Jan 27, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Sam Collier on Church Planting & Racial Justice


Even following the disruption of 2020 and early 2021, church planters are continuing to find new opportunities for relationships and fundraising, while also leading their congregations in difficult conversations coming out of a year fraught with tension.

In recent ChurchPulse Weekly episodes, Carey Nieuwhof sits down with Sam Collier—who, along with his wife Toni, is launching Hillsong Atlanta—to talk about church planting amidst a pandemic, building intentional relationships with congregants and a new perspective on America’s racial unrest.

Hope for Fundraising Amidst a Crisis
The story on church finances during COVID-19 has been a mixed one, and it is even more uncertain for church planters. According to Barna data featured in Church Startups and Money (2016), a majority of church planters (68%) felt at least stable in their finances just a few years ago. Today, the situation is less sure.

Despite uncertainty, Collier has remained hopeful, describing fundraising conditions as “moderate.” Even though Collier agrees the task would have been easier without a pandemic, he notes, “it’s not what I thought it might be, which was a drought.” While numerous people are struggling and have little to offer at present, Collier has also found many individuals are more than eager to donate in this season.

Collier reminds pastors and church planters looking to fundraise that people want to give to something they already see in action, stating, “People had to feel as if the ministry was actually doing ministry [even if not in person…] it can be on Zoom, it can be on a phone, even a text devotional.” These personal touch points and actions generate a connection to the work that they would not get through a passive email or mail campaign.

The Importance of Focusing on Relationships and Emotional Well-Being
When polled mid-July 2020, U.S. pastors shared their congregants were feeling hopeful, though negative emotions—including tired, anxious and frustrated—trailed behind that positive note. Just as strong relational actions can help with raising funds, intentional relationship building is equally as critical in a season of emotional exhaustion. Nieuwhof wonders if in this upcoming year, as the nation comes out of a pandemic, “the relationships that are deepest will characterize the churches that are the strongest.”

Savannah Kimberlin, Barna Group’s Director of Published Research, adds to this by pointing out that church planters have a particular advantage in this area since so much of their time and energy is already spent in fostering intentional relationships.

Collier reflects on his own experience with building relationships while launching a church, noting the willingness people have to connect and be involved more than ever. With many spending more time at home during this season, he’s received many messages from congregants willing to take part in the growth of this new church.

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Confusion Is a Great Threat to Racial Justice and Unity
In a year filled with significant racial unrest across the United States, Barna found that three-quarters of Black Americans report a sense of powerlessness (an even higher percentage than when previous data from 1996) in the political sphere. While it’s clear that political divisions and historical inequities are only making the pursuit of racial justice and unity difficult, Nieuwhof and Collier dig deeper to uncover the root of the nation’s current chaos.

From Collier’s perspective, confusion is at the heart of the problem. He notes, “When America gets confused, we cannot agree on what to condemn and what not to. That, in my opinion, is what keeps us from progress, and I believe it’s the work of the enemy to confuse us.”

In order to move forward, Collier urges leaders and individuals to look for common ground. “The majority of Americans agree that racism is wrong. The majority agree that nobody should ever be rioting at the Capitol. The majority of Americans believe that protests, peaceful protests are okay. [When] we can’t figure out what is happening and who did what, we end up fighting over our confusion… and it’s our confusion that’s killing us and dividing us.”

Leading Amidst Racial Tension
Following such an unprecedented year, church leaders are tired, struggling not to burn out. Collier admits his own exhaustion and reluctance to carry on this work when it becomes so taxing but encourages persistence. He cautions, “The enemy wants to silence Christians… He’s going to do everything he can to make it so uncomfortable that we’re quiet.”

For leaders overwhelmed from the pressure of pleasing all sides, Collier encourages focusing only on your target audience instead of trying to please every person with a differing opinion. Collier states, “Figure out who you’re talking to and let everybody else go.”

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About the Research
The research presented from Barna’s 2016 monograph, Church Startups and Money included both qualitative and quantitative studies. Qualitative research for this study consisted of individual interviews of 20 church planters across the United States, conducted by Barna researchers via webcam. The quantitative survey was administered online to leaders of churches (or of similar ministries) that self-identify as being “in start-up mode.” A total of 769 church planters participated in the survey, which was conducted August to November 2014.

ChurchPulse Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–September 28, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Data Collection Dates:
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020
Week 16, n=315, August 27-31, 2020
Week 17, n=422, September 10-18, 2020
Week 18, n=475, September 24-28, 2020

2020 data on perceptions of political powerlessness among Black adults: Online survey of 1,083 U.S. Black adults, plus 822 Black Church churchgoers, conducted April 22–May 6, 2020. The sample error is plus or minus 2.3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Featured image by Katsuri Laxmi Mohit on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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