The strange intersection of high-growth business strategies and churches is becoming more and more influential as non-denominational churches spread like wildfire. Across America and increasingly around the world, a new breed of entrepreneurial church-planting organizations is accelerating the proliferation of these non-denominational Christian congregations.

Leveraging aspects of the franchise business model, networks like the Association of Related Churches (ARC) and Acts 29 are providing critical funding, training, and strategic support to enable the successful launches of hundreds of new churches annually.

These innovative church-planting groups operate as non-profit organizations, drawing together donors, experienced church leaders, and aspiring church planters within their ecosystems.

Also read: AI-Generated Church Service Attracts Crowd of 300

In exchange for an ongoing financial commitment from newly established congregations, the networks supply comprehensive resources aimed at maximizing the potential for new church plants to go from idea to reality and to help them grow along the way.

“Church planting is pioneering something new, for the sake of communicating these unchanging truths of the good news of Jesus,” explains Adam Flynt, VP of Church Planting at Acts 29.

The Roots of the Church Planting Movement

gregg surratt helped found ARC ministries

The church planting movement catalyzed by groups like ARC and Acts 29 has its origins in the visions of influential pastors from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Greg Surratt, the founding pastor of Seacoast Church in South Carolina, felt called to be part of an ambitious effort to plant 2,000 new churches worldwide to help reach more unchurched people.

Surratt started ARC by offering both pastors Chris Hodges and Rick Bezet $25,000 to plant their churches. This seed money helped them get on their feet while additional financial support was also offered to cover the churches’ annual expenses within their first year.

After a while, Surratt asked both Hodges and Bezet to invest the same $25,000 they had received on other church plants. This has been the model all along – reusing the capital that churches initially received from ARC to help other church planters and established organizations that need resources to expand their reach.

In 2000, Surratt met Billy Hornsby from Bethany World Prayer Center, who shared his desire to proliferate the attractive “seeker-friendly” model Surratt had implemented at Seacoast. Together with other pastors, they launched ARC.

Also read: Popular Online Pastor Caught in Massive Crypto Scam, Says God Told Him to Do It (Literally)

“Billy Hornsby carried an important value that became part of ARC’s DNA – to value the ‘little guy’,” the organization’s website states. “He loved to let [church planters] know that he believed in them. He became a friend who resourced them with training, funding, and ensured their strong start.”

With this brilliant model, ARC was able to grow far beyond the founder’s imagination.

ARC topped 25 plants in 2008, another 50 by 2009, and has planted over 1,000 total since its foundation. Meanwhile, Acts 29 claims to have helped found and fund a total of 644 churches in both the United States and other corners of the world.

How the Church Planting Networks Operate

At their core, groups like ARC and Acts 29 function as robust support systems that provide critical resources – both financial and ministerial – to church planters.

Intensive screening tools and assessment programs are used to identify and recruit church planters who demonstrate that they have the theological qualifications, leadership skills, entrepreneurial drive, and overall strategic vision to build a successful new congregation.

“It would be almost like a Christian Shark Tank type of atmosphere,” is how one ARC church planter described the multi-day vetting process, which incorporates live preaching demonstrations, staff management simulations, and the critical evaluation of comprehensive financial, marketing, and operational plans.

Once they are approved to get into the network, church planters gain access to a wealth of resources aimed at maximizing their efforts and positioning their new churches for long-term sustainability and success.

These are some areas where both ARC and Acts 29 provide support to church planters and pastors to help them grow their ministries.

Financial Support

Both ARC and Acts 29 facilitate crucial financial backing that allows church planters to devote themselves full-time to the immense undertaking of establishing a new spiritual community from scratch.

Direct funding investments can range from $20,000 to upwards of $100,000 in matching funds or no-interest loans to cover critical expenses like venues, staffing, children’s ministries, multimedia equipment, marketing, and the planter’s personal living costs.

Donations from the networks also frequently cover the new church’s operational expenditures for the first 12 months after launch or until the congregation can attain self-sufficiency.

Mentorship and Training

The networks rely on experienced pastoral leaders and church planting veterans to coach and advise new church planters through every stage of launching a new congregation.

This mentorship covers a vast breadth of knowledge including strategic planning, financial stewardship, marketing/branding, preaching, ministry development, team building, governance, and more. Multi-day intensive training conferences are used to further reinforce best practices and other core principles.

Non-Denominational Churches and Contemporary Models

A distinct philosophical emphasis for both ARC and Acts 29 is maintaining non-denominational status and promoting contemporary worship styles designed to reach unchurched demographic segments.

This allows the networks’ church plants to target geographical areas that are saturated with traditional congregations by using innovative outreach models.

Services feature casual dress codes, professional worship teams, sophisticated media and visuals, and communicators who preach sermons free of ritualistic traditions. Their messages aim to tackle everyday issues in a relatable, conversational manner that resonates with younger, secular-leaning audiences.

The model has been deemed successful by academics who keep track of these movements. “It’s almost like a Silicon Valley venture capitalist model of church growth,” Professor Ryan Burge from Eastern Illinois University, told the Wall Street Journal. “By every measure, it has been incredibly successful.”

Building Strong Congregations for the Era of Entrepreneurship

arc organizes seminars and training sessions for its network churches

While the philosophies and methodologies of organizations like ARC and Acts 29 are modern in their approach, they are far from being the only major players expanding the church planting movement across the United States and abroad.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) facilitated over 700 church plants in 2022 for the Southern Baptist Convention, which launched a strategic emphasis on proliferating new congregations in 2010.

Collectively, these pioneering church planting networks are tapping into societal changes that are fueling the rise of new, non-traditional congregations. As studies consistently show, fewer Americans are identifying with legacy denominations and long-established institutions. Savvy church planters appear to be filling the void.

“The anti-institutional character of these new congregations fits the current mood in much of the U.S.”, Professor Burge further commented.

This trend embraces a church-planting philosophy that emphasizes independence, innovation, and a start-up mentality over bureaucracy and religious dogmas. The networks carefully cultivate this spirit and screen for entrepreneurial instincts in selecting their church planting partners.

Financing Structures and Ethical Considerations of Church-Planting Networks

While the church planting networks are founded as non-profit organizations, sustaining their operational models and facilitating continuous growth requires substantial financial resources.

As such, the various networks have established different formulas to fund their activities:

ARC employs a model that directly ties a portion of each church plant’s future revenues back to the source through an ongoing contribution. In 2022, ARC received $16.8 million in total revenue, investing $13.6 million into funding new church plants, training programs, conferences, and operational expenses. About 90% of ARC’s plants are still operating after 5 years, the network’s officials say.

In contrast, Acts 29 passes the bulk of its donations directly from supporting churches to church planters who receive grants. In 2022, the organization reported $6 million in revenue, the majority of which came from donations by established Acts 29 congregations.

Also read: How to Build a Successful Business Plan in 2024

Although some may raise ethical concerns about this intersection of money and faith, financial support can be crucial to help churches succeed faster than they would if they bootstrap.

“A big financial investment in no way guarantees a proportional amount of spiritual fruit or growth momentum”, commented Warren Bird, senior VP of research and equipping for ECFA – an organization that works with churches to foster transparency and integrity in their finances.

“However, the smaller the launch, the slower or less likely a church is to be financially self-sustaining,” Bird acknowledges.

Meanwhile, the approach of organizations like NAMB is a bit different as they don’t overemphasize money as the sole source of success for church plants.

In this regard, Chad Childress from the NAMB’s church-planting support initiative called the Send Network said: “We look at the planter, their vision, their strategy, and their context. All of those things come into play when we talk about funding. We don’t want to let funding drive everything.”

Regardless of the approach, what seems to unite these different networks and organizations is their desire to assist new church planters in succeeding in the mission that God has given them.