I have this dream to someday help lead a church that gives away as much money as it spends on itself.
Have you ever heard of such a thing? I sure haven’t!
Surely they exist, but I don’t know of one and I’ve spent my entire life involved in the church-scene in this nation. I’ve never heard of such a church.
And, that’s a shame… a rather ridiculous shame.
Yet, I know the excuses. I know. I’ve been part of three different church plants already in my short life. I’ve also been a part of a couple quite wealthy, established, “medium-sized” churches (one 300ish and one 800ish people) and a mega-church (3000+ people). One thing every one of these churches has in common is that they require a lot of money to operate.
At least, these churches require lots of money to operate as American churches operate. I really appreciate America, but I think our churches could stand to be a little less “American”.
I question how much we really need to spend to be a church. This is one area where it actually has been quite helpful for me to ask the old “wwjd” question in the form of, “What do you think Jesus would spend on if he were leading a church in America?”
I suspect it’d be a tiny fraction of what we justify spending!
It’s mind-boggling to me how many hundreds of thousands churches spend on themselves while trying to teach their people to give sacrificially!
“Give your hard earned money, while you’re in debt and scraping by month to month—because, tithing, and obedience and stuff!—and we’ll spend it on some new flatscreens and a coffee shop in the church!”
It’s ridiculous. It’s hypocritical. It’s shamefully, poor leadership.
Yet, even if we put aside our unholy societal budget issues, let’s just say we’re truly trying to be biblical here and we just read Matthew 22:27-39 where Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now I’m feeling convicted and I think, “Wow, I really should give more to others.”
Then I hear a story about how Francis Chan or Rick Warren started increasing their “tithing” every year by one percent and now they give away 80% of what they make! Forget 50/50, love as myself, this person loves others 60% more than they love themselves!
Wow. I’m inspired! So I’m going to start increasing my giving now by 1% each year too. Sounds easy at first. Then, after a warmup seasons, it’ll be a big test of faith! I’ll chant Malachi 3:10 whenever my wife questions it, and before long we’ll be exemplary faith warriors with a story to tell everyone that they can emulate to be better givers too! It’ll be awesome!
I’ve done this (except for the Malachi part, I promise), and just a few weeks ago a young leader told our small group that he’s leading his family to do this very thing as well—challenging others to join them in doing so with our new church plant.
It sounds really noble and feels kinda cool at first. But there’s a mathematical problem that arises quite quickly that one maybe doesn’t take into account when trying to model their life after their favorite righteous multi-millionaires.
It’s a really serious mathematical problem…
The problem: Giving away just 15% of a measly $30,000 bi-vocational yearly ministry income leaves a significantly smaller sum of money left to live off of for your family then giving away 90% of a $500,000 yearly salary.
The former leaves you feeding your family and trying to live in this expensive society with just $25,500, and the later, oh-so-much-holier-sounding-giving of almost everything leaves you even still with $50,000 to live off of—more than the national average of household incomes!
On one hand, I’d love to see more young families try this, it might curb some mindless spending, eating out, and ridiculous TV subscriptions. On the other hand, we are still in America—even living truly thrifty on just the essentials here is quite expensive!
You can quickly understand why the biblical mandate is simply, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
You can also surely see why I think local church bodies, or, “non-profit organizations”, as we call them in the United States, should be the ones more aptly fulfilling the financial equivalent of “loving our neighbors as we love our non-profit-organization-selves”.
What would it be like if your “small” local church, with an annual budget of only $200,000 gave away 50% of that to help its members and city, and thus said as a body of believers, “Okay, we’re doing all our church activities on $100,000 this year, folks.”
Maybe you wouldn’t have a super rad staff retreat, but maybe you could help some of your young adult members out of college-loan debt so that they would be more free to give more to next year’s budget, and, more importantly, to Kingdom work!
Maybe you wouldn’t get a new sound system and stage lights, but maybe you could help a family or two adopt some children like they’ve been saving to do. Then those adopted children would grow up hearing the gospel in a Christian home!
Maybe you wouldn’t buy a bigger building to attract a larger crowd of consumers, but maybe you could equip your members to re-roof a home and buy a reliable car for a single mom with kids in your city. Maybe she’d feel so cared for she’d trust your people, listen to the gospel, and bring herself and her kids to your weekly worship gathering, even if it’s in a barn, so they can be a part of such a Christ-like community.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea, right?
People debate about what the optimal size of a local church is before it should split and become multiple churches—a size in which everyone can feel connected, known, personally shepherded by the elders, and cared for by fellow members.
I’d like to see a church run an experiment, determining that when the giving is such that the bare-minimum of biblical and meaningful life of the church can be reasonably sustained in their local context (takes way less than you think), they will then give away all else until the two sides become equal. When the giving-away reaches equality with the spending-on-self, they may increase both a little, but ultimately they will begin the financial and relational investment of splitting and planting a new church in a similar context.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if that marker ended up being a consistently optimal blend of congregational health and happiness plus effective community outreach and care, for a multitude or reasons. Of course, it will depend on contexts, but I’d venture to guess it’d work across most quite nicely.
I bet it’d change nearly everything about that church—in a very positive way!
Even if no one else will try it, I aim to.