By Jim Nieman
Stadia Church Planting’s decision to give away the majority of its services starting last January had little noticeable effect on its financial bottom line in 2019, but the change helped Stadia to double the number of U.S. churches it helped plant last year.
In 2018, Stadia assisted in planting 34 churches in the United States; that figure jumped to 68 in 2019, said Matt Murphy, strategic services and marketing executive with Stadia.
How is that possible, when Stadia provides, on average, about $74,000 in services to help each new church get off the ground?
It has a lot to do with the goodwill of almost 100 newer churches Stadia already had helped launch continuing to support the organization by “providing a percentage of their general-fund giving back to Stadia for 10 years,” though it was no longer required.
“It was super cool because we reached out to all of them and told them we were doing away with that arrangement . . . that those churches were not required to give us a percentage of their offerings,” said Murphy. “I think all but two [of the churches] committed to continue giving at the percentage they had already agreed to.”
The announcement that Stadia Church Planting would give away planting services also created goodwill in general, which led to an initial noticeable bump in support, he said.
“We have a very strong donor base,” Murphy said. “Almost all of the churches we have helped plant in the past end up supporting us.”
Some might question the wisdom of Stadia’s move, but, Murphy said, “We’re trying to do whatever we can to help churches in whatever way we can.”
Stadia now provides free assistance to church planters that includes planter assessments, prelaunch training, training for fund-raising, network collaboration, coaching, project management, bookkeeping, document preparation, postlaunch support, and more.
Another by-product: “Because we’re free now, [we have] more opportunities for partnership with other organizations involved in church planting,” Murphy said.
This “kingdom collaboration,” Stadia’s Justin Moxley wrote in a Send Institute article, also includes “shar[ing] our services with church planting organizations, denominations, and networks at no cost.” By aligning “our expertise with theirs, . . . [it helps] fill in gaps so that together we can increase the quantity and quality of our efforts. This removes financial restraints and how planting is ‘credited,’ allowing collaboration at an unprecedented level.”
The most important thing, Murphy stressed, is that everyone’s moving in the same direction: planting churches, winning souls for Jesus, and growing the kingdom.
QUICKENING THE PACE OF PLANTING
Prior to this change in approach, Murphy said, Stadia Church Planting’s rate of growth had slowed in terms of its U.S. church plants—it was helping start about 30 to 40 new churches per year. (Stadia also plants 120-plus churches each year outside the U.S.)
In total, about 4,000 churches are started in the U.S. each year—far below the “break-even” yearly need of about 8,600 new churches necessary to offset such things as church closures, population growth, and changes in demographics, Murphy said, citing data in a report called “The Great Opportunity” from the Pinetop Foundation.
So, to change nothing meant falling farther behind. But by making the change, Murphy said, Stadia planted significantly more churches in the United States in 2019 and expects to continue growing the number of new church plants in the U.S. over the next several years.
Such a vision, Murphy acknowledges, ultimately will require additional monies.
“With growth comes expenses,” he said. “We’re hoping to identify other potential funding sources in 2020.”
Currently, individuals, churches, and organizations help support Stadia. Additionally, about two-thirds of Stadia’s 70 or so workers raise some or all of their support through personal networks of givers. Stadia also saves overhead through “100 percent virtual staffing”—that is, having employees work from their homes.
“We refer to ourselves as missionaries,” Murphy said. “We believe that church planting is reaching lost people.”
So, what isn’t Stadia giving away?
Murphy said the three main sources of income remaining for Stadia are (1) helping existing churches create and execute multisite plans, (2) providing church staffing assessments, and (3) providing bookkeeping services to established churches at below industry-average prices.
Murphy said Stadia hopes to develop additional revenue streams that assist churches in ways that are necessary, beneficial, and cost-effective.
ADDING TO THE MISSION
Stadia was founded in 2003 when leaders of the Northern California Evangelistic Association came together with leaders of Church Development Fund to create a nationwide church-planting organization.
In 2010, Stadia partnered with Compassion International and adopted a more global vision. At the same time, Stadia zeroed in on the importance of planting churches to reach children. After all, the majority of those who make a decision to follow Jesus do so before age 18.
Stadia’s website states, “We exist to make the vision of a world where every child has a church a reality by bringing people and churches together to plant thriving churches that transform the lives of children, now and for eternity.”
Says Murphy, “We’re all still passionately committed to the original mission and vision, but we have just added to it.”
To date, over the course of almost 17 years, Stadia and its partners have planted 413 U.S. churches, 480 international churches, and mobilized sponsorship of more than 46,000 children in impoverished communities.
DEMONSTRATING WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Stadia says 90 percent of its U.S. church plants are still engaged in their vision by their fifth year, compared with a national average of 60 percent by year three. Stadia also says that, at year four, its U.S. church plants average 67 percent more in attendance than the national average.
But survival and growth aren’t the only two objectives.
“Our goal is to plant churches that multiply,” Murphy said. So, in theory and in practice, each church plant represents a new movement of church planting.
Stadia Church Planting has faith that its new model will succeed and that it can help plant more new churches with “no strings attached” or any requirement of ongoing investment back into Stadia.
“We want to be the organization that shows everyone else that this is possible,” Murphy said. “We hope that we can be vanguards and trendsetters” with regard to giving away services and providing high-end, low-cost services to Christians, churches, and Christian organizations. “We want to help more churches thrive.”
And even though Stadia is giving away many of its services, it hopes that down the road the new churches it helps launch will support Stadia, though it isn’t required.
“We hope they will invest in Stadia because they believe in the mission.”
But for right now, after one year under this new paradigm at Stadia, “The biggest thing is it’s working,” Murphy said. “We’re working with more and more church planters and we’re working with more organizations than we would have otherwise.”
That growth and cooperation should only lead to “more churches and more Christians . . . and that’s a win!”
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.