Church Finance: A Dangerous Trend
What are some reasons that people give to your church? To be sure, there are the obvious reasons. Many of your givers probably feel compelled to give out of obedience to commands in Scripture to tithe; "it is the right thing to do," they will say. Some may give from the perspective that they are, in a sense, purchasing certain rights - rights to vote, to use the fellowship hall, to exert influence upon the church in some way. You may have some who give out of a cheerful heart, not out of compulsion, but simply out of appreciation for the work of the Lord in their lives. These probably have been blessed through the ministry of your church, and they believe in your mission. They want to see others blessed in that very same way. So what's the trend, and why is it dangerous?
Have you ever seen someone stop giving abruptly over a disagreement or something similar? You only visited them eight out of the nine days they were in the hospital, or you hired a candidate that they voted against. It could be something far less significant. I smile as I write this, because if you are in church leadership, I don't have to ask. I know you have run into this. Some people will level the accusation that you only visit them or care about them, because you want their money. The trend here would be giving for the wrong reasons. And the reason it is dangerous is that we develop elaborate budgets on a projected contribution number. If that contribution number is susceptible to inaccurate impressions, your church can be in for a rocky road. All it takes is one mouth in your church to go visit everyone and convince them to withhold their tithe or that the church only cares about them insofar as they can fund the church's work. You may wonder what can be done about this? Here are a few suggestions.
I remember so well when "Mr. Bud," who chaired the building maintenance committee in my first pastorate, told me "Pastor Billy, I know hate is a strong word. But I hate that word 'maintenance.'" He would tell me this enough times that he made me think. To Mr. Bud, we should not just maintain our buildings; we should pursue a level of excellence and future preparedness.
Churches are discovering the beauty of investing more of their funds into ministry versus real estate, property ownership, and building maintenance. But for the majority of us, we still have facilities on our balance sheet. And we, as pastors, understand that the church is not a building, even if some of the dear folks we shepherd aren't quite there yet.
Churches and ministries have a tendency, though, to neglect their buildings. In our defense, we are often cash-strapped, and it takes significant cash to keep up a building. I know of several ministries that were almost forced out of existence, though, due to a failure to keep up their property. The church where I currently serve is relocating. Admittedly, a big reason why relocation became our only reasonable path forward was decades of letting things go. So what's the answer?
God began to put on my heart a shift in mindset when it comes to building upkeep. With a nod to "Mr. Bud," I have changed the name of our Building & Grounds Maintenance Team to Facility / Property Stewardship Team. As Mr. Bud said, we are not maintaining a building or piece of property; we are stewards of these things.
I like the fact that this perspective underscores the spiritual nature of the decisions we make concerning our property. Also, instead of doing the very cheapest thing to band-aid a problem, we will consider doing it right the first time, even if it takes more money, to avoid having to redo it.
When we relocate, by God's grace, we will be building a new building. It will be warrantied, efficient, and new. To keep it nice, it will serve us well to think of our responsibility as building stewardship versus building maintenance.
Building Maintenance: Let's get someone to fix the leak for free, maybe a church member.
Building Stewardship: Let's get a credentialed contractor to fix the leak, and advise us as to any underlying issues that may cause this leak to recur.
Building Maintenance: Let's take ceiling tiles from the kids Sunday School classrooms to fix the damaged ones in the Sanctuary.
Building Stewardship: We don't need unfinished construction in kids Sunday School classrooms. Let's purchase new ceiling tiles, and do it right.
P. S. If you cannot afford to be a good steward of your building, maybe it is time to apply for a grant or liquidate your real estate and go mobile. Visible cracks, peeled paint, rusted out doors, and pest control problems say more about your theology than they do about your frugality. Of course, these ideas are most applicable to churches in the States. In a missions context, the particulars would likely be different.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.