By Kent Woodyard
“If your church isn’t strapped for cash, your vision isn’t big enough.”
I heard this quote at a church planters conference in California last fall, and I’ve been repeating it ever since. Budget shortfalls and tightened purse strings are the source of much consternation and hand wringing in church offices around the country, and I love how quickly this simple sentence turns that anxiety on its head.
The quote above was made all the more prescient by the fact that it was spoken by a relatively new church planter. Despite facing some significant financial challenges with his young congregation, this pastor had committed his church to give 10% of all revenues to support new church planting. Here’s a church that was months (maybe years) away from financial stability, and they were looking for new ways to give money away! Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. (Forgive the pun.)
This “adversity as opportunity” perspective calls us back to the reality that we all know but so easily forget: it’s not about the money; it’s about the ministry! The fact that many thousands of believers and non-believers alike are still trotting out the same tired old accusation – “Churches only care about money” – is an indicator of how far our communication around generosity is still missing the mark. We spend more time talking about the means than we do the ends. We focus on the seeds and forget about the harvest!
Make no mistake about it, our churches need MANY things. But money isn’t one of them. When we think about the finances at our churches, and – even more importantly – when pastors communicate with their congregations about money, imagine the impact if we focused on the things that churches really do need. Things like…
More engagement – Whenever I talk with pastors about setting goals for their giving, I encourage them to focus on number of givers rather than total amount given. Who cares if you’re meeting your budget if 90% of it is coming from 10% of your members? You want to see attendees go from being just another “butt in a pew” to being a committed partner in your ministry? Get them giving. Even if it’s only a few dollars each month. As Billy Graham said, “A checkbook is a theological document. It will tell you who and what you worship.” In our pursuit of engaged, committed worshippers, let’s not forget the role the offering plays in this.
More impact – I attended a conference recently where Pastor Choco de Jesus of New Life Covenant church in Chicago said, “Churches need to do more for their cities than occupy a corner.” How true that is! God has called the local church to be a light in each neighborhood, town, city, and state. And that mission cannot be accomplished without a generous congregation behind it. This is an area where our conversations around givingmust improve. We have Stewardship Sundays one weekend. And then we’ll have an Outreach Sunday a different week. And a Missions Sunday the following week. We need to stop discussing giving in a vacuum. Help your congregation see the direct impact their giving is having on their city and on their world. And see if that doesn’t encourage them to give more!
More disciples – I’ve tried to save the best for last. Because – at the core of it – this is what we’re here for, right? Christ didn’t send his church to build safety nets, or sock away “emergency funds.” Yes, we’re called to stewardship, but, more than that, we’re called to make disciples. (Matthew 28:16 – 20) If money is a means to an end, disciples are our ultimate end. When viewed in this way, we can see that giving to the church is not a campaign, or a season, or a temporary focus. We’re not raising money now so that we can “get down to business” later. Generosity is the business of the church. We care about giving because we care about making disciples. And – as the Rich Young Ruler learned (Mark 10:17-27) – we cannot have one without the other. To repurpose Amy Carmichael’s famous quote on love and giving, “You can give without being a disciple, but you can’t be a disciple without giving.”
Have you been successful in re-focusing the conversation around finances at your church? What are some things you did to accomplish this? What are some other things churches need more of that I have not listed here?