Saturday, February 21, 2015

Handling Problems Between Sponsoring Churches and Church Plants

In my previous post I shared several tips on how to have healthy relationships between sponsoring churches and new mission churches. In this post I want to discuss what happens when problems arise between the two churches. Things are never as cut and dry as we think they will be so problems between sponsoring churches and their missions is not a matter of "if" but "when." There are always unforeseen issues that pop up or circumstances outside of anyone's control. That is a part of life and definitely part of church planting.

One common conflict is over styles of worship. The mother church may use a more traditional style and the church plant may use something more contemporary, or vice versa. If the two churches come from different cultural backgrounds, that can also exaggerate the difference in worship styles. For example, one situation I am aware of involves a fairly educated, mostly Anglo, congregation sponsoring a church made up mostly of immigrants from Africa. The culture of the people group these Africans come from includes loud music and enthusiastic singing. Regardless of denominational affiliation or theological bent, in their African culture there is a lot of shouting in their worship services and jumping up and down. Imagine how the mostly Anglo, well-educated congregation first reacted to the loud shouting going on in their fellowship hall! The sponsoring church had to accept that worship would look different in their mission than they were used to. And the mission tried as best as they could to keep their exuberance within limits out of respect for the culture of the sponsoring church. In time they grew to deeply appreciate each other's unique worship style, but it was not without some discomfort on both sides, especially in the early months of their relationship. Good communication and mutual respect is the key to overcoming disagreements over worship style.

Another issue that sometimes comes up in church planting is how the two groups handle funds. It is not unusual for the sponsoring church to handle all the money in the beginning of the relationship. But that can become a control issue if the sponsoring church is not willing to let go as the new church becomes more developed. The mother church must be willing to release control as time goes by. Also, if the sponsoring church is providing significant financial support for the new congregation and goes through a time of financial struggle, that will have an adverse reaction on the mission church. For that reason, the new mission should have several other partner churches to help so they are not totally dependent on the mother church for funding. These other partner churches may not be able to help as much as the sponsor, but they can be vital in filling in the gaps. The keys to resolving issues over money are to release control and not to be overly dependent.

When the mission church is sharing a building with the mother church, which is often the case if the new mission is reaching out to a particular language or ethnic group, a whole other set of problems can develop. Who will use the sanctuary when? Can the mission church use the fellowship hall for meals? What about Sunday School rooms? And can both groups use the same crayons, or other supplies, in the Sunday School area or do they need to each have their own set? These may sound like small issues, but over time, they can become a real problem. One way to overcome these issues is to think of the building as being “God’s building” instead of the building of either congregation. That way the mission of evangelism is more prominent in the feelings of each congregation instead of “ownership.”

A less common issue, but definitely one worth discussing, is differences in ecclesiology. If one of the congregations believes in a strong Senior Pastor model and the other believes in a multiple leadership approach (such as elder or deacons), that can also cause challenges. The two groups would have to study the scriptures together and pray together to overcome this. In the end, they may have to agree to disagree, but that is okay so long as each side respects the views of the other.

Church planting is an exciting adventure, but it is not without its pitfalls. Good communication, mutual respect, eliminating an attitude of control, not becoming overly dependent and studying the scriptures together can help sponsor churches overcome issues with their daughter churches.


Terry Dorsett has been a church planter and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. Find all of his books at:


  1. Been there, experienced it. Even to the point of having individuals and families (from previous ministries) giving designated funds in our families name, go into building savings fund or pay other expenses...sometimes priorities are very different.