Church Planting the Keller (not the PCA) Way

This sounds like a separate denomination. Actually, it sounds a lot like the kind of start-up featured in Gimlet Media’s series on church planting (as the spiritual equivalent of tech start ups). Would you ever hear something about the PCA, the denomination that gave Redeemer its support at the beginning? And which presbyters or bishops are overseeing this work of planting churches?

Philanthropy: How has Redeemer Presbyterian Church raised the funds necessary for its operations?

Keller: For our first three years of establishing the church from scratch, it was outside gifts that kept us afloat. I could name at least 100 people over the last 30 years who gave large gifts ranging from $20,000 to $2 million and above at crucial turning points in the life of our church.

Once the church was established, we primarily raised funds from inside the congregation through regular giving. We’ve always encouraged the tithe as a good rule of thumb for where to start in Christian generosity. I encourage giving in a planned and incremental way, stretching to give a bit more and then a bit more, not in an impulsive way.

Redeemer is almost two thirds single people, and most are young and don’t have deep pockets. So disciplined, sacrificial, small gifts have been our lifeblood. On the basis of that giving, we’ve made ends meet.

The problem is that as a church gets bigger there is a higher percentage of people who don’t give. In smaller churches people give all the way down. In bigger churches there’s a tendency to think, “This is their church, not my church, I just come.”

Two or three years ago we had a campaign to divide Redeemer into three churches. The plan was for me to step down as senior pastor and each of the three churches would get their own senior pastor. That has happened.

Over the next ten years we want each of the three churches to plant three daughter churches, making nine churches total. Redeemer City to City, the nonprofit where I am stationed now, has partnered with Redeemer Presbyterian on a strategy called the New York Project to come alongside many denominations to help plant churches all over the city. The goal is a total of 250 churches planted here in the next ten years.

We had a campaign inside Redeemer to raise money for this new strategy. And since we are also going to support churches of other denominations we felt we could make a call to the wider world. So, we went outside the congregation and asked for money.

The ten-year project is broken down into three phases, and right now we are raising funds for the first phase. So far we’ve raised about $70 million in pledges. About $33 million of that came from the three Redeemer congregations. About $37 million has come from outside. Our goal is to raise a total of $80 million for this first phase (2016 to 2019).

Philanthropy: How is the church planting going so far?

Keller: Since 2001, Redeemer City to City has helped plant nearly 400 churches in over 50 cities around the globe. For the New York Project, we’re two years into phase one and hoping that it accumulates like an investment. In the first phase we’re hoping to help plant more than 80 new churches of various denominations. We’re trying to create enough leadership that the number of churches explodes. We are trying to get a lot of young people out of grinding professional jobs and into ministry training and then starting churches, with our encouragement and aid.

We have partnerships with 16 outside networks that are focused on church planting. We go to those networks, and other potential allies, and ask, “What do you need? Do you need money? What’s your plan for the next three years?” A leader might say, “I’m aiming to do a church a year.” And we might answer, “Is there any way you could make that two churches if we help?”

It’s not easy. Sometimes we hear, “You’re Presbyterian, and I’m charismatic—you’ll probably squash my charismatic side.” We’re working to overcome that. Because we’ve learned a lot over the last couple decades, and a leader’s chances of failure are much higher if he or she doesn’t take advantage of the training and assistance we offer through Redeemer City to City.

But if you are a successful pastor in North American, you are a free agent and can set up a separate communion network.

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One thought on “Church Planting the Keller (not the PCA) Way

  1. The Lutheran Church has a couple of similar “networks” operating. I remember when I first got the presentation naively asking: is the point starting your own denomination via the scaffolding of the old one or building enough churches to tip/take over the current one?

    I think they have run into a bit of a wall though. There aren’t enough urban enclaves of rich whites who still feel the need for church to build that many, and the poor areas of the city do not produce self-supporting churches. At least not with ministers that have 8 – 10 years of education, are married with kids, and haven’t taken vows of poverty. That and the fact that the minority areas aren’t that hot on giving up their autonomy and ownership just to satisfy the rich white desire for a diverse worship experience. And also they are starting to run into each other. Keller might be able to continue to power through as his “brand” is the biggest, but it could also be like baseball where momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.

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