We work, we give. But what happens to that money once it leaves our wallets and hits the red velvet bullseye of the collection plate?
Well, this poll does a good job showing that most of us know where the money goes. Good for those churches who are clear about their finances. I know mine goes into excruciating detail.
For those few who aren’t getting the whole story, what’s your take on the situation? Why do some churches hide their finances, even when there’s nothing illicit going on? As for those who said that not all line items got equal attention, what expenditures do you believe the church isn’t telling you about?
As befits an active and informed readership, most of you knew what was up with your church’s finances. That’s a good thing. I wish every Christian in this country knew what was up with church expenditures.
In keeping with the state of the stats so far, few had anything bad to say about how their church spent money. Anyone care to share their displeasure and what can be done to resolve it?
If poll respondents are any indication, one church out of three has a negative cash flow. I would love to know (and should have asked) which of the negative responders belonged to a church with less than 200 members and which might actually belong to a megachurch. We assume that megachurches are rolling in dough, but that’s less true, I think, than some would imagine.
For the people who responded that their churches were highly prosperous, what do you believe made them so? And on the opposite end, to those who said their churches were running in the red, what made them that way?
A quarter of you said that money interfered with your church’s mission. In what ways? Not having enough money can put a negative spin on even the best of intentions and lead to a sense of doom within a congregation. Too much money turns a church into Laodiceans.
While it’s nice to see that two-thirds of you feel confident enough to inform your church should you encounter financial hardship, the third who could not…well, you have my condolences. I would hope that we all could. While some of that reluctance may be our own pride, I know that for some of you, the gossip would start flying about you the second you opened your mouth. And that’s a shame. Fear in a church can be a real poison, especially when lack of trust undergirds it.
This surprised me most of all. I’m glad to see that such an astounding number of people could go to their churches and request financial help and get it without strings attached. That’s very heartening.
David Fitch wrote in The Great Giveaway that this is one area that most churches do poorly. From the answers here, a large majority of people go to very generous churches. So perhaps Fitch is wrong.
What say you all?
This must be one of those “only in other people’s churches” questions because I can tell you dozens of gruesome stories about how badly some folks who needed financial help got pummeled by their churches. Each of those stories just breaks my heart.
But evidently, that’s not you folks. That’s good to hear.
So where are all these churches that mistreat their people in this regard? Perhaps it’s a different kind of Christian who gets the cold shoulder, not the kind who visits blogs like this one and answers poll questions about giving. I don’t know. Like I said, I know plenty of examples, some too close for comfort.
I’ll turn this around and ask you all if the runaway majority answer on this question surprised you.
The results on this poll surprised me, too, since I know few churches who have benevolence funds set aside for members. Non-members, outsiders, and folks from the community, yes, but sometimes the flock gets neglected when it comes to the largess.
Given the previous two poll answers, who then is handing out the money in these churches that give it away? Is it simply individuals acting apart from the church, or is it the pastor on his own?
For those who answered that their church has a benevolence fund, if there’s no group overseeing that money, who is doling it out?
I find these last two polls fascinating because they seem to show that people aren’t so interested in spending money on the administration of their church as they are the mission. Yet how do you have the mission without paying for the administration?
It’s a poser, as the Brits say.
We all want to give to charities that have low overhead, but I’ve got to believe that churches are not such ministries. I’ve seen enough balance books over the years to know that the actual running of the church as business entity saps more funds than most of us realize. I know that my own church has been attempting to pay off its mortgage by adding a premium payment. We also got several thousand dollars upgrade of our sound system.
It’s a tough, tough call, isn’t it, knowing what finances advance the Kingdom and what ones may not? At least not on the surface…
Next post, I’ll give my own take on church expenditures and offer a few ideas for better addressing the mission while spending less on those things that burn in the end.
(And if you have a few minutes to pray for my family, I’d appreciate it. Sickness, bad news, and “What next?” have been the orders of the week. Thanks!)
11 thoughts on “Banking on God: Church Finances, Part 1”
Thanks for writing about these issues, Dan. Your family continues to be in my prayers.
Thanks, Dave. My son had a very rough week at school and now is home sick with strep. On top of a million other things, we found out we’d bought soup tainted with “downer cow” meat from that big beef debacle out in CA. Us, the organic beef people. It slipped into our food supply anyway.
Dan, praying for your family!!
I wanted to mention the poll about, “If I were in financial difficulty and approached my church for assistance, I believe that they would…” I chose meet my needs with conditions. The conditions are not that we have to be certain types of people, givers, or anything like that, our leadership just wants to make sure that they’re not throwing money at people who are manipulating the system or anything like that. Just thought I should clarify! Thanks for a thought-provoking series!
Thanks for the clarification, and thanks for being a reader.
I went years ago to a planning session for a church to be planted in my area. First, I asked about other churches. Did the area need another church? They did not care what other churches were doing. Those were other churches. Second, I did not ask, but I wanted them to build where I used to live…a stretch of neighborhoods devoid of anything to do. I had a hard adolescence in part because I had nothing to do except get in trouble. I walked into a storefront church once with my neo-Nazi friend. I could not unzip my coat and sit down with the youth group because I had a pistol stuck in my belt. The storefront church folded. I think the local bar expanded into the space.
They planted the church in the wealthiest ‘burbs far from old haunts, but close enough to still be in “my area.”
When I was younger still, an Assemblies of God congregation cleared trees for a new building in my old neighborhood. My mom did not like the AoG, but I think, if they had built the building, I would have walked up there, found out about Jesus, and asked Him into my heart years before I did at about the age of fifteen. They never built the building, though. What might life have been like if they had…or if, indeed, anyone had shared the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with me?
I wonder if your search was less for a building and more for the Christians in that building.
Yes, I was looking for friends…of any kind, judging by the lax standards I had in making friends. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV). I think too many American Christians have fallen for “preaching the Gospel without words” and then grow so cold in their actions that they look like unbelievers outwardly. The girl in my class who invited me to the storefront where I asked Jesus into my heart did not preach the Gospel to me at school. Neither did anyone in that congregation, if they lived in my neighborhood, preach anything that invited me to Jesus.
Therefore, in my real-life experience, if the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ was (and is in most cases) confined to a building, then a lack of building buildings had real-world consequences in my life. I was open to the Gospel, as far as I can tell in retrospect. I remember reading a certain Chick tract when I was a boy that had a real, emotional impact on me. But I did not follow the instructions at the end to accept Jesus.
Church buildings are billboards: “Christians may be here.” The one benefit to a church building that a house church does not immediately have, at least in America, is that any given Sunday, anyone can walk uninvited into a church building without feeling the same amount of trepidation one would about knocking on the door of a neighbor’s house church. Yes, we need to invite others, not just to a building, but to the relationship with Jesus Christ. But sometimes people invite themselves to our buildings.
Churches do not need buildings, but may want to build one if outsiders are afraid to meet in strangers’ houses. Such is the case in Japan. A missionary couple there was adamant about having church in their house. But few Japanese would come because it was so antithetical to custom that they could not wrap their minds around it. Plus Japanese homes are notoriously small.
(Then again, Japanese churches have other problems. So few Japanese men come to the Lord, many Japanese Christian women marry unbelievers; and every believer, new or mature, is expected to do 110% of the work. Sometimes new Christians are thrust into leadership positions completely undiscipled because no one else is available for the ministry.)
I should have put, about the Chick tract, that if someone had been there to help me understand whether I needed to make a decision for Christ, then I probably would have accepted Jesus.
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