issue. You are to be applauded.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

David -

Thanks for the comment. I think that we can think, consider, and analyze important issues without harsh criticism and attack ... unfortunate by-products of so many of our "Christian" blog sites.

Please share the word about our blog. I would appreciate a link if you're willing! :)

8:59 PM  

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