Two knowledgeable new church developers, Phil Schroeder and Dan Jackson, reflect on Paul Nixon’s six observations about “How Much Should It Cost to Plant a New Church?” from their experience in North Georgia and Florida conferences.
Paul Nixon has laid out six insightful and helpful observations in his article “How Much Should It Cost to Plant a New Church?” In many ways they correspond to our recent experience in both the North Georgia and Florida Annual Conferences.
Mix of low-cost experimental projects and more conventional projects
In the mixed economy of congregational development, a portfolio of several types of new church projects such as Vital Mergers, Multi-sites, and Churches within Churches, combined with a variety of Fresh Expressions, seems to bear the most fruit. In the last five years in North Georgia, while pushing creative Fresh Expressions and Dinner Church, we have created four vital mergers, several multi-site ministries, and two churches within churches. They had a combined Easter worship attendance of just over 3,800. In Florida, this strategy has resulted in several strong new church starts and over 230 Fresh Expressions. Plans are underway to start 80 Dinner Churches for the cost of one conventional parachute drop new church start. The 11 churches launched in the past five years had Easter worship attendance of over 4,600.
Some examples of mergers and multi-sites include, in Florida, a church that merged with a much larger church. After three months of downtime, they launched with over 350 in worship and 450 on Easter as Bay Hope/Westchase. Community of Hope East is the result of adopting a church, then renovating and rebranding before opening as a new worship site now worshiping over 550. They have now added a Latino/a congregation worshiping an additional 125 at this location. On Easter weekend, 913 adults and 105 children worshiped at this location. Similar examples in North Georgia include The Vine that took over a nearby church that closed and was reopened as a second campus, The Vine at Flowery Branch (401 on Easter). Another example is Wesley West (225 on Easter) that met in a school but is now a second campus of Wesley UMC. Some examples of “churches within churches” in North Georgia are Chapel Roswell (988 on Easter) at Roswell UMC and Higher Ground (134 on Easter) at McEachern Memorial UMC.
The “parachute drop”
In North Georgia we rarely use the parachute drop, at least not on purpose. Our last intentional parachute drop, The Fountain (350 on Easter plus 94 children), is thriving in an elementary school but cannot afford to purchase property in its community at this time. In Florida, Horizon Tampa Bay, a parachute drop, merged with a declining church in South Tampa. In a concurrent action, the declining church closed, and the property is now being redeveloped, including a new facility for Horizon. Citrus (west Orlando) is a true parachute drop meeting in a “state of the art” theatre. This fall they will go to two services. Parachute drops are expensive. However, Florida has realized success when we have been disciplined about the demographic we want to reach. Horizon (238 in worship on Easter plus 73 children) and Citrus (187 adults on Easter plus 59 children) are committed to reaching young families with both at seven months post launch.
Time allowed to achieve self-sustainability
With The NETT Church (Nations Experiencing Transformation Together), North Georgia did a 5.5-year ramp up to self-sustainability. We realized it might take longer to reach a burgeoning multi-ethnic community. In this case, we decided to invest more over a longer timeline. After launching as a parachute drop in a school, the church merged with Berkmar UMC, moving into that facility and building on the momentum they found in the school.
A neighboring church, Bethesda UMC, asked to be taken over by The NETT last year. This year a second nearby church, John Wesley UMC, closed and has been reopened as the third campus for The NETT, which includes a police station, a homeless ministry, and a worship space. The renovation of this space was done in partnership with local law enforcement and the homeless ministry. The NETT Church had 522 worshipers on Easter. Florida grants four years of funding for a multi-site and five years for a parachute drop.
Invest less at the beginning and more later.
In Florida we have not adjusted funding from our declining support model. We focus more on benchmarks and discontinue funding if they are not meeting targets. For all new starts, we have appropriated the Fresh Expressions “Circles” as the progressive plan [Listening, Loving and Serving, Community Develops, Discipleship, Church Emerges, Do it again].
New churches need multiple funding sources from the beginning.
One of our most successful new church planters in North Georgia, Olu Brown at Impact Church, is a firm believer that new church starts require a pastor who can raise money themselves. Such an approach is quite common among many denominational traditions. New church planters depend on a network of congregations and friends who catch the vision of the new church and provide early seed money. Such financial gifts also bring interest, prayers, and involvement from a broader group.
As a new start shows promise, invest generously in a first building campaign on a matching basis.
In North Georgia we find new churches can buy land or build buildings but rarely are able to do both. Church plants often start in schools or rented spaces until they can get to critical mass. The move to having their own space can be a challenge. The idea of matching funds makes good sense. As indicated earlier, we are finding that the property and building may come from an existing church. Eastside in East Atlanta is an example. Sometimes this may be a church that is closed or closing, but we have also benefited from Vital Mergers in such cases. Creativity with land and space has become a critical component of expansion and multiplication efforts. In Florida, New Covenant Lake Deaton (multi-site with 1,269 on Easter) has property that was purchased by the district, financed by the Florida Foundation, and is currently paid with conference funds. When they hit 800 in attendance, the property payments and deed become theirs.
In North Georgia we believe owning property sets us apart from other new church starts. The conference can often give the church collateral by which to get loans for future expansion. We are also finding that some school districts will not allow a new church start to rent space for launch unless they own land as part of a long-term strategy.
- How Much Should It Cost to Plant a New Church? by Paul Nixon
- Learning from the Mistakes of New Church Starts by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Learning from Growing Churches in England by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- “The Possibilities of Fresh Expressions” featuring Ken Carter and Audrey Warren, a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode
- To the Point: Fresh Expressions, a free resource from the Lewis Center