One of the questions I get asked all the time is “When should I go full time at the church?” My answer is always “Wait as long as you can.” There are several reasons for this that are not just financial. Going full time at a church is a dream for many people. Their dream job is either the be a pastor or work in an industry that truly changes lives. I get that but I have also seen the downside. Remember that working for a church is still a job and still brings with it all the challenges other jobs have. For church planters it is even more so because now you are in charge and all the decisions rest with you. So my advice is always wait as long as you can.
Let’s consider some other things too, like the size of the church. When I started with Calvary Chapel you had to have fifty adults before they would consider your affiliation application. They wanted to see critical mass that God was doing something before they blessed it. You don’t see that much anymore and I think that is a bad idea. I’ve seen some Calvary Chapels get their affiliation papers right off the bat and never get above a handful of adults. That is a great Bible study but not a church. There is something to be said about critical mass. You shouldn’t start your Sunday services without at least 50 adults. I know this flies in the face of a lot of current churches but that mass does several things. It provides credibility for the church. Walking into a rented space with only a handful of adults speaks volumes to visitors. Walking into a space that has over 50 adults provides comfort and energy for new visitors.
Why do I talk about church size before starting Sunday services? Because this will dictate when you start full time work. Every study I read says that a church should hire a full time position for every 100 people (adults & children) in the church. It is more likely the church can support you financially with that many people but it also means that you will be able to fill your forty hours a week with that many as well. Many churches staff at 85 people per full time position and that produces an inward focus on the church because now the staff person is expected to do everything. Keeping it at 100 people will continue to make it necessary for lay leadership and involvement.
I would also add some budgetary requirements before you go full time. First off strive to have three months of expenses, your salary included, in savings before you go full time. This will give you a bumper to allow for any low months but also give you some leverage if you need to take a leap of faith when it comes to a larger facility or costs for an outreach. Too many pastors have started out full time with a very low salary and it has handcuffed the church which prevented it from growing and taking steps of faith. This has left the pastor strapped and often resentful.
So when should you go full time? I would suggest only after your church passes the 100 people mark and has three months in savings. I know that sounds almost legalistic but a shocking figure I heard eight years ago when I planted The Village Chapel was that churches that didn’t reach 100 people by year four almost always stayed that way or closed its doors. On the other hand those churches which got past the 100 barrier by year four were most likely to be successful and last for a long time. Don’t truncate your church by going full time too early. Be wise stewards and make the sacrifices until you can do it.