In a time in America where churches tend to equate a sovereign move of God with how big or small the offering is, it is refreshing to see those churches, big and small, that are taking on a more minimalistic approach towards ministry. The tiny house/minimalist movement is becoming more and more popular throughout society and I am thrilled to see it trickle over into a remnant of churches. It seems in modern church culture people are more encouraged to respond with their wallets than their hearts. This affects church relationships and friendships on many levels.
It is no mystery that it takes funding to run a church. Funding will be needed as long as there is a building rented or owned and kids are taking home coloring sheets. Likewise, funding is needed if you are going to go out as a full time missionary overseas or at home (I will save my thoughts on that for another time). The people who love to take advantage of the things their church offers them but squirm when it comes to giving support to their church need to get over it. Outside of a few denominations, the church body itself is responsible for funding the church. Plain and simple: if there is no funding coming in, the church is stifled in what it can accomplish and provide. If people are supporting missions through prayer and encouragement but the funding is not there, it certainly hinders what that missionary can do or how long they can stay out in the field. Demanding money to operate begins to feel no different than a pyramid business scheme. If a party is thrown and a few people buy some products, no one really goes home with much and the consultant is left wondering if the business is really providing a livable or reliable income. Without the steady flow of give and take, both ends of the transaction leave feeling unsatisfied. The same is true of the church. When there isn’t a steady flow of income, programs and ministries cannot flourish. And without flourishing programs and ministries, the people of the church suffer.
Allow me to hang out on the church issue because it is near and dear to my heart. In case you didn’t know, I am a pastor and therefore I will speak to what I know best. Whenever a church makes the main thrust of each meeting the amount of money they receive in an offering, something is seriously wrong. To me this focus on money is the personification of what it means when Scripture says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) This might seem like a broad generalization, but I have been in far too many of these money-centric meetings to just let this issue slide. I can tell you that it is when money becomes the central theme, everything else falls apart. With this kind of mindset, church leaders begin to say things like, “Yes it’s great that the music was good, the speaker was on point, and there were only mild soundboard issues, but what really matters is putting on a good show so we can pull in a big offering.” These kind of conversations stem from ministries and churches that are operating on a larger than life budget. Living beyond your means really does put you in a desperate situation. These churches are usually neck deep in debt themselves, but offer their congregants Dave Ramsey classes during the week (again in hopes that it will inspire them to give a good offering that Sunday).
When churches operate this way, the problem is that the main thrust of each meeting and most conversations circle around money. How could it not when a church needs to bring in thousands of dollars a week just to stay afloat? This can become exhausting and really wear a congregation out. Just like your relationship would wain with a friend who becomes a missionary and suddenly centers every conversation on supporting their dream and vision, you just get tired of it. Once you have finally succumbed to supporting that dream and vision, they begin pushing for more money and more support. Their need, like the church that has stretched beyond its means, is a bottomless bit.
Let me give you another example. Imagine a friend of yours becomes an independent sales consultant for a company and suddenly all of your conversations with that friend circle around how your life would be so much better if you bought their product. No matter what the topic at hand is, it always comes back to the product they're selling and how they think you need it.
I don’t know about you, but I want to see the proof of something’s effectiveness before I buy it. If a person is selling products that are meant to improve your health, they ought to be the picture of optimal health, right? Similarly, a person should have a difficult time accepting life teachings when a church is massively in debt. It’s just contrary to Scripture.
I admit that Radiant Fellowship is not a perfect church. We are small, there are sound board glitches, and occasionally the pastor looks goofy. We do not have a whole lot of activities going on and that is somewhat purposeful. Peoples lives are so busy outside of the church, and we believe they probably don’t need a whole lot extra activities going on within the church building. Nevertheless, we love people and there are many other churches that do as well. We offer our standard Sunday morning service along with a kids’ program. Our regular midweek activities consist of family night on Wednesday evenings, which provides something for everyone. Once a month, our men's ministry and women's ministry meet as well. The second Sunday of each month we have a Communion potluck meal. On those days we have our regular church service, take Communion, and have lunch together. We feel this is a pretty solid Biblical way of doing Communion. There are some random events here and there along with outreaches, but that is it. Really, when I list it all out, we have a lot going on! There’s no need for more at this time. What’s most refreshing to me is that we have a solid church community and are growing together in our faith and our friendships but our weekly operating budget is only about $900 per week. Could we do more? Sure. I will admit that it would be great to hire a children's pastor but at this point we are doing fine with volunteers. It is freeing to know that if we do not bring in enough one week, we will more than likely be fine. This allows our ministries and what we are actually doing for the people to remain the main thrust of what we talk about. Our attention is given to reaching people and touching their hearts rather than putting on a show that will entice them to give us money.
Now, I admit there have been times I had to send an email to the church as a whole because giving was down and we were struggling to pay our bills. But to me, there is a difference between reaching out when there are genuine needs that must be met versus constantly seeking to fill the bottomless pit of debt accrued over time.
Yes, we have had a couple of people leave because the show they had come to see (I mean church service they attended) had a few hiccups with sound or lyrics. Quite honestly if someone is going to leave because of those things, I am okay with it. These are usually people whose only contribution are critiques “because they care.” The main emphasis of any church ought to be to simply serve through their services, kids’ programs, and outreaches. Any time these things begin to cost lots of money, their budget should get looked at. Moreover, a church should never base whether or not they help someone on what they give to the church. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve heard of this happening. We have to remember the central purpose of the church: to teach, build up, and support each other. Again, it comes back to give and take. Give what you can and take when you need to. Then, when you’re able to give again, do so. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
The bottom line is this: A church can function more effectively if they stay well within in their means. Perhaps the only debt a church is carrying is the mortgage, which is something modern society sees as “good debt.” But if the mortgage payments stretch the church too thin, there has to be a better way. But it doesn’t stop with building expenses. Spending $10,000 to upgrade the computer system so the church can provide streaming services via their website is a bit excessive don’t you think? There are ways to provide streaming services at a much lower rate. It may not be as fancy, but it gets the job done. Personally, I would much rather see that $10,000 provide relief for a hurting person or family within the church. When money gets in the way of ministry and money is talked about more than caring for the people, there is a problem. Service must always be our main objective and therefore must be our main focus.