In 2008, Pastor Chris Goins and his wife, Janet, felt called to plant a church. Following God’s lead, they left a secure pastoral position, spent months praying for direction, and decided to launch a2 Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Before the first service, a2 Church committed itself to two basic ideas. First, they would work to build a biblically functioning community as described in Acts 2—one where people value close relationships with others, are aware of the ways God has gifted each of them to serve, worship with passion and God-centeredness, and have a hunger for scriptural truth.
Second, a2 Church would operate completely free of debt.
Chris once served in a church that was burdened with a few million dollars of debt. He watched the debt strangle life out of that church. He said, “When you’re facing anywhere from a $40,000 to $60,000 mortgage payment on your debt every month, imagine how that influences your ministry.”
With this in mind, Chris met with a couple of significant financial partners for advice in launching a2 Church. They suggested the church establish a line of credit in order to pay the bills. Chris remained firm. “I was resolute—if God doesn’t pay our bills, if we can’t operate frugally, if we can’t operate on a cash basis, then we can’t operate.”
a2 Church decided they would do more with less. This meant saying no to a fancy building, top-notch equipment and basic furnishing. They rented out an old Gold’s Gym that required extensive renovations. When it rained, they would have to put buckets out all over the church. They cash-flowed what they could afford and put everything else on hold. Instead of spending $68,000 for new sound and lighting equipment, a church volunteer pieced together a system for under $15,000 using donations from other churches and adding to the system as the budget allowed.
In fact, volunteers helped fill in many gaps where money and staff were lacking. The needs allowed people, some for the first time in their life, to play a vital role in the success and growth of the church. They worked alongside Chris and Janet greeting visitors, teaching children, and cleaning bathrooms.
“Volunteers have saved us in so many areas. To this day, our cleaning and janitorial service is done by volunteers. I pray that even as we now have [staff] that we always place a huge emphasis on the need for volunteers.”
Unfortunately, even volunteers couldn’t fulfill Chris’ dream of live-streaming the worship experience. He had wanted to do this from the beginning, but the money simply wasn’t there. Though he didn't know how he'd pay for the project, in January 2012 he decided to trust in the Lord to provide the money needed. The first estimate came in at $77,000—a big number for the do-more-with-less pastor.
Determined to raise the funds himself, Chris approached a man outside of their church community, speech prepared, to ask for the money. Before he could say why he was there, the man explained that God told him Chris would be coming. He ultimately wrote a $45,000 check, telling Chris to come back for more if needed. Shortly after, Chris received an additional $10,000 and $15,000 from two other donors. In all, he raised $70,000.
“God taught me through that [experience] that our patience in the beginning was good, but it didn’t mean we were saying no to dreams, because God will bring those about in the right time,” Chris said.
By keeping a lean budget, a2 Church has also committed to giving at least 10% of all non-designated tithes and offerings to world and domestic missions. They’ve given well over $40,000 to a new church in Austin, Texas, and another $40,000 to missionary organizations in the Middle East. This is all in addition to helping local ministries and individuals in need.
Because the church operates without debt and sets an example of tithing, Chris has the freedom to address money with pure motives. “We never get up and say, ‘If we don’t do X, we’re going to shut the doors.’ We’re able to say with integrity, ‘We don’t want something from you, we want something for you,’” he said.
They offer Financial Peace University each fall and spring, and they continue to see God’s blessings and activity in the lives of individuals as they work to handle money God’s way.
Chris believes God has honored the church’s commitment. With gradual, steady growth, a2 Church has over 250 people consistently attending on a weekly basis—up from 90 people at the first service just three years ago. They’re currently preparing for mission trips to Cuba and several Navajo reservations, and they’re partnering with Grace House Ministries to provide food to local families in need.
Most importantly, they are regularly seeing people who’ve given up on church come to know God in a whole new way.
“God is faithful. While you may have to say no to a variety of options, the no is really in defiance to a greater yes regarding your future and the liberty that you’ll have going forward,” said Chris.
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