Wednesday, December 08, 2010

funding pioneer projects: seven options

One of the questions I often get asked is about funding pioneers and pioneer projects. So I thought it worth while gathering my thoughts around various possibilities. Like much of life, none is ideal, and each has upsides and downsides. So I have added some comments to this effect.

1 – Church support. Sometimes church trusts and bodies give out large sums of money which enable pioneers to work full-time on their project over a number of years. This can be a wonderful blessing. However it can tend to be unreproducible model and can come with a whole set of expectations about what “success” looks like. It is also questionable how wise this model is in the early stages of a project, in which the setting up is often at more of a part-time pace.

2 – Team support. In a manner similar to many mission agencies, this involves inviting people to contribute toward your mission, whether through regular small giving or through one-off donations. It can be oiled by a “3rd party” that sends out the newsletter, collects money and writes receipts. It is helped by regular communication between the “missionary” and those who give. This has the advantage of building a wider partnership in the mission.

3 – Church partnerships. In which other churches partially partner in the new mission project through finances. So in the New Zealand Baptist world, a local church and the wider church partner 50/50, in a sliding scale, for a set time. Specifically $5K each in the year one, $4K each in year 2 and so on. This builds a wider set of church relationships and seeks to reduce dependancy. However it can come with a whole set of expectations about what “success” looks like (Has it grown yet!)

4 – Tentmaking. Like the Apostle Paul, the pioneer can choose not to be paid by the ministry and instead to look for paid work from elsewhere. It can increase the sense of lay ministry partnership, reduce dependency on one leader and encourage a more grounded and sustainable spirituality. But it leaves less time for ministry and can be dependent on the ability of the leader to find soul nourishing work.

5 – From changed lives. If the point of pioneering is to see lives changed and people becoming Kingdom agents, then an expectation is that at some point life change might involve the wallet and thus people might give to the new church. Surely discipleship – whether financial, time, or talent is part of Kingdom discipleship and should be built in from the beginning of the project. Over time, this can provide a source of funding for the church. However, it takes wisdom and sensitivity so that this is introduced properly.

6 – Social entrepreneurship. This involves some form of money raising activity, for example running a cafe, selling spiritual resources (poetry books!), which generates income for the pioneering project. Indeed, a well chosen project can build the community, enhance the mission and aid in promotion. But it is important to be realistic, given that most (80%) of business startups go broke in the first two years. So why should yours be any different. Further, there is a danger that outward energy will be spent on the project, rather than the overall mission of the group.

7 – Funding proposals. Many public bodies give money to causes. For example community arts, or community development. This requires research to find trusts with aims that mesh with the genuine aims of the pioneer. It can be a great challenge to write a proposal in a way that expresses your ministry in the form of “public good.” However it takes time to write funding proposals and it can breed a reliance on external funding.

From my experience a mix and match options is often the reality. Thoughts? Have I missed any options that you have seen work?

Posted by steve at 03:02 PM


  1. Thanks Steve, a helpful summary. A couple of thoughts/questions if I may:

    This line in your #4 Tentmaking catches my attention: “But it leaves less time for ministry and can be dependent on the ability of the leader to find soul nourishing work”

    Are we saying with that statement that the “work” or “tentmaking” is somehow not ministry? I know one missional faith community where the key leaders all have other roles in the community – outdoor education instructor, coffee/book/gift shop proprieter, home-maker, police officer, counsellor etc. In each case, the work is the ministry is the work. Each contributes to the wellbeing of the wider community (participating in the mission of God) as well as to the life of the embedded faith community. It’s all ministry. And it all isn’t.

    Part at least of the challenge for us has to be (my opinion) to remove the differentiation between what is ministry and what is the rest of life. And to remove the dependence on funding.

    My other note is that sometimes a “micro-grants” approach can be just as helpful as big bucks. So having a closely involved coach/mentor/sponsor keeping an eye on the community and with the capacity to inject small amounts of resourcing just at the right moment (maybe to buy a coffee machine, or send someone on a training course) can reap significant benefits.


    Comment by scott — December 8, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  2. Scott,

    Some random jumbled thought

    1 – As long as we have ordained ministers, we have funding issues when it comes to pioneering.

    2 – The F ex report 5 years on indicated that 95% of future f ex would need to come from lay folk. And certainly our experience at Opawa was planting using lay teams. But that is most likely to build in and through existing networks. (And that’s why I’m passionate about the Msm course.) Yet at some point there is also a need to cross-cultural barriers and at that point we might well need a model that is a bit more pioneer/apostolic.

    3 – I’ve gone back to read Paul. How did he view his tentmaking? As workplace ministry, or as a way of living that helped facilitate a type of unique ministry?


    Comment by steve — December 8, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

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