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Creating Excellence With a Tiny Budget

When we began planting Grace Hills, we didn’t have the quarter of a million dollars that some plants in America start out with. We had way less than that in fact, so we had to figure out how to hack some things together, and I’m convinced it’s made us stronger. We learned to do the very best we could with what we had, and we’re still doing that.

A lack of resources is merely an opportunity to be extra creative.

The Values of Excellence

The first thing we had to do was clarify our “values” concerning excellence, and we came up with five. These are not an official statement – just random thoughts that guided some of our early decisions.

  • We do things with excellence (the best we can) for God’s glory.
  • We refuse to make an idol of excellence – excellence isn’t the goal, disciples are.
  • We refuse to allow the pursuit of excellence hold us back. We won’t wait for perfect conditions before taking risks.
  • We will learn from models, valuing effectiveness over originality. We don’t need credit, we need life.
  • We will be a model, sharing our excellence with others, or at least sharing what we’re learning from both failure and success.

Some churches value excellence way more than we do, and that’s great. But for us, excellence is kind of “assumed” while we take action.

Faithraising In a Church Plant

I hate fundraising and donor development, but I love faithraising. When giving is an issue of discipleship, we have nothing to fear in teaching a young church how to become generous. So your budget woes are usually temporary if you’re effectively discipling people, excepting an economic downturn. When it comes to raising funds, I believe its important to understand your financial values. For example, at Grace Hills:

  • We believe giving is a discipleship issue, so we make no apology for calling on those who have committed themselves to our covenant to invest in the vision.
  • We believe the ethical handling of money is essential, so we outsource all of our bookkeeping and we don’t let Pastors touch money if at all possible.
  • We believe in taking risks in faith, thinking big and thinking ahead for God’s glory.

The Tools We Use

If you’re going to do things on the cheap, you’re going to need to know where to go for tools and resources, and here are just a few of my own favorites:

And there are plenty more. If you have a favorite or offer resources yourself, feel free to share in the comments below.

Staffing With a Tiny Budget

It’s easy to over-staff, but it’s dangerous to under-staff. I’m a big believer in staffing ahead of growth. I believe in leadership and so from early on, we wanted to expand our staff as quickly as possible, but we obviously couldn’t afford to pay a bunch of full-time salaries. So we became creative in our solutions. For example…

  1. Seek passionate people. Passionate people don’t have to be paid large salaries. They recognize the privilege of doing what others would love to do for free. I don’t mean that you should make people starve, but find people who are passionate enough to find creative ways to make ends meet.
  2. Ask for volunteers. One of the things that impressed me most when I was on staff at Saddleback Church was the number of people who volunteered. The total number was well up into the ten thousands, but what I saw in my little corner of the world – the Communications Team and the Office of the Pastor – were volunteers who were working twenty to forty hours because they believed in the vision of the church. Many staff members started as full-time volunteers.
  3. Develop disciples and hire the best. To pit it another way, hire from within whenever possible. It’s not always practical to do so, but some of the best staff members you will ever have will be people who were discipled and developed within your church family.
  4. Use multiple part-time staffers. Today, it’s possible for talented people to innovate when it comes to earning a living, especially in the entrepreneurial atmosphere of a new church plant. We are two years in with a staff of six and none of us would be considered “full-time.” We all do something on the side that sustains our ability to work for Grace Hills.

Going Technical On a Budget

There are companies that do great work for the church at high prices. There’s nothing wrong with paying a lot of money for a cutting edge web presence, but it isn’t necessary, especially for a new church plant.

  • There are free resources such as webs.com, wix.com, tumblr.com and wordpress.com, all of which can be used to establish a free web presence, but the branding capabilities will be limited. Nonetheless, if you have no money for tech, start with these.
  • If you have a little bit of money, you can go big while going technical on a budget with a hosting account from Dreamhost, which offers an easy one-click install of WordPress, and a premium WordPress theme from ThemeforestStudioPress, or Elegant Themes, and a host of others. With this solution and a little bit of technical knowledge, you’ll spend less than $100 to get going.
  • If you have a little more money and lack the technical knowledge to get a basic template-driven website up and going, two of my favorite design studios offer church-specific solutions at good prices – Monk Development and ChurchPlant Media.

Promoting On a Budget

Direct mail works well in some locations and not in others. Either way, it’s expensive. It’s beneficial if you can afford it, but if you can’t, it’s still possible to promote what God is doing on a budget, especially using social media, which I wrote about yesterday here. And in addition to social media, we have had great success using MailChimp for our email marketing. Since Grace Hills started, we’ve spent $0 on traditional marketing. All of our growth is organic.

And beyond advertising and “promotion” is good old-fashioned service to the community, which is often cheap or free and speaks more loudly than a well-designed piece of marketing material.

Facilities On a Budget

Property is expensive and buildings are even more so. They are also maintenance nightmares for a new church plant. And in our present culture, a new church plant needs to establish that the church is a movement of people, not a location. So I have a few rules when it comes to buildings in a new church plant:

  • WAIT! Wait to lease by renting a theater, school, or other venue part-time. Wait to buy land until you’ve leased a while. And wait to build a building until you’ve paid off land. When it’s time to grow, it’s time to go, so moving isn’t the issue. The issue is that if you don’t wait, you’ll be saddled with debt and a building to maintain ahead of the time when you’re really capable.
  • Maximize spaces. Figure out how to make the most of things. We’ve created a nursery in a movie theater by using colorful roll-out carpets and plastic preschool fencing. We’ve created a coffee shop inside the theater’s lobby. And we’ve done lighting and sound effectively in a space that really isn’t conducive. We have a great screen, but we use our own projection. Figure out ways to squeeze the right things into the right spaces.
  • Think NEAT, not NICE. Again, I assume I’m talking to people who don’t have the money for the “best,” so think about being neat, clean, and safe rather than being elegant or fancy. Right now, pallets are big in the church decor and stage design world. With the right lighting and design creativity, you can make things look great without dropping a ton of cash.

Finally, to close out, just some from-the-hip random advice for creating excellence on a budget…

  • Be a hacker.
  • Think bigger than where you are.
  • Value volunteers, big time!
  • Know your culture and what it will take to reach it.
  • Ask outsiders what they think.

And at the end of it all, do the best you can with what God provides for His glory!