Is the Future of Church Planting Bi-Vocational?
Editor’s note: See Jimmy Scroggins’ rejoinder to this post here.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about bi-vocational church planting. Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright represent many of the arguments for bi-vocational planting in their article, The Math Doesn’t Work: Why the Future of Church Planting is Bi-vocational. It’s a challenging and timely piece. Most pastors and planters consider bi-vocational planting second-class, a stepping stone to full-time ministry. The preferred method of planting remains raising 3-5 years of funds so that the lead pastor can start full-time from the beginning.
PROBLEMS WITH THE STANDARD MODEL OF PLANTING
The problem with this model, Scroggins and Wright point out, is that it is expensive. Many church plants start with a yearly budget of $200,000 or more, which means that before they’ve even planted the church, they need to grow the church to 200+ just to become self-sustaining. For many planters, especially in difficult contexts, this is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, most don’t recognize the mistake until year 3 when their funding begins to run out.
Another problem with this approach is the sheer amount of money it will require given the number of churches we need to plant. Southern Baptists have a goal of planting 15,000 churches by 2022. Even if every plant only required $100,000 each, that’s 1.5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money in a day when many of our churches are plateaued or declining.
Bi-vocational planting addresses some of these problems. There are literally hundreds of people in our churches with good jobs and a calling to ministry. Their jobs grant them access into a mission field that a full-time pastor can’t access, and provide them with the means to support their families without drawing a salary from the church. These men are in our churches, and many of them are waiting to go—all we need to do is give them permission.
IS BIVOCATIONAL “THE FUTURE” OF PLANTING? YES AND NO
So is bi-vocational “the future” of planting? The answer is yes, and no.
We cannot afford not to embrace bi-vocational planting. For far too long, our strategy has been reduced to a single model, and as we’ve seen, that model simply isn’t enough.
However, there are several problems with the argument that bi-vocational is “the” future of planting (though, to be clear, Scroggins and Wright did not argue that traditional church planting has no place in the future):
1. It is not true that “traditional” church planting in urban centers is defunct.
When we say bi-vocational is the future, many will hear us saying that full-time planting is defunct. That’s simply not true. Admittedly, this is not Scroggins and Wright’s conclusion, but there are voices leaning this way. We at the Summit are very early into our church planting strategy, and we have much to learn, but our plants in urban, non-Bible-belt areas are doing well, and right on schedule or even ahead of schedule to become sustainable. Some of the largest churches in the Western world are in metropolitan cities outside of the Southeast. There is no reason to think we cannot, and should not, plant more.
2. We should not discourage pastors who have the capacity to plant these kinds of churches from doing so.
Our urban centers need more high capacity leaders, and those leaders are in our churches. For many of them, the most appropriate strategy is to enter the game full-time. If we put up a strategy that is bi-vocational only, many of them will conclude that church planting is not for them. We need to put before these people a compelling vision for urban centers and why church planting is a best use of all of their gifts.
3. An over-emphasis on bi-vocational planting will make fundraising for guys that should be full-time more difficult.
I could easily see pastors using the bi-vocational argument as a reason why they should not give funding to full-time planters. “No, I’m not giving you money. That’s not responsible. You should get a job at Starbucks.” There are 42,000 SBC churches, and we should do all we can to empower these guys to raise money, not keep them from it.
4. The resources are not as limited as we think.
American churches have more money now than they’ve ever had. Most churches could afford to plant a church every two to three years if they made the appropriate sacrifices. If each of those churches planted a church within five years, we would have a church planting explosion on our hands. The money is out there—churches and individuals simply need to be given a compelling vision for why church plants are what they should leverage their treasure for. The answer is not to shrink our mission, but to enlarge our vision.
Further, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10). He has unlimited resources for his mission. In fact, in the conversations I have had with denominational leaders, the limiting factor that is keeping us from planting more churches is not money, it’s a shortage of qualified planters. Our churches are simply not skilled, anymore, at raising up leaders from within.
5. Bi-vocational planting has its own challenges.
To succeed in many businesses, especially the kind in which a man can support his family over the long-term, requires consuming amounts of energy, energy that often leaves little reserve for pastoring. Perhaps here we could take a cue from our overseas church planting teams. These teams often consist of some team members who work primarily in the “business” sector while devoting a little time to the church, and many who work primarily on the church plant while devoting a little time to business.
There are some who possess jobs in which they make sufficient salaries and have excess time on their hands. We certainly should leverage that, but we should not suppose bi-vocational planting is going to be easy simply because it solves the money problem.
WE NEED BOTH
So yes, we absolutely need to develop bi-vocational strategies to reach our cities. Our church is beginning to discuss the implications of this for us. For too long, we’ve relied on one strategy. However, the answer is not to replace one “one-size-fits all” strategy for another, but to expand it.
We need multiple models of sending to fulfill the Great Commission. We need to raise up both full-time and bi-vocational planters within our churches. That is where the real challenge lies. We have to get better at making disciples and training leaders again. The greatest mathematical explosion happens when churches multiply by planting churches that plant churches.
J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and is the author, most recently, of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (B&H).