Banking on God: Church Finances, Part 2


Yesterday, I mentioned the problem of cost overhead in our churches. It’s a big problem, too, as many of you thought your church should spend its money on more important things than mortgages and office supplies.

Let’s not talk about those first. Instead, I want to alienate every pastor who reads this blog by tossing out one word: bivocational.

I look at it this way: We should most definitely pay our pastors. We should also pay the head of the children’s ministry. In fact, we should pay a lot of people, because, let’s face it, the church secretary is truly the one who runs the church. Next to the Lord, that is.

I think those folks are worth money. However, I also think we spend too much money on staff salaries, especially at these massive churches that have 100+ people on staff. That’s nuts. And it’s a big drain on the mission of the church.

How so? Well, we somehow found a way to separate the lowly from the priestly class, a sort of sequel to the Old Testament’s temple system, the very system Christ fulfilled and therefore put to rest.

That separation gave us a full-time clergy and the “well, someone else is doing the ministry for me, so I’ll concentrate on everything that isn’t ministry” laity, an artificial distinction that pretty much denies the idea of the priesthood of all believers. As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, some are “more equal than others.”

In many ways, this has been a train wreck for pastors because no one treats them like a fellow brother in Christ. They are not one of us, so to speak, a view that facilitates all manner of craziness (cults of personality, depression, marital infidelity, and so on) that derails churches left and right.

Still, the greater hurt comes when those who aren’t “professionals” decide to lay down and do next to nothing to advance the cause of Christ. Sadly, under the bifurcated system of ministry we have today, that’s all too often the outcome.

Which is why I believe that pastors need to have a job outside the church. Even if it’s only a small part-time job, the pastor needs that dose of reality, that connection to the life his flock leads. Talk to some pastors and it’s all too clear they have no idea what goes on in the cubicles today. (I know. I read books by pastor/teachers talking about the modern work world and they just have no idea.) That works against them in many ways. I remember a pastor who preached that it didn’t matter what you looked like or how old you were, yet at the same time there were people in his congregation who were getting Botox injections so they wouldn’t be the old-looking one in the office and therefore subject to the first pink slip when the next round of downsizings came.

But more than that disconnection with the world of their congregations, having pastors work in the “real” work world affords churches the chance to have more than one pastor. A church could hire two pastors for the cost of one if both worked outside the church a few days a week. For a lot of churches who can afford only one pastor, having two bivocational pastors for the price of one full-timer would open up many more options and better broaden the giftings of the leadership in that church.

I also think that having bivocational pastors forces the people in the seats to step up. And that’s always a good thing. No one should be irreplaceable, even a pastor, and the more the congregation takes over the roles it should be handling apart from the lone office of the pastor, the better for their church.

Like I said, that won’t curry me any favor with the pastors who read this blog, but that’s my stance and I’m sticking with it.

I’m also going to quote this:

And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
—Matthew 17:4

Our tendency in the Church is to want to pitch that tent. This is why we have so many church buildings. In 2007 dollars, the price tag would have been $55 million...That tendency is also why the Lord Himself oversaw the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. He wanted the Church to get out there. To move. To not be tied to one place, to a building that can so easily become like cement shoes.

When it comes to church finances, for many churches, that church building has become the impediment that keeps them from running. Its very convenience slows them down, keeps the people thinking small, keeps them stuck in one place, imprisoned by a multi-million dollar mortgage.

But the temple? Well, you are the temple and so am I. Wherever we are is where the Church is. The Light moves where we move.

Track revivals around the world. Those revivals last until someone decides to pitch a tent, until the building committee comes together. Then it quietly peters out. That’s why revival burns bright in Chinese house churches and not so much here. It’s why God is using the poorest of the poor in today’s world to be the best evangelists of the message of Christ. They don’t even have the money for the tent so many others want to pitch. Somehow, making do with what they have is good enough for them. Because they’ve got another paradigm, a heavenly one.

I can’t help but think that our churches can be better by making do with less. By not being tied to the earth by wealth any more than a lone individual should be. Yet you look at so many church building projects and they seem a lot like this:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:16-21

I look at that passage and it’s all too easy to see a church enamored of numbers talking about even bigger numbers and a place to store them all. Tearing down the old church building to build an even bigger one, and in the process losing sight of what really matters to God.

As Americans, I think it’s knit into our DNA to have a building. The American Dream’s foundation is built on home ownership, and I suspect that ideal translates into our compulsion to erect a church building. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, a church abhors being plain. Funny how expensive it is to rig up a church building for maximum entertainment and comfort value nowadays.

Between paying staff and paying for a building (and its upkeep and utilities—ask to look at the electrical and heating bills sometime), a big chunk of cash goes away from fulfilling the overall mission of the Church, especially as it pertains to the world outside the walls of that very building.

I think a church that ran without a full-time pastorate and a semi-utilized building would find itself less burdened by titles and mortgages and more burdened by the lost. It would be a church that cornered on a dime rather than running up on the sidewalk like a semi.

It’s a hard sell, though.

I keep hoping some day that we get a flat-tax or value-added tax in this country, but then you’ve got an entire industry of tax-prep and legal people screaming bloody murder that their livelihood—based as it is on the arcane, cryptic mess our tax code is—will up and go poof. I’m sorry, but it needs to up and go.

And so it is with the way we do church, especially when it comes to spending too much of our money on things that may not be advancing the Kingdom. Too many people are deeply invested in the crusty institutions our churches have become. They’ll find a way to hang on kicking and screaming, resisting what may be better for us in the long run, so that they can maintain the status quo.

Unfortunately, the status quo ain’t doin’ all that well for us anymore.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Banking on God: Church Finances, Part 1


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. The decaying remains of HeritageUSAYet 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.

Stay tuned.

(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!)


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Still-in-the-Red Friday?


I’m breaking my blog silence this week to bring this prognostication:

My family and I met other family members for an early lunch today. To get to the Indian restaurant, we passed a large mall complex (surrounded by big box stores) and a second shopping area a few miles further down lined along the main drag with strip malls.

And what did we see?

Not much, actually. Parking lots were a third as busy as this same “Black Friday” last year (and we didn’t shop then, either).

Now I can’t speak for the whole country, but at least in the Midwest I expect to hear a collective “Oh, $#*@!” come the close-of-business today as retailers wring their hands and wonder where it all went wrong.

Church, are we ready for what’s coming?