Dr. W. Jay Moon is not your stereotypical seminary professor. When he is not engaging students in the classroom or actively working on one of his writing projects, he can often be found working on one of his many entrepreneurial projects at home, at his church, or at one of his treehouses in the Daniel Boone National Forrest. Dr. Moon has taught at Asbury Theological Seminary for the past eight years; before that, he taught at Sioux Falls Theological Seminary in South Dakota. He brings a wealth of insight and creativity to his writing and teaching.
Richard Doss is a PhD candidate at Asbury Theological Seminary in Willmore, Kentucky, where he writes on discipleship and evangelism. Prior to Asbury, Richard and his wife, Hadassah, worked in Egypt where Richard served as the principal of Nile Union Academy, near Cairo, and Hadassah served as head teacher. Richard and Hadassah have two daughters, ages 9 and 11. The family is actively involved in the Bluegrass Connections Church which is a church plant in eastern Lexington, Kentucky. Together they pursue the interests of music, hiking, and travel. Doss caught up with Dr. Moon at his home near Wilmore, Kentucky, recently to ask him a few questions about his role as President of the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN), as well as some of his recent publications.
Richard Doss, on behalf of the Journal of Applied Christian Leadership: Dr. Moon, you are the current president of the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN). What is the GCRN?
Dr. Jay Moon: The Great Commission Research network is an international community that’s committed to helping local churches expand their participation in the missio Dei through effective disciple making, building upon the early work of Donald McGavran and others. This network is comprised of researchers, laypersons, denominational leaders, and pastors who share insights—especially case studies—and theories that are derived from qualitative and quantitative research, illuminating thought leaders, and through networking with cutting edge practitioners.
Formerly, the GCRN was known as the American Society for Church Growth, founded in 1985 by George Hunter and Peter Wagner; originally, this organization was built upon the principles of disciple-making developed by Donald McGavran. The GCRN is good at combining the best of practice with the best of theory to encourage disciple-making movements.
JACL: What is your background, and how did you become involved with the GCRN?
JM: My wife and I, along with our four kids, were missionaries for 13 years, largely in Ghana, West Africa. As missionaries, we focused on church planting and evangelism. The whole concept of disciple-making, leading to church planting, leading to movements of church planting was a large focus for us.
Along the way, I learned from people like Don McGavran, his book The Bridges of God, and other folks. I’m most interested in praxis, where practice and theory intersect, and that has been guiding me to keep seeking to understand what’s happening in our cultural environment, cultural context, and what God is doing in our midst.
As for becoming president of the GCRN, that has been a six-year process. I served for two years as second VP, then two years as first VP. I have now been serving for two years as president. It’s been a joy to meet lots of really good folks at the GCRN.
JACL: How does your vision for the GCRN build upon, as well as differ, from the history of the GCRN?
JM: The importance of ideas like bridges of God—these relational networks for disciple-making movements to occur—continues to be relevant. McGavran understood that as well as anyone. Early on, he said disciple-making movements and church multiplication is more important than church growth and even church addition. Unfortunately, people co-opted some of his early thoughts and took a different direction than he intended. For example, when he started at Fuller Theological Seminary, he didn’t allow any North Americans (i.e., focused practitioners) to participate in the program because he was afraid that they would co-opt it and take it into areas with which he wasn’t comfortable. He pretty much said “no” to North Americans in his program until Win Arn came along, and some others that convinced him that it could be helpful in North America. However, his initial focus was diffused, and I think it went into a direction that was not his intent; for example, focusing on organizational planning and business thinking became enmeshed with the whole church planting idea. That was not what McGavran intended. He really focused on understanding disciple-making movements.
Today, the GCRN is trying to refocus back on McGavran’s original intent. We’re trying to apply that into places like the marketplace, without being co-opted by, say, business thinking alone. I like to think of it this way: the difference between making ice cubes and making ice blocks. When you have a refrigerator that makes small ice cubes, if it makes a big block there’s something wrong and you have to break it up. But they have ice block making machines, two feet by three feet machines, and they’re meant to make big, big blocks. Instead of making a bigger block (i.e., like a mega church), we’re asking, “What would it look like to spread out ice cubes throughout a city with these, multiplying, discipling units? What’s the kind of thinking and the theology and the biblical underpinnings to create ice cubes as opposed to large ice blocks?”
We’re not denigrating mega churches. We thank God for them. I’ve been involved with some that are very, very healthy. We’re just asking questions about things like replicability, and there are large groups of people that will never come into those megachurches. So how can the ice cubes reach those unchurched groups? With the GCRN, we are trying to refocus back on what it means to create widespread disciple-making movements in the West.
JACL: I understand that you are writing on alternative financial models for the church in North America. Why do you feel that new models are needed that differ from the traditional models that rely upon tithes and offerings?
JM: The generation that provides most funding for the church is passing on, and we have seen that Millennials and Gen Z tend to be more “tippers” than “tithers.” As a result, there’s less money from tithes coming in from younger generations. Some of the existing models encouraged by church planting organizations like Stadia, as an example, ask you to have three years of operating money upfront before you plant a church. I talked to somebody a few months ago, and they said it’s probably close to $700,000 in today’s economy. The point is, how replicable is that? How can you multiply that? It basically means that there’s a lot of churches that aren’t going to be planted. A church plant may be God inspired, but the planters will not be able to afford the startup fees.
In North America, there’s a shift. While people are still giving, but they’re giving to other benevolent organizations and giving less (percentage wise) to the church. So, what you have is a generation that used to be heavy givers is passing away. The next generation coming in is not giving as much, and of the giving they are doing, it’s to other organizations, not only the church. Thus, the percentage given to the church is decreasing.
What I’m saying is that churches will feel the push in these areas, and there will be less money available for both existing churches, as well as for church plants. What if we assume that tithes and offerings aren’t sufficient? What are some other financial models out there that would provide for church plants, as well as for churches? Let’s find out what’s already working. That’s why I think we need to look into it.
JACL: What are some alternatives are there for churches to be both missional and vibrant and financially viable?
JM: There are some sobering numbers out there. Some scholars estimate that between 4,000 and 16,000 churches will close each year in the United States alone. Let those numbers sink in a minute. These are pre-pandemic numbers. I think COVID has exacerbated or accelerated the trends that were there. We need to at least reexamine and ask, “What other financial models are working, and what can we learn from them?”
While people are still giving, they’re giving to other benevolent organizations and giving less (percentage wise) to the church. There will be less money available for both existing churches and church plants.
I’ve described six models in a free e-book coming out on the Exponential website. These models are all based on two things: the first is missional vibrancy, and the second is financial viability. We’re not just trying to keep the church limping along financially and without a missional presence. The purpose of this discussion is to help the church have a missional presence so that the church can be transformative in their community. As we’re talking about these different models, keep in mind we’re really driven by missional vibrancy—keeping mission in front—so that they can have a presence in the community and be as transformative as they are financially viable.
There are six models that I will talk about. The first model is monetizing the existing assets in their church. This includes both liquid and frozen assets.
Some of those assets can be used to generate income. For example, buildings or parking lots could be rented. Human resources are another asset that could generate income for the church. Oftentimes existing assets are underutilized. In this model, we try to think through the assets the church already has.
The second model is to incubate new businesses. We examine the gifting, talents, etc. of people in the church. What kind of businesses could they incubate in order to serve their community and strengthen the church financially?
The third model is starting nonprofits to serve as the mission arms of the church. Nonprofits can raise money from government organizations, and others, that the church cannot. Nonprofits have autonomy from the church but oftentimes the church has some board representation. In this case, the nonprofit becomes a missional arm of the church so that the church fulfills their mission to the community. Therefore, instead of a negative cash drain on the church, it becomes a positive one.
The fourth model involves co-vocational leadership. Most people are familiar with the term “bi-vocational,” which has some assumptions. The bi-vocational term often assumes that the other job is only secular work (not real spiritual work), that this work is second best, and it’s short term until the church can start to pay for the full-time pastor. The co-vocational model challenges those assumptions and asks, “What if this is not simply second best but this work really utilizes some of the gifting of that pastor? What if this work is not just simply secular work but it is really dripping with sacred potential to connect with people outside the church? What if God has sacred intentions, missional intentions, in that work? What if that job is not simply short term but a longterm approach to stay connected and to gain some “street cred,” both in the church and outside, such that even when the church can afford to pay a fulltime salary, the pastor still retains that co-vocational position?
The fifth model utilizes entrepreneurial church plants. This is where the church locates inside of an existing business, like it could be the break room at Lowe’s, or at the Buffalo Wild Wings before they open up, or at a bakery, or whatever. It could even be a start-up business that creates a venue for a church plant.
Finally, the sixth model is what we call “decentralized churches.” This is where the church doesn’t need a separate building per se, but they are decentralized. Think of these as ice cubes out there, decentralized in the sense that they are not focused on one centralized location.
You may have noticed that these six different options spell the word MINCED which is an acronym (Monetize, Incubate, Non-profits, Co-vocational, Entrepreneurial, Decentralized). These models bleed into each other, and churches that are thinking through their financial positions often try different ones. What I have tried to do in the book that is coming out is look at two factors to give you a grid to know where your church should start. The first of the two factors is your church’s relational network access to those outside the church. This can be either open or closed, and the book offers factors for a church to determine that. The second factor is financial liquidity. What access do you have to cash? I also provide an approach for a church to determine that.
These two factors provide an x and a y axis on a chart that indicates where your particular church should start because there’s no “one size fits all” approach. These six different options could be a bit overwhelming. However, the chart indicates which option is a good starting point for your church.
The e-book is really a workbook for any board or church planting team to work through, in order to determine the financial option that fits you. In addition, I coach church planters or leaders to work through these considerations.
JACL: Can you provide some examples of how these models work in real life?
JM: Of course. The fun thing about this is that we’re not really discovering anything new or speculating. These are all examples that are working right now, and for the last five years or so, we’ve been doing research in North America, and also worldwide, to see how these models are working.
For example, Shadowland Community Church in Nicholasville, Kentucky utilizes the “monetize existing assets” (model 1) model. This church has a building that is used on Sundays for church. But they realized it is also an asset. With this realization, they opened up the church as an event space, and people are willing to pay money for their events. There’s also a counseling center in the building where people rent out space. The church has figured out a way to use the space every day of the week. Instead of simply heating and cooling it for one or two events a week, the building is being used every day for different things. They are trying to monetize that space by using the asset of the building. I also know of one church planter had a parking lot, and when the circus would come to town twice a year, they would pay him $12,000 every time to use the lot. The church is utilizing that parking space as an asset.
There’s a great example of the second model, incubating new businesses, in Cincinnati, Ohio. A guy named Chuck Proudfit has what he calls a “biznistry.” They’ve opened up new businesses on the church campus which, in turn, have created over 100 jobs. These businesses tithe back to the church, providing 20% of the church budget.
A good example of non-profits (model 3) is in Little Rock, Arkansas, where a church started a nonprofit called Vine and Village. This nonprofit has a budget of half-a-million dollars every year—none of that comes from the church. It all comes from either government organizations or even other churches because they’re meeting social needs in the community. This becomes the identity of the church; this is their mission arm, the Vine and Village. The Vine and Village can rent space in the church, if they want, at a fair market value. Thus, in a way, the nonprofit can even provide a positive cash flow for the church budget.
The co-vocational model (model 4) is also on the rise. Between 2010 and 2015, utilization of this type of model increased 35%. Christianity Today calls this the “new normal.” In the years since 2015, I’ve seen an increase in this model, as well. Many churches are thinking of co-vocational leadership. I, in fact, consider myself to be co-vocational. I’m a teaching pastor of a church plant with a team of four while also a professor. A lot of these co-vocational roles assume that you have a team—shared leadership. I think it is healthy to have some shared leadership. The co-vocational is actually the predominant mode around the world both historically and also contemporarily, from a world-wide perspective. Looking to the future, I assume this model will continue to become more common.
A good example of entrepreneurial church planting (model 5) is in London, England. Paul Unsworth started a church in the Kahaila Coffee shop. He saw 20,000 people every Sunday go down this street with no Christian witness at all. There was somebody on the street corner talking about true Islam, but nobody talking about Christianity. Three percent attended church in that area. So, Paul asked, “How can I connect with people here?” He opened a coffee shop that also has sweet treats. Now the church meets every Wednesday night in that coffee shop. Paul told us when we went to visit him, “I’ve had more conversations in a week with people who are not yet believers than I had in a whole year as a youth worker in my church.” Paul’s Kahaila Coffee shop ministry is growing, and he’s done another entrepreneurial church plant elsewhere in London.
Probably one of the best examples of decentralized churches (model 6) is the Tampa Underground in Tampa, FL. This network has over 200 micro churches. These micro churches are usually about 15 to 25 people, and they’re each focused on a particular social concern—whether it’s trafficking, homelessness, etc. They don’t all meet in homes. What they’ve found is that the middle class likes to meet in homes, but the lower socioeconomic class doesn’t prefer to meet in homes because their home is not always something of which they are proud. They would rather meet in a neutral space. It could be at a business venue, or a different kind of neutral space. For example, they could use a space like our Shadowland Church which is set up like an event space. Decentralized churches could work in lots of different venues.
JACL: You’ve written on a wide range of topics including discipleship, evangelism, entrepreneurship, church planting, and orality. How have these other topics influenced your understanding of financial models for the church and church plants?
JM: I’ve been influenced by Paul Hiebert. He’s one of my missiology heroes. Of course, he’s known as an anthropologist (his PhD is in anthropology) and missiologist. But he told me that he kept current in mathematics. He encouraged me to find areas other than missiology and drill deep wells into those areas; by doing this, you’ll find connections between those other areas that others will miss. I’ve tried to do that—to draw from other disciplines. My undergrad was in engineering, so I still try to keep current in engineering and building. I’ve also studied entrepreneurship and business in an MBA program. That encouraged me to start five small businesses. I try to mix these interest areas with missiology, particularly evangelism and church planting.
I try to look at the direction in which things are moving. This idea comes from an interview with Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time. He was asked why he was able to score so many goals. He said, “Well, the secret is I try to go where the puck is going to be instead of where the puck is. And that puts me in position to be able to score a lot of goals.” I try to figure out where the church going to be, as opposed to where we are now. And if we skate or move towards where the church is going to be, we won’t be held back by the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge, as Doug Paul articulated it, describes how people that have had success in one area in the past, when they get in stressful conditions, revert back to the past. This tactic becomes like a straitjacket, keeping people from moving forward. Doug Paul said that businesses do this, and churches can do it, as well. What Gretzky was saying was that we should not be confined to where we have been. Instead, we should skate ahead to where the church is going. This has helped me to think through and step around some cultural and financial assumptions in order to try to anticipate where the church is going to be.
For example, questions like, “How do you convince someone of the good news of the Gospel if they don’t feel guilty for their sin? What if they don’t feel guilt at all? Or what if people will not come to our church building, no matter how great our preaching, our programs, or our buildings? How can they be reached?” If we ask these kinds of questions, we can’t just revert to what we’ve done in the past.
Or what if we ask the question, “How many more churches could be planted if finances were not limiting?” If there is a God-given vision but it didn’t cost half-a-million to start, we might start thinking about multiplying units as opposed to limiting the amount of churches. These questions help us to step outside the box. The reason I continue digging into other disciplines is to help us think outside of the box in which we’ve been to move to where the church is going. This will prevent us from training pastors and missionaries for churches and church plants that no longer exist. Instead, we’re preparing them for the churches that will exist.
JACL: What kind of leadership skills are needed to successfully implement one of these alternative funding approaches?
JM:: You always need these core character qualities, like integrity, empathy, honesty, and accountability. When money is involved, it can be a really good servant but a really bad master. Some have said that money is so dangerous that maybe we just shouldn’t even get involved in it at all. But we can throw out the baby with the bathwater if we don’t recognize the great potential of what the marketplace does to connect us in relationships to which we wouldn’t have had access otherwise.
I’d say some additional skills are really helpful. First, is the importance of taking a learning posture. Assume there’s more that we don’t know than what we do know. Start by asking good questions of practitioners and academics— which is what the GCRN is famous for doing. We try to ask good questions of practitioners, theoreticians, and academics in order to merge them into practice.
Second, I think another really important skill is creativity. It will not just be those that lack money who will be unable to navigate the future, but those who lack creativity, as well (described in a chapter by Harrison Berkman in Refaithing Work). Moving into the future, we have to encourage some experimentation and creative thinking so that people aren’t locked into simply what’s worked in the past—not that we jettison the past. We try to stand upon the biblical and theological precedents without being limited as our culture changes. We don’t want to be accused of operating Blockbuster thinking in the midst of a Netflix generation.
That leads to another skill: being innovative. A lot of innovation is copy and tweak. For example, you might copy what worked maybe in London, England, in Vine and Village, or in Cincinnati “Biznistry.” However, you then have to tweak the concept for your own context.
Being Kingdom-focused so that our identity is less tied to simply a denominational building and more towards Kingdom building is also vital. When we are Kingdom builders, we can collaborate with lots of other folks, not simply our own denomination. There’s nothing wrong with denominations. It’s just that if they become our ultimate identity, they can actually stand in the way of the Kingdom.
The last skill I want to mention is being a team player. All the models that I’ve talked about require people to be team players. Ideally, I hope they embrace shared leadership. I’ve observed this taking care of my cows. (My family has 18 cows for which we care.) Whenever one cow, Georgette, moves forward to new forage, all the other cows will follow her to the new grass. She knows where to go for forage and the other cows trust her. But we have another cow called Grace. Whenever Grace moves towards the water, all of the cows follow her. Shared leadership doesn’t mean that everybody in the church does all of the jobs. It doesn’t mean everybody preaches, or everybody has to do counseling or visitation. It means find out what you’re good at. If you are good a preaching, well, do that often; you may not be as good at visitation or counseling. If you’re not gifted at it, don’t spend as much energy there. The shared leadership concept is helpful because when you find out who’s good at finding water or finding forage, you can empower, resource, and equip them. In turn, they can provide leadership in the church and not burden everybody with everything.
JACL: Thank you, Dr. Moon. Where can our JACL readers find your writings on alternative financial models?
JM: The most recent publication is called Missional Vibrancy and Financial Viability: Alternate Financial Models for Churches and Church Plants When Tithes and Offerings are Not Enough. It can be found as a free e-book on the Exponential website here: https://exponential.org/resource-ebooks/
There was a previous article called “Alternative Financial Models for Churches and Church Plants: When Tithes and Offerings are Not Enough” published in the Great Commission Research Journal, 12(1): 19–42.
There’s also an article I think might be helpful to your readers called “John Wesley, Compassionate Entrepreneur: A Wesleyan View of Business and Entrepreneurship.” In this article, I worked with two Asbury Students, Nick Bettis and Ban Cho, to read through all of Wesley’s dairies, journals, and sermons—and that’s a large volume of literature! We scoured Wesley’s works for anything he said about marketplace, business, entrepreneurship, etc. to get his perspective. This article was published in Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, 38(2): 105–123. (Available here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/02653788211004644.)
Finally, for those interested in entrepreneurial church planting, there is a free download by Exponential, as well as a full book written by Asbury Seminary professors, including Dr. Timothy Tennant, Dr. Winfield Bevins, and Dr. Fredrick J. Long that I think would be helpful. Entrepreneurial Church Planting: Innovative Approaches to Engage the Marketplace. (W. Jay Moon, & Frederick J. Long, eds.). Glossa House & Digi-Books.