This blog series is based on a sermon I did at Westminster titled “The State of the Church Address.” You can listen to it HERE. In the first blog post I talked about how challenging it is to be a church today. In the second blog post I talked about how hard it is to know what to change and what to keep the same in the church. Now I look at the challenge of church finances.
Church finances are one of the big challenges in many churches today. Or, at least, it is one of the most felt challenges today. Church buildings are looking very worn because there is not a lot of extra money to keep them up well. More mainline churches are cutting staff and moving to part-time ministry. Churches that used to have financial reserves are looking in the bank at empty accounts.
Why is my church struggling financially? There are lots of reasons. There are less people than the church used to have. People have more debt and therefore less “disposable” income. Many of those who were big givers are on fixed income in retirement, paying medical bills, or supporting kids and grandkids.
It is also important to note the radical increase in nonprofit agencies that are also vying for charitable contributions. This includes hospitals (like St. Jude’s), relief organizations (like Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse), colleges and seminaries, and environmental and animal causes (like the Humane Society). These organizations depend on giving to support their work and are highly motivated and skilled at getting donations.
The church needs to understand that we have let a lot of these other agencies begin because we have not done our job of caring for the poor and the disenfranchised. We have let the government do part of that work, too. So people support these other non-profits and pay taxes for things the church should be engaged in. I am not hating on or disapproving of these organizations. I am simply trying to explain that this has an impact on church giving.
The church, on the other hand, is not very good at talking about money. I have done a previous blog about why people make choices to give charitably. We avoid talking about money. It has become, like sex, appropriate to talk about anywhere but the church. Compare that to Jesus, who talks about money all the time and makes it a part of many of his parables. We preach it timidly on stewardship Sunday or ask for it when we need more.
The church has also had a poor relationship with money. We have tended to live on our reserves and find our hope and security in our money. Reserves are a good thing. They allow a church to respond to emergencies and to have time to make decisions. Unfortunately, they also allow churches to take time and avoid dealing with issues that really need dealt with.
Many churches have lived off their reserves. They have not learned how to be a smaller church and live within their means, and they have instead try to continue to live in “the good old days.” I am seeing a number of churches that are now running out of reserves and are being forced to have very scary conversation. Many of these conversations should have happened years ago.
The answers to such a complicated problem are not likely to be simple. Here are a few ideas to start.
- We definitely need to better define and attack our mission in the world.
- We need to talk about money in a healthy way—as spiritual significant and not just for keeping the lights on.
- We need to teach our church people how to look at and relate to money personally.
- We need to learn to be small churches. That means having less staff and more volunteers, simplifying our buildings, and becoming nimbler as churches.
- We have got to put our hope in Jesus and trust Him to sustain and provide for our ministry.