How to start a congregation without any money

jodihouge
05/31/2011

How to start a congregation without any money

When we started Humble Walk, I was a student at Luther Seminary (score 1 for laity!). Lest anyone accuse us of following a business model of ministry, I can tell you with confidence that we had no plan.

We were an unplanned birth. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had something to do with it, but an unplanned birth, just the same. We met every Sunday for six months before putting a hoped-for budget together.

When you have a volunteer pastor and zero assets, the budget is pretty low. A box of wine, homemade bread and a little rent money -- that’s about what it takes.

But, then I graduated and the synod called me to do this work -- and my student loans started rolling in.

We pieced together a scrappy little budget that would hopefully come to fruition through partner congregations, synod grants and offerings. It more or less worked, some months better than others.

As a congregation under development, we get some funding from the churchwide organization and the St. Paul Area Synod. Our worshipers are wonderfully generous -- and we have been graced with surprise gifts from area congregations who believe in what we are doing.

Starting a congregation?

Here are five things you might want to know regarding money if you are forming a congregation.

1. There is enough. Enough to go around. Enough to fund ministry. Enough to share. (We might work on distribution, however.)

2. Clergy, don’t quit your day job. Seriously. Whatever skills you have for making a living outside of the congregation are huge assets. (I have none. Other than a decade of youth ministry -- oh, wait -- ) Think of the freedom to do wild, spirit-led mission without the burden of needing an institutional church to pay you a salary. Think of the risks you could take.

3. Look around you. There are people in your life who are ridiculously gifted. I am not telling you to use them for your congregation-starting agenda. That feels slimy. However, people want to be a part of something meaningful -- and want to contribute. Let them. Invite them. You often have to give up control, but I’m pretty sure we are supposed to do that anyway.

4. Owning stuff is way over-rated. Beg, borrow or steal. I will be the first to admit that this approach gets annoying. You are always setting up camp or tearing it down. What you do own eventually gets broken in the process. But traveling lightly has all sorts of benefits. Think of the hours you won’t have to spend managing physical assets.

5. Do your own vacuuming. Wash your own dishes. Set up your own chairs. Take out your own garbage. Don’t hire this out -- invite your folks to set up camp with you. If you and a staff provide everything -- what else is the gathered body for? (Remember the childhood Sunday school song: "We are the Church.")

Bonus tip: You don’t need to rent or pay for an office. If you do, you will spend most of your time there. Lame. There is a whole world out there for you to be a part of -- to observe -- to conspire with -- and that world provides Wi-Fi and coffee and beer. I would, however, budget for the coffee and beer that you will consume in your mobile office. Probably a scone or two, as well. Throw in some nacho money for good measure.

Ready? Set? Go.

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Originally posted May 3, 2011, at Humble Walk Blog. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Jodi Houge’s blog Humble Walk Blog at Lutheran Blogs.

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