But how can we afford it?

Monday, 15 February, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Funding is always a pressure. In church life, as in home life and business, there always seems to be more demand, or desire, than there are resources. So when new initiatives are proposed there is pressure about funding them. That is particularly the case at the moment, when the global Credit Crunch has hit the church's resources just as hard as any other part of society. So how do we fund fresh expressions of church?

To begin with, don't make your fresh expression too ambitious – as I wrote last month, don't overstretch yourself. Better to start small and grow a new congregation gradually. It may well prove more stable in the long run. Fresh expressions do not necessarily need large budgets. The resources they need most are people and time. This may also be a resource in short supply, but the key to planting could well be the release of a small dedicated team, who are freed from other responsibilities to major on the task.

Church councils and similar groups also need to look at how they budget. The danger is that resources may be allocated to maintenance without proper consideration of mission. If the church sets aside, say, 10% of its income for overseas mission partners and Christian development agencies, should it not also set aside a percentage of income for its local outreach, and then use the remainder to live within its means for maintenance. As churches we need to learn to budget for the future. More than a third of adults in Britain have never had a meaningful contact with a church. The average Church of England worshipper is fourteen years older than the national average age. Just to invest in maintenance, and more of the same, is to make decline far more likely.

If resources are tight, when we budget at home, we say that we can only add something if something else is removed. If there is to be planting there may need to be pruning. Regular prayerful review needs to check whether existing projects and financial commitments are still fulfilling the purpose for which they were established.

The positive side of all this is that imaginative mission often releases new giving. People, who are reluctant to give more for maintenance, may pray and give sacrificially for projects which are for others rather than ourselves, and which see a local church willing to risk and step outside its comfort zone. The call of the Holy Spirit releases money as well as workers.

One way of affording to start a fresh expression would be to set a team set aside to plant it, and to set aside their existing giving for the new project. In some church plants team members with full time employment contribute together to support a colleague to work full or part time on the project. All fresh expressions of church, irrespective of the source of their start up funding, should build the call to discipleship and stewardship into their life from the beginning, and work towards being both self-supporting and sacrificially generous. This takes time, but if it is not in the initial DNA it is very difficult to add later.

If the fresh expression is being planted in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit we may be sure of the resources needed. If new ones are needed God does provide. But often we find he has already provided: but we need to reorganize our budgets, lifestyles or giving.

The Fresh Expressions Initiative itself was funded though the release of new giving, through the Lambeth Partnership.  The first phase was a gift to the churches, rather than an extra demand on their resources. The second phase is largely funded from charitable sources with only a limited part coming from the partner denominations.



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