Should financial self-sustainability be a criteria for a church plant?
If a church is the body of Christ making disciples to fulfill the Great Commission, it can be as small as two persons – Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” A CHURCH OF THIS SIZE HAS NO EXPENSES, so it is financially self-sustainable.
A church cannot become too small to pay the bills until it incurs those bills and other financial obligations. When a church is too small to pay a salary, God raises up voluntary leadership from among the members. In the cell type church, that leadership is already in place if a cell church decides to become multiple house churches.
Property – a “holy place” – is not the goal of a church, but can be helpful in disciple making. The poorer the neighborhood, the cheaper the property. People can rent instead of purchase. Churches can meet in public parks and restaurants and other settings – even share space with other churches – at a cost that is well within their means no matter how poor they are.
Expensive buildings can create a situation where the church exists to maintain the building – and, instantly, you now have a temple institutional church as energy is diverted away from disciple making.
So, I wonder, what are the expenses that would make a church not sustainable?
Isn’t interdependency amongst many parts of the body more biblical than the self-sustainability of one?
I think what we find in the New Testament are church planters aka apostles aka missionaries who plant networks of small churches while simultaneously training indigenous leadership. Paul repeatedly states that the church plants do not pay the expenses of these church planters – they work for their own needs OR are supported by other churches that are established and send them to the mission field. The missionary is not fed by the mission field, therefore resources remain available locally until a church is financially able to send missionaries of its own.
The argument against this position is in Matthew 10; where the mission field should sustain the missionary – the missionary is to bring no resources to the mission field. This forces missionaries to keep moving and focus work where and only where God is rewarding it with local fruitfulness.
So it would seem to me that interdependency is about the sending of missionary apostles, but not about paying the bills for a mission field congregation. If they pay their own bills, it could be that they would scale what they attempt to what they could afford and thereby be consistently sustainable.
What is the proper course of action for a church plant that can not sustain itself?
It seems to me that the purpose of a church is to fulfill the Great Commission. Matthew 28:20 would result in leaders trained by what Jesus taught to be able to care for the spiritual needs of a church of any size. If leaders are not developed, then this training is not being successfully done.
Churches, like babies, begin with a single cell which multiplies. As long as leaders rise up, cells will multiply, because cells make disciples and disciple makers. When a network of cells reaches a certain size, it could decide to hire a pastor and procure a building so that it can minister in ways that fit the size of the growing body of Christ. If the cell function of making disciples and disciple makers continues, the number of persons in cells will grow, new cells will be born and more funds will be available.
If a church has hired a pastor and can no longer pay that salary, or a church has procured a building and can no longer pay that expense, then it can either close up or move back down to functioning as a network of cells. What I assume typically happens is that the evangelism practiced in the cell stops happening as the people are distracted with the busyness of becoming an institutional church where it becomes the pastor’s job to evangelize and disciple rather than the joyful task of every member.