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Jimmy Scroggins is a pastor friend of mine. He currently serves at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Jimmy is passionate about church planting in multiple forms and is involved in a mission network called SendSFL. I’m excited to see new methods of church planting that can supplement and support traditional planting strategies. Today, Jimmy joins me on the blog for a discussion about the future of church planting.

Trevin Wax: One of the things we’ve talked about before is how the church planting structure in North America puts the planter under enormous pressure to attract givers to the new plant, not necessarily new converts. Elaborate a little on how you think our structure and strategy can unintentionally hinder passionate evangelism.

Jimmy Scroggins: First, I want to be clear that I have huge admiration for church planters. Their boldness and confidence in God to go out and start a church from scratch is amazing to me. I am also a strong supporter of church planting churches and organizations, and I am truly grateful for the current wave of resources that is being directed towards new church starts in North America.

Trevin Wax: That said, you have some misgivings about some church planting strategies.

Jimmy Scroggins: Yes. I worry that our standard strategy for funding planters is unlikely to start the number of sustainable, evangelistic, healthy congregations needed to advance the kingdom relative to the growing population and increasing lostness of our culture. The favored approach seems to go like this:

  1. Identify a talented, driven, and probably well-networked planter.
  2. Help him raise several hundred thousand dollars to fund him and his church for 3-5 years.
  3. Count on him to lead his new church to grow fast enough so that by the time his funding runs out his church is self-supporting.

Trevin Wax: What’s is deficient about this strategy?

Jimmy Scroggins: The math simply does not work. Take Southern Baptists, for example. We are working to plant 15,000 churches in North America by 2022. If we are going to raise 100k each (a pretty conservative number for most contemporary church planters) to fund those churches, we are going to invest 1.5 billion dollars in the successful church plants (if you make it 300K per church – that makes it $4.5 billion).  Assuming a 70% success rate (which would be phenomenal to the point of unrealistic), we would have tried to start around 21K churches, with a total investment of over $2 billion.  I am afraid the math simply doesn’t work if we are hoping to plant that many churches in that amount of time.

Trevin Wax: Besides the math, what concerns do you have?

Jimmy Scroggins: I’m afraid this strategy forces the church planter to focus on attracting givers more than on evangelizing lost people. It really doesn’t matter how many lost people he reaches or baptizes; his sustainability and “success” will be evaluated and celebrated only if his fledgling congregation gives enough money.

The planter’s ability to remain “in business” is directly tied to his ability to shift the costs from his sponsor churches to his own congregation before his startup money is exhausted. It is unlikely that new believers will be able to carry that load fast enough. He has to go hard after transfers from other churches in order to make it work. So again, the focus of the church planter almost has to be on attracting givers as opposed to reaching lost people.

Trevin Wax: So where do we go from here? Your church, while certainly intentional about funding traditional church plants, is also involved in other kinds of gatherings. Tell us about that.

Jimmy Scroggins: As you said, we are indeed participating in traditional church plants, and by traditional I mean the funded approach with full-time planters and some type of “launch-large” strategy. But we are convinced that these types of plants take too long, cost too much and fail too often - at least if we are going to get to 15,000 by 2022. We have begun to develop and invest in two different approaches that we believe will be more effective, especially in metropolitan contexts where Southern Baptists have been weak.

First, we are going all in for bivocational church planting.  We are working to identify, recruit, train, and place men in new church plants who will never require a full-time salary from their church.  There are scores of white collar, middle and upper income, educated, successful professionals in our churches who have untapped capacity in terms of their time and energy. These guys can be motivated and equipped to plant churches. Of course, God has to call them, but we can help them hear God speak.

Previous generations of church and denominational leaders have basically said:

“If you are called to the ministry, you quit your job, you move your family several states away for seminary-based training, you learn to live in near poverty, and you help your wife and kids adjust to their new life and their new standard of living in their new town. And about the time you get halfway settled into the seminary community – you graduate and move again to a small church in a small place and begin your journey in ministry.”

No wonder very few people will voluntarily heed the call!

We believe there is a better way. We want to train church planters from our own church to plant new churches in our own community. They don’t have to move their families. They don’t have to find new jobs. They don’t have to strike out on their own. We can pour into them, help them develop their spiritual gifts, help them discover their unique calling, help them find a neighborhood that needs a gospel church, and ultimately help them form a church planting team.

Trevin Wax: What experience have you had in developing the bivocational church planting strategy?

Jimmy Scroggins: At First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, we have established a church planting residency program to equip bivocational church planters from our church family. The response has been overwhelming. We have ten men in our first cohort this year, and the waiting list for the 2013 group is already established.

We are pretty excited about bivocational church planting because it is a way to help make the math work. Although these churches will look very much like traditional, funded church plants, we believe they will have a greater chance of success because the pastors will not have to depend on the fledgling church as their sole source of financial support.

Trevin Wax: What’s the other approach you take?

Jimmy Scroggins: We are committed to reaching people that most church plants cannot afford to reach. There are thousands of people in our community who are homeless or very poor. Many are immigrants and many are in our community illegally. Traditional church planters can’t spend time reaching these folks. They can’t give enough to support the new work. But we have recently discovered a way to effectively go after these people.

One of our sister churches in West Palm is teaching us how to plant “rabbit churches” (so named because they multiply really fast). This church uses lay people to start new congregations in homeless camps, trailer parks, apartment complexes, and retirement centers. We are learning from this approach, and we are seeking to plant churches for “the least of these.”

A “rabbit church” looks like a middle-aged deacon pulling up to the homeless camp with metal folding chairs stacked in his pickup. He arranges those chairs around a tree and calls the men and women out for donuts, singing, and Bible study. These people can’t or won’t give much money at all, but since this type of church doesn’t cost anything, they make budget every single week.

Trevin Wax: How will these methods affect the future of church planting?

Jimmy Scroggins: We are convinced that these two approaches – using bivocational planters to start traditional-looking church plants, and using lay-preachers to start “rabbit churches” – could be the future of church planting. And since these two strategies are very similar to effective approaches found in the Bible and throughout church history, we are confident they are going to work.

One thing’s for sure: traditional, funded, full-time church planters are not going to plant enough churches to truly penetrate the lostness of North America.

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18 thoughts on “Rethinking Church Planting: A Conversation with Jimmy Scroggins”

  1. I am curious how many bi-vocational planters you’ve helped plant thus far? I’ve been planting bi-vocationally for going on 3 years. As the church grows I’m trying to figure out how it’s sustainable long term. 40-50 hrs a week from a secular job, plus as the people grow the issues of the people grow. Of course the answer is equipping and training other leaders to handle these things but long term? Attempting to find a contentedness in it, but it takes the toll on the family, on quality of things in general because you are spent so many different directions. Things are great in theory but we don’t have the same society Paul did when he was making tents, caught between serving God and mammon because we live in a mammon world.

    1. Jimmy Scroggins says:

      Thanks for your sacrificial labor – you are doing something that is almost impossibly difficult as a bi-vocational pastor. As for our church…we have launched 2 congregations in the past 15 months that are led by bivo pastors. And one of our strategic partners here has launched 28 “rabbit churches” in the past 24 months, all pastored by bivocational leaders. As for sustainability….there is no silver bullet for that one. There is a struggle for balance between demands at home and demands at church for all pastors. Of course, a pastor working for a living outside of the church and pastoring the church for free adds another layer to the struggle. Ever pastor (whether paid or unpaid) and every church has to continually work to create and maintain a sustainable leadership paradigm.

    2. Peyton Jones says:

      Paul seemed to work with his hands and raise support. Romans 15:25, 2 Cor 11:8, and Phil 4:10-16. I’ve found that when in your situation, it’s easier to take a balanced approach and fund with what support I can get, and then work with my hands the rest of the way. I don’t take a big pay from the church I’ve planted. The church needs that money, so I back off from that. They may however decide to donate towards New Breed Church Planting which is the organization I plant though. That’s where I get my missionary support. The other really important aspect to this is team leadership. Establishing a team of leaders who lead the congregation together protects the bivocational planter. Paul had this down, and we ignore it at our own peril.

  2. Frank Emrich says:

    Fascinating interview! Having pastored the same church for 30 years and have often wondered about how in this economy we can plant more churches. I am challenged by this. Thank you.

    1. Jimmy Scroggins says:

      Thanks Frank – I’m challenged too. We certainly don’t have it all figured out but I promise you we are working hard at it.

  3. Michael says:

    Could you please explain what you mean by “reaching people that most church plants cannot afford to reach.” First you bemoan the enormous pressure exerted on church planters because of how planting in general is funded and then suggest they should focus on those they can afford to reach. I get the idea of “rabbit churches” but it seems to imply that these are not “churches” in a formal sense, but a project “real churches” do to people rather than all kinds of churches doing life with all kinds of people.

    I would suggest that denominations, networks, and churches should stop funding church plants and start funding missionaries. No one would ever say to a missionary “you cannot afford to reach those poor .”

    When the formation of fresh expression of churches becomes something that is purely economic and “making the math work”, then we have completely missed the mark.

  4. Peyton Jones says:

    Jimmy, I feel as if I’ve met my long lost twin. My heart resonates with everything that you’ve said so far. My agent, Steve Laube turned me on to this article after reading it as it reminded him of the stuff I was saying in my book “Church Zero: Raising First Century Churches from the Ashes of 21st Century Church” (David C. Cook Publishers, Release date: April 1st 2013). I actually dedicate a chapter in it to bivocational planters. After being ordained and on staff at a megachurch for a number of years, I left for the mission field and sustained full support for one year. That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been bivocational ever since. I also have adopted the same method for training planters at New Breed Church Planting. It’s the closest thing to what Paul did that I’ve been able to find. I advocate planters raising their own funds as missionaries in addition to it so that they can work part-time back-to-back with ministering. We also specialize in reaching the unreached, and I’m currently in inner city Long Beach in Los Angeles county. The people we’re reaching have no money, and many of them are so messed up, that no matter how many we get in the door, they’ll never have enough funds to support a Pastor. Nonetheless, I’m training up five other guys who are ready to “go commando” for the gospel and plant out in the next year or so. Thanks for sharing Jimmy.

    1. Peyton Jones says:

      Meant to share this link. It hits the same topic from a different angle.

  5. Brent Williams says:

    Great thoughts. As a church planter using the traditional funding strategy, I would argue that it will take multiple approaches to plant churches that penetrate lostness for the glory of God. I would like to see the conversation change from the negative effects of traditional funding strategy to an education of those who sponsor and support church planters. Jimmy, you are a voice in the SBC that people listen to. We even know who you are in Alaska.:) I would love to see more energy spent on educating partnering churches while at the same time looking for and trying all sorts of church planting for all types of communities and cultures. Thanks for your voice and thoughts today. Very helpful.

  6. Sean says:

    I really like the article and the idea. Although, I wouldn’t call those “rabbit churches” churches. They’re good, but they’re not churches.

  7. David Rogers says:

    This is basically the same type of model we tried to promote with the IMB in Spain when I was there (and in most places around the world in recent years). It is hard, though, to promote this model overseas when we cannot point to successful examples of how we are doing the same thing back home. For this reason, I am encouraged by what I read here, and hope it really takes off.

  8. I really appreciated your thoughts. I have had four staff members go off to plant the amount of dollars expended has equaled a very large number. I love these guys who have planted but I also wrestle with the methodology and believe that it has to change in the future.

  9. Jeremy Riggs says:

    Thank you guys for this discussion. As elementary teachers, my wife and I followed God’s call to plant a church bivocationally. Many well-intentioned people, including a church planting network, wanted us to be bivocational only until the church could support us.

    But we are intentional in this approach because of how much it allows us to develop and sustain relationships with unbelievers. We never worry about how we will make time to interact with the community, because we are in it every day. Of course, there are challenges, but there are FEW that support the bivocational approach.

    My question to you is: Is there a network (like the one mentioned in the article) that will come alongside bivo guys? Is there support (conferences, training, etc) for bivo that we can take advantage of? FYI: We are in Chicago.

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​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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