What is reasonable in the continuation of support for a church that doesn't seem to be moving quickly to being self-supporting? We have a persistent model for church plants among middle class folks. The larger the core group the faster they move to self-sufficiency, the larger the core group the more internal resources they have, and the more attractive they are to planting networks. Success breeds support.
Many of these middle class church plants rely on transfer growth, beginning with a committed core that from the beginning already gives a planter..."church." A group to which to preach, volunteers ready to work, a congregation ready to disciple and lead. The sense of momentum in a peer generation church with urban ambiance, professional quality music, child care, parking, and facilities, and a competent if not excellent communicator seems to be a guarantor of success.
Along with this is the benefit to the church planter of a pretty secure financial package. If the planter is part of a percentage network where he can begin with a hefty investment from outside, plus whatever he raises, plus whatever a sizable core group can give he won't have to be worrying about money all the time, and in fact can invest the surplus in staff, equipment, facilities, and marketing. Pre-support breeds success.
What happens when the target of this new church plant is the poor? What happens when there is no core group, or a very small one? What happens if and when there is some outside support but as the ministry nears the three to five year window there is still not a strong enough financial base or core to continue the work without continued outside help? What happens if middle class folk, who already know Christ, who already believe in tithing refuse to align themselves with such a work? Can it survive?
What happens when a planter goes to an unreached or non-believing group that aren't immediately drawn to something called "church.?" What happens when he tries to gather people who don't know what giving sacrificially means as they are trying to survive financially already? What happens if that pastor is so committed to this neglected community that he is willing to be bi-vocational, but loses the respect of his peers for not being able to make a go of it like normal churches do?
If our metrics are materialistic that says something I believe about our values. Not that growth is in anyway wrong, in fact growth is what we want, but from what source? When Peter preached and three thousand were saved, I think it must have meant new conversions, not three thousand former members of Southern Baptist churches that had old music. When Paul planted a church among the pagans, or the heathen, or just people who had never heard of Jesus, I wonder where he got his core group from and how he made it financially? Maybe he made tents or something, maybe he was sent gifts from churches that were established already but knew how to share, maybe he took risks and lived by faith.
If we are going to succeed in preaching the Gospel to the poor, and in planting churches among them (and not just using them for our mission and mercy experiences) I think we will have to change our metrics. We will have to support church planters for at least ten years, we will have to give them that help from outside of the communities they are trying to reach and it will have to be not only adequate but meaningfully sufficient. And we will have to send in talented, competent, and passionate men because the harder work takes the greater man, not the lesser.
Or, middle class churches in the city will have to learn to really reach the poor and include them in their new congregations, make them welcome, disciple them out of poverty, and raise them up in leadership. Either way, I think we will have to be radicalized about what the Gospel means, and we will have to stop working from the same old materialistic expectations and start moving toward spiritual ones.