This week on Tithe.ly TV, Dean and Frank talk with Michelle Parker, director of bookkeeping at Stadia Church Planting, about raising money for your church plant.
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Dean Sweetman: Hey everybody, Dean Sweet, man here along with Frank Barry. Mate, how you doing?
Frank Barry: Doing awesome. It's another good day at Tithe.ly.
Dean Sweetman: It's another fantastic day at Tithe.ly. Man, I'm just so excited about the show because we're going to be talking about something that is very near and dear to my heart and that is church planting and raising money for church plants.
Frank Barry: That's going to be epic.
Dean Sweetman: So we have got a fantastic guest with us today. Her name is Michelle Parker from a group called Stadia Church Planting. Michelle, welcome to the show.
Michelle Parker: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.
Dean Sweetman: Great to have you.
Frank Barry: Yes.
Dean Sweetman: This is cool. You met with Frank a little bit. I know as a company we help you guys on the whole digital giving side of things, but it's finally great to meet you. I've heard so much about you.
Michelle Parker: I hope it's been good.
Dean Sweetman: It's all been good.
Frank Barry: All good. All good.
Dean Sweetman: Maybe just a little for the listeners, Michelle, maybe a little background, what you do at Stadia, a little bit about Stadia. Give us the what's what.
Michelle Parker: Sure. Stadia's a church planting organization and we partner with individuals and organizations all over the world to start more and more churches. Planting churches is still the number one way to reach people who don't know God yet. And the vast majority of people, they come to faith as children. So it's this knowledge that propels Stadia and our partners to just really start planting more and better churches that intentionally care for children. I get the privilege of serving on the Stadia team. I've been a part of it for over five years. In my first role as project manager I helped church planters all over the United States get started. And in my new role I serve as the director of bookkeeping for Stadia and that ... it's a little bit different than project management, but-
Dean Sweetman: Those are two different universes, not just-
Michelle Parker: They really are. Yeah. But both very, very important. You need somebody to walk alongside a church ... Sources and so we recognize that if the finances aren't good and the systems aren't good, then the health and multiplication of a church is just very limited
Dean Sweetman: Interesting. Interesting. So my experience, and I'm interested to see it's yours, you have a couple types of church planters, ones who are good at and like to and see the value in raising funds. And you have others who are timid, know they have to obviously, but just don't lean into it. Give us some of your experience on just that whole dynamic of ... and how you guys talk about fundraising, how you talk to the planters and the teams about it. How do you guys approach that?
Michelle Parker: Yeah, we really use this parent analogy. So for those of us who are parents, we were remember the many visits that led up to the nine months before that child was born. Every month the doctor would check these key vitals, right? And make sure that everything was healthy, it was on track for that new little life. So baby church really is no different. There are these key vitals that must be measured. They have to be monitored along the way. And fundraising just happens to be one of the fundamental metrics for launching strong. Takes a lot of money to start a healthy church.
Dean Sweetman: Right.
Michelle Parker: And pledgers can have a tendency to think that, well, fundraising can happen as they go. And it certainly can, but the farther along a church planter gets into the process of planting a church, the more they realize they don't have as much time on their hands. So again, that analogy is that a low birth weight baby, they have this tendency for complications and delayed growth and church plant's the same way. With limited resources at the beginning, they too could have complications, stress when they're born and when they launch out. So we just really recommend that church planters really start working on the fundraising thing at the get go. Do as much as you possibly can because I promise you it's just going to be more and more work as you go along.
Frank Barry: Yeah. How do you guys, for church plant couples, I'm assuming it's oftentimes couples that come into that. How do you help them? They have no sense of fundraising. They don't come from that, maybe they've never done it or seen it. How do you help them get started? What kind of education does Stadia put folks through and training related to fundraising and planting a new church?
Michelle Parker: Well, we have lots of training. We have actually have a fundraising intensive. It's one of the first things that our church planters go through. And in that, one of my great friends and colleagues, Craig Whitney leads that. One of the things I love about the fundraising intensive is it isn't just a bunch of strategies, though it is, there are strategies. But he also speaks to the mindset of a church planner, it really helps them dial in and wrestle with some things. So you really have to deal with the things that limit you as it relates to finance and you have to figure out what are those things that propel you to be successful.
Michelle Parker: Many church planters, they never deal with their fear of making the ask. They never wrestle with their own values on finance or faith or fundraising and all of those intermingle. If they don't deal with that it can be pretty detrimental for the future of the church. And so in our fundraising intensive it's not just the nuts and bolts, which I can talk about in a minute. It's really this, you gotta deal with the mindset first.
Frank Barry: Got it.
Dean Sweetman: Just to go a little deeper there, a couple comes and they're pretty green on this whole thing. What are some of the fears that you guys deal with and that you try to obviously get them over these hurdles?
Michelle Parker: Well honestly you never know where somebody is at, right? As it relates to finance personally. But how people manage their finances often personalize how they're managing the finances of the church professionally. And so we got to deal with those kinds of things. There's also the mindset of ... you talking about the planters who are like crazy successful at fundraising. A lot of them are relational giants, they know how to interact with people. It's the ones that are far more timid that they really have ... they gotta own who they are and what they're doing before they can ever make an ask.
Dean Sweetman: Very good.
Frank Barry: Yeah. It'd be so interesting to watch that intensive. What does that look like? Is it a week long workshop thing? Is it all online? How do you guys do that with your plants?
Michelle Parker: Yeah, it's all virtual and it's morphed over its lifespan. But it's typically in huddles, in cohorts. So you got some interaction with other new church planters as well as the expert sitting at the table, really getting you to lean into that developmental process and then strategic nuts and bolts.
Frank Barry: Right, right, right. And do you teach church plants, or the gentleman you were mentioning, is it fundraising starts well before the church is planted and they try to get to some sort of threshold of dollars raised before it's time to plant the church?
Michelle Parker: That would be lovely.
Frank Barry: That sound so logical in my mind, having never done it myself.
Michelle Parker: Well I have, and I would probably do it differently the next time. But yeah, that's the whole point and that's why it's one of the first things out of an assessment or we define calling is we've got to tee you up for success. And so that fundraising piece has to happen on the front end. There's just so much more space if we're looking at a 12 to nine month window of time to plant a church, there's so much more space in those first three months than there is when we get closer to launch, there's all kinds of stuff going on. So yeah, we put it first and foremost, try to set them up for success. Really try to keep them motivated in that.
Frank Barry: Right.
Michelle Parker: And it's hard, fundraising is difficult.
Dean Sweetman: Yeah. So you get the mindset, right? We get some coaching, some mentoring going on. And so what's the first thing I've got to do as a planter and what are the nuts and bolts next steps I've got to take?
Michelle Parker: Yeah. First and foremost, you need a budget. We've gotta have a roadmap. You gotta know where you're going. Planter may be able to dream about the final destination. You're like, "Oh, this is what she's going to look like." But if they haven't really counted the cost, they might run out of gas along the way and never make it to the end. So you got to make a budget first and you gotta have some pretty good oversight, some wisdom speaking into that. Next you got to make a list and like Santa, you got to check it twice. And that can be pretty exhaustive.
Michelle Parker: We try to encourage them to think about all of the places in life that they've been and all of the contacts. And so not only are you making a list of people but you have to think through how are you going to communicate with them and some of them, how do you reconnect with them? And how do you follow up with them? So there's a lot of things just in the tactical things that a planter has to do. They have to enlist tools. One of the things I love about Tithe.ly and the Elvanto software is that offers this feature called pledge tracking, which is just huge for church planters. We really try to encourage them to use that tool because, well, for a couple of reasons. One, they can quickly look and see, "Okay so and so said they were going to contribute. I see that they have and next to how much they said they're going to commit."
Michelle Parker: That is such valuable information for church planter because now they have the ability to say thank you. And thank you goes a long, long way when you need to be fundraising for three to four years. The second thing it does is it lets a church planter to know, "Oh, so and so said they were going to give but they haven't. I need to follow up." And so using key tools like that, they're just fundamental in the fundraising process. So I love that. We try to encourage our church planters to use those tools. Our bookkeeping team knows how to use those tools and tries to help church planters just stay aware and be really good fundraisers.
Dean Sweetman: What's the time period typically of Stadia signs off on a couple and they're great from start of that process that they actual plant. What's the typical time?
Michelle Parker: It's typically, I would say nine to 12 months.
Dean Sweetman: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome.
Frank Barry: Yeah, that's interesting. And so their fundraising, it sounds like, almost from the beginning, right? From day one they're off and starting to work on the fundraising aspect of planting a church.
Michelle Parker: Correct.
Frank Barry: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. What are some of the practical things that you guys teach these folks on how to make a great ask and how to ... I dunno, preach division, compel their friends and family to support their church that their planting?
Michelle Parker: Yeah, for me it all comes down to motive and message. What's that driving force behind why did they church plant in the first place? Church planting, like many things, it's difficult and it's uniquely difficult. Like I mentioned before, I know I've done it. My husband and I planted a church seven years ago. And so if a planter hasn't spent time wrestling with the why, church planting versus anything else that they could do for the kingdom, they could mistakenly misdirect a message and then miss the whole point of their ask.
Michelle Parker: So if you want to get somebody to say, "Yes, I'll follow you in generosity." There are few things that a church planter has to wrestle with and it comes, in my opinion, just my opinion. But I think it comes down to three things. One is calling. What is God up to and what is he drawing you into that you just can't deny? And if you didn't go do this thing, you'd feel really miserable or even disobedient. So sometimes we call this the billboard calling. It's super clear, you know what your next step is. This type of motive ... It's extremely compelling if a planter can spend the time honing the storyline and it's really showcases God's story and how they'll be a fundamental part of their context and the people of their city.
Michelle Parker: So some people get that billboard calling and if they'll spend time working on that people would be silly to not want to be a part. But not everybody gets a billboard calling. Some simply have contextual or personal story. So story would be, what personally wrecks your heart? What are you passionate about? What needs to be redeemed? So again, a planner has to spend time crafting their storytelling and the calling and they need to figure out how does that donor's story merge with their story and with God's story.
Michelle Parker: So there's a lot that goes into fundraising just thinking about how do you pitch this vision to a church planter. And lastly they can't forget history. So their personal track record, your plays a lot into calling and into story and it paves a way. And so if people are willing to follow you like they have been, your leadership's been pretty stellar. Then when you speak about calling, when you speak about story, they'll probably lean in and wanna be a part and invest in what you're doing. So you gotta think about where you've been whereas you think about where you're going.
Michelle Parker: And I always tell my plants, I'm like, you know what? If you'll think about it this way, as you approach someone, a potential donor, just set your mind that says, you know what, they would be a fool if they didn't partner with this mission. That kind of sets them up to go, "Okay, I have to know why church planting. I have to know why this city. I have to know why these people. And if I can do that then the Lord does the rest."
Dean Sweetman: Amen. Yeah. I think just ... I was a church planter in my past life, so I'm hearing everything you're saying and was involved with some successful, some not. It's like anything. It's a gamut. Maybe switch a little bit to on the whole idea of digital giving now. I'm going back 30 years during my age, I would write letters and I would ask people to send checks. Right? That's what I did when I traveled as a missionary. And then planting the churches. That age is now done pretty much. How have you found putting the digital tools in the planters hand, how much easier it is now for them to be able to get people to make a recurring donation every month because it's right in their phone?
Michelle Parker: Yeah. It's crazy easy now. Stadia bookkeeping, one of the things that we are experts in is startups. So a church planter comes to us, we're like, "Okay, we'll open your bank account for you. We'll set up your online giving for you, we'll get your church management software up and running. We're gonna help you with fundraising intensive and even training." They're pretty much being handed and all of the tools. When I set up or one of my colleagues sets up they're Tithe.ly account, it's instantaneous. I don't know how y'all do that.
Dean Sweetman: That's secret sauce.
Michelle Parker: If you're gonna go with a different vendor you're gonna wait a couple days for bank verification and all that sort of stuff. I'm like, but it's like magic. It just happens and it's really fun to be able to reach back out to the church planter. I walk out of the bank, I come home, I give them their information, we set up their online giving and go, here's your code, here's your code, let's go. Plug it in a newsletter, put it on your website and it's pretty awesome. So there's really no excuse, I suppose, in this day and age for the inability to fundraise. The tools are awesome.
Dean Sweetman: And in the moment too, right? If you having a vision night or dinner and you've invited people over, it's like having the ability to ... Because you want people to give when they're inspired.
Michelle Parker: Absolutely.
Dean Sweetman: Hearing your story, what you're talking about, crafting your story, the vision of the church. And you've spent all this time and I was like, "Let's do it right now. Take your phone out.
Michelle Parker: Text to this. Absolutely.
Dean Sweetman: This is so much more powerful than-
Frank Barry: Don't lose the moment.
Dean Sweetman: Yeah.
Frank Barry: Yeah, yeah. And Michelle, how important is just tech in general, right? I think digital giving the ability to give anytime, anywhere, really quick and these moments is super important. But you guys also work on the church management side of things and you get that set up for church plants and obviously the bookkeeping aside probably with QuickBooks. How important, I'm a church plant and I'm getting this thing going. I have ... I don't know, 10 people in a garage or something like that. But having technology there to start the whole thing, how have you seen that make church planting different?
Michelle Parker: Yeah. It just gets easier and better all the time. The tools are sharper. They are talking to each other. So integrations with church management software and online giving solutions and even QuickBooks and all those sorts of things. They just streamline. They make it fairly effortless for a church planter to not only received donations, but to be able to see where am I along the journey. It doesn't take any time to tell a church planter how they're doing, which is awesome because it just helps with accountability, not just with them but with the people that are helping them plant the church. Whether that's their a management team or their board of directors. All of those tools, they help all the way up. Everybody's got to know how to play the game and what's going on.
Frank Barry: Yeah. You mentioned the vitals, right? You're having a child and you're going back every month and you're checking the vitals. Do you guys teach church planters to leverage a certain set of vitals and using the technology and that's how they're reporting out to their plant team or their board of directors and things like that?
Michelle Parker: Yeah. On our end they're setting goals. They set nine months goals in finance, launch team size and then a few other important launch ... A few other important vitals. But in the finance arena we leverage ... QuickBooks is huge for our church planters as far as getting that data, their church management software tracking. Anymore church management software, if you're wise and you use apps and those sorts of things, checking in people even in the prelaunch season is super, super helpful because now we have the metrics and we know how many people are there. We can know the percentage of givers we can ... It's just a lot of data that comes out as it's super helpful.
Michelle Parker: And in fact, that information is like crazy helpful at the time of launch because we can look back as an organization and go, okay, and we can do some analysis and see what are those things that are super important to launch a healthy church? What have we learned? And so technology's huge in not just one church plant, but in church planting movement as a whole. And there's just so much data now that's just going to make church planning better and better.
Dean Sweetman: Phenomenal.
Frank Barry: Yeah. Really cool.
Dean Sweetman: Yeah. As we wrap a little bit, just what are some of Stadia's ... What are you guys seeing in this whole realm of church planting? What's the future of judge planning as far as what you guys can tell what's going? You see a lot of negativity, like the church is dying, everyone's leaving the church. I don't think that's true, but I'm interested to get your take on that, really being on the front lines of, of planting and growing the kingdom.
Michelle Parker: Yeah. It's an exciting time, I think in, church planting. Church planting is not a new thing, right? It's been around for many, many years.
Dean Sweetman: A couple of thousand.
Michelle Parker: Yeah. But it's not ... I don't think it's ... It's not losing momentum presently. I think if anything, we're just starting to see more kingdom collaboration on our end. Prior to 2018 Stadia would find church planters and people would send us church planters, we would work with them, give them all of our services and they become a part of the family. But towards the end of 2018 the leadership of Stadia just really said, "Look, we need to be planting somewhere in the 8,000 number, church plants a year in the United States to keep up with population and church closure." We're maybe somewhere around the four thousands.
Dean Sweetman: Right.
Michelle Parker: And so Stadia [inaudible 00:23:08] said, "You know what, we just got to get the job done." And so we kind of threw out our old model of how we did things and we said, "You know what? We're just giving everything away to qualified people who want to plant churches that can get this done. And so if we can help plant more and better churches that are going to be around for years to come that are going to multiply and reproduce, then that's what we want to do."
Michelle Parker: And so it's been really cool to watch all of the partnerships that have come in. It's like we're seeing this trend of people is going, "Look, it doesn't have to just be our way and it doesn't have to be your way, but we recognize this is your strength and we recognize this is our strength. What would it look like if we came together and we just really took care of church planters?" So we ultimately were taking care of God's kids.
Dean Sweetman: Yeah. Yeah. It's like the software ... I've shifted from ministry to this startup software culture and just the way technology and giving things away, even if some kind of freemium type model, it's like, get as many customers you can as quick as you can. And I love that you're bringing that kind of mindset to church planting like that. Some people shouldn't plant churches, we all know that.
Michelle Parker: Right.
Dean Sweetman: And you try and guide them the best, but the ones that have that net calling, the billboard moment, just the sense of maybe they'd been successful in something else in life or this has been their passion since they were born again however many years ago, taking out the barriers and the impediments to getting those guys and gals out there planting churches, I think that's just phenomenal.
Michelle Parker: Absolutely.
Frank Barry: Walking them through A to Z, everything it takes to get started and helping them along the way and giving it all to them for free, that's incredible. Where should people go? Obviously, I'm pretty sure it's Stadia.com but if that's wrong, where should people go to learn more about you guys?
Michelle Parker: Frank, that's wrong. It's StadiaChurchPlanting.org.
Frank Barry: Fail. Fail. Sorry. StadiaChurchPlanting.org. There we go.
Michelle Parker: Stadia.com is probably Google's new thing with their gaming platform.
Dean Sweetman: Right, right. That's great though. We'll definitely put links in the notes and hopefully we've got some people who've seen that had that heart to plant a church. Looking for a relationship with a organization like Stadia and can get connected with you guys.
Michelle Parker: That would be incredible.
Dean Sweetman: Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so much Michelle, very informative. I know a lot of people who are going to love this episode and really appreciate your time, effort, energy and insight into that area.
Michelle Parker: You bet. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Frank Barry: Thanks Michelle.
Dean Sweetman: Thanks. Thanks. Man, what a great insight. Church planting is a big deal for us because I think ... You've been doing it, I've been doing it. We've been involved in church plants our whole Christian lives. Even as a company the way we do things here is you can get started in five minutes for free.
Frank Barry: Right.
Dean Sweetman: It's very much where we're geared towards that part of the church market.
Frank Barry: It's like church planting and start up business-
Dean Sweetman: All the same.
Frank Barry: They're totally different but also so the same. Right? And I think what they're doing where they're just saying, "Look, we've learned a lot. We can help qualify a kickstart people planting a successful church." It's really cool. It's like startup, like the Why Combinator where they do these like startup intensives, right? It's the same concept but apply the churches and it's great that that Stadia's giving away their stuff for free. You bring in the expertise. So a super cool and super cool to hear how they're using technology-
Dean Sweetman: To make it all easier
Frank Barry: Yeah to make it easier and to make it more data driven. They're learning things and then they can apply those learnings to other churches that come after that next wave. Right. So I think that's pretty cool.
Dean Sweetman: Good times. Awesome man. Well, thanks everyone for joining. We will catch you next time. And until then, we'll see you soon. Thanks.
Frank Barry: Very good. Thanks, Tithe.ky fam. See you guys.