sustainability is one of the challenges people face pioneering new things. this is as true of emerging churches as it is of business. a pattern that has occurred in a number of situations is that a group gets money for three years to start a church plant/project/emerging church. after three years it is going really well. a community has been born. but the funds that have gone on a full time salary for the person employed to kick start it run out after three years. the community might (and should) give to support that person but the community is often too small.
i do wonder if this need reflecting on - either make the kick start time longer (for example we have 7 years for the telford project with mark berry); funtion more as a supported mission leader so there is ongoing support; or start part time and expand as the community grows. one of the challenges of grace has been that we have never employed anyone, but actually it is also one of the things i have come to really like about it...
anyway some of the people who have been caught in this sustainability issue are getting creative and doing bi-vocational stuff...
matt rees is launching a small graphic design business - amplified design. sign him up to do design work.
ian adams is spinning a number of things - consulting, spiritual direction...
ian mobsby as part of his entrepreneurial stuff to sustain moot is off on another tour of the US and has published a new book on the trinity. the trinity is a hot area in theology - the dynamic particpation in the life of god. so i'm sure it is good though i haven't got hold of it yet. if you are in the US do visit ian on his tour.
Hi jonny - I don't want to get all denominational on you cos I think that's a diversion (and baptists are hardly good at practising what we preach!) but ... we are still obsessed with models which are full-time leader/minister dependent - so you're right: we do need to do some more reflection in that the answer from a still shrinking Church can't be longer full-time financed run-in.
Posted by: nigel coles | May 21, 2008 at 09:00 AM
i completely agree nigel...
Posted by: jonny | May 21, 2008 at 09:21 AM
Jonny, can I suggest that something you've left out of your list is the power of living in community and sharing resources? If the medium is truly the message, then modelling a new kind of life, outside of the structures of paid employment for a leader has got to be worth some thought.
Posted by: Simon Cross | May 21, 2008 at 01:29 PM
In fact, having considered it further, there are a number of issues with the concept of start up funding a church in the way you describe.
For one, it can lead to a traditional emphasis on church with a big middle class congregation. People working in emerging models or house church models with poorer parts of society are less likely to be able to sustain an income from 'their work'.
It also treats the whole thing as a business, not a vocation. A business model says 'if a living wage cant be generated after the first three years, you should pack it in.' A vocation says 'I will do this whatever the cost'.
It further emphasises the importance of the unique leader, who needs to demonstrate that s/he is earning their wage.
Yeah basically I'm just not keen on people being paid to do this sort of thing - perhaps you already guessed.
Posted by: Simon Cross | May 21, 2008 at 07:40 PM
I completely agree too. Even though our church does support a couple full time I think that there are dangers in assuming that groups necessarily need full time workers - a notion that these start up finance packages could be perpetuating. Starting without anyone as you have done with Grace sits a lot better with me. As the group grows and one or more people emerge in the group who are suitable there might come a time when it makes sense to employ them - perhaps at first part time - but then again there might not. I certainly think that employing someone from outside should be a last resort.
Posted by: David Derbyshire | May 21, 2008 at 09:44 PM
The sustainability issue is one that I provide training on in Northern Ireland. It is focussed towards community groups more than any form of church but the principle is the same.
Coming out of the conflict here, funding from various sources has been widely available for a huge amount of things. Groups became fixated with acquiring youth workers, community workers and other staff and this often meant that individual members of any group took a step back and left it all to the workers. Having 'workers' also became the measure of any success of groups. This, among other things, is causing great difficulty for the long term sustainability of community and youth groups across the whole country. It has created a mind set that is difficult to overcome as we attempt to encourage community members to re-engage with their community.
Personally, I would go as far as to suggest that no person should ever be employed by church related organisations. The reasons range from there being better things that the church could do with its finances through to the long term negative affects the staff members will have on engagement from and sustainability from within the community. This is not to mention issues relating to perceived power, knowledge etc.
Posted by: Phil Rankin | May 22, 2008 at 07:45 AM
am very interested in what you are saying. i am probably pragmatic as well in that people who manage to get a full time post can also do wonderful things.
i wonder if you fancy writing something on your discoveries for emergingchurch.info?
btw i read buried spirituality earlier this year - a little late i realise but thought it was great. loved the 'church is shit' conclusions from the conversations about church with young people and have been quoting it!
Posted by: jonny | May 22, 2008 at 08:37 AM
"A business model says 'if a living wage cant be generated after the first three years, you should pack it in.' A vocation says 'I will do this whatever the cost'."
I guess it is nice to be in a position where you are able to say that you and your family can starve to death as it is a 'vocation'. At the end of the day body mind and soul have to be kept together.
The problem with living without anyone working at it is that you need people who are able to do things. In many working class areas there isn't the social capital to make something like grace work without someone holding it together.
I wonder how long the church would survive without those people who have a vocation to work for so little for the church that is so thankless.
Posted by: Robb | May 22, 2008 at 12:37 PM
In my experience of living with no wage for the last few years, with a wife and two children, God has always provided for us.
Sometimes that provision has come through gifts from those who are waged, other times in ways totally unexpected, sometimes simply in picking up bits of work here and there. God seems pretty good at keeping body mind and soul together.
Actually to be absolutely clear, we do currently get a regular gift from a church towards our work, which is the nearest we get to a wage. However, it amounts to approx £3000 per year, and we live on roughly four times that amount. If we had to live without that regular gift, I have no doubt we could and would do so.
It's not unrealistic to say people should work without being paid, it's just counter cultural.
Posted by: Simon Cross | May 22, 2008 at 04:34 PM