“Oh, we couldn’t afford that.”
“We’re not a rich church.”
“That doesn’t fit our budget.”
It’s true that many churches have struggles meeting their ministries’ financial demands. But oftentimes truly productive, transformative ministry opportunities arise—only to be dashed by the money excuse.
What’s worse, some of the dollars that are currently being spent have little or no legitimate, spiritual return on investment. So these expenditures squat in the budget like a fat sloth, eating up dollars that could be spent on something that would produce real ministry results.
I asked ministry people around the country to name where they see their churches dumping dollars into dubious pits of no return. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:
- Dull little newspaper ads. “We spend $400 a month on ads that list our times and location. And they haven’t resulted in one new member.”
- Church logo schwag. “At local parades, fairs and other events we give away bottled water, fly swatters, and pens. We call it outreach. But it never works.”
- Full-color bulletins. “Our church of 200 spends $150 a week on these, which get quickly thrown away.”
- Flat-screen TVs for the lobby. “No one pays any attention to them.”
- Espresso machine. “Rarely gets used. We don’t keep it supplied.”
- Logo bumper stickers. “How many lives are transformed because they saw a clever church logo on someone’s Ford Explorer?”
- Fog machine. “Made me gag.”
- Capital campaign consultants. “They gladly take the first $50,000 to tell you what you already know.”
The list goes on and on. (Feel free to add yours in the comments below.) I know people can defend each one of these expenditures. But what’s the true ministry return on investment? And how many of these items have precluded other more life-changing ministries?
How can we be better stewards of the dollars that the faithful givers deposit in the offering plates each week? Here’s a quick checklist to consider.
- Prioritize spending on things that draw a direct line to Jesus. Invest in things that directly bring people into a closer relationship with the Lord.
- Do an audit. Look back over the previous year and ask how–or if–each expenditure led to changed lives–or not.
- Don’t let mere numbers rule. An expense may draw 500 people to a one-time event, but may not be as spiritually fruitful and lasting as an ongoing ministry for a handful.
- Have faith. Pray for God’s guidance and step out and invest in direct ministries that may stretch your comfort levels.
- Share the dream. When you find a new true ministry opportunity, share your vision widely. There are people in your church and community who’ve been wary of dubious spending, but are ready to invest in something that truly changes lives for Christ.
Wow Thom! What a great article. Really thought provoking on the things we spend money on. A challenge to try and look objectively at the fruit of these expenditures. I also appreciate that you list some points to consider that can help us be better stewards. In times like these it’s more important than ever to use our resources in ways that will truly impact lives for Christ!
I believe the first shift is away from the financial support of those things we like (full color bulletins, 30% more lilies or pointsettias than are really needed) toward support for those things which will touch lives both inside and outside the existing community.
My church had not held a Vacation Bible School in over ten years. Why not? They said they didn’t have the money or the volunteers. A core group of people moved forward, took a step of faith, and planned VBS. So many people got behind the ministry because they saw the impact it would have on families in the community. The program drew more volunteers than actually needed….and closed the books with more money coming in that what was spent. A faith lesson learned by all !
Bob. I had the same issue in my church for years I took over the program sinking a lot of my own money into it and it is Thriving now. Getting the rite volunteers is still by far the biggest Challenge for us.
We should talk! You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org We discoverd some secrets to getting the right people on board!
This article does what I believe it was meant to do. It reminds me that no church is perfect, and we all need to take a look at what we are doing. Be intentional in every action and purchase.
I agree with the majority of this article, but I am often concerned by statements like “But it never works.” “No one pays any attention” etc Do these people quoted keep track somehow?
It is safe to say there are many things more important than a flat screen TV (Though our church does have people surrounding the TV’s to watch the service when there is a crowd. Also, there is a cafe open to the public with televisions that broadcast the service as well. I think any functioning TV will do as long as it is compatible with whatever system is broadcasting the sermon.)
My point is, we don’t always know when seeds have been planted. I know people who are saved because they came to the cafe and discovered it was run by a church.
We do need to realign our priorities constantly.
It is not easy to decide what is important. Married couples often disagree on where money should go.. Churches have more people and more dynamics.
I pray for unity, because we are all so different and just agreeing on things can be a challenge, even in a loving church.
By creating a big production (flat screen tv’s, colorful bulletins high tech equipment), are we training attenders to be an audience? Would some people quit attending if we didn’t have nice comfy seats, great music, and colorful bulletins?
Do we want to keep those people? Are the people who want to be entertained going to be His hands and feet?
Some would argue that church seekers are looking for authenticity, but our behaviors often reveal that we still think people are really looking for a big production.
Rather than worrying so much about what all the people want (which changes with the wind) I hope to focus more whole heartily on what God wants. Yes, we need to be relevant. Yes we should give GOD our best.
Some followed Jesus to see a miracle. They wanted to be entertained. He still loved them and spoke to them, but He didn’t entertain them.
I hope to see more congregations where the majority of attenders are active in spreading God’s love all around throughout the week!
How can we do our very best with the gifts God has given us while maintaining healthy expectations?
How can we encourage each other to make wise decisions without nit picking?
How do we avoid being just one more over critical church member adding to the frustrations and burden of church staff and volunteers?
These are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind with this topic.
Hopefully it has sparked some thoughts for someone.
Thanks for the article.
Not trying to be a punk, but I think we can be wasteful on the amount of curriculum and resources we purchase as well. Group, YS and others have been very helpful to the church, but they can also be an expensive crutch.
Honestly, from a guy who is part of a church staff who used to work at Group I find the Holy Soup articles to be immensely annoying. It is so easy to be critical of a customer base that is not perfect but is working hard. Case in point is the church at which I work. We’re dealing with issues of the aged, care for infants, broken families, marriages in trouble, being Christ outside the walls of our church, impacting the world with a strong missions program, helping those unemployed, helping young people involved in drugs and porn, those close to death, the list is endless. Sorry I’m ranting but I think I’ll take a break from Holy Soup. I still love Group but ease up a little.
Thanks for your thoughts, Chris. Your list of ministries looks like good stewardship, which is what this blog post is advocating.
Sorry you found my recommendations for good stewardship “immensely annoying.” I continue to welcome your perspectives; they make for thought-provoking dialog.
I agree with alot of what you wrote, Thom, but I want also to put a counter-argument.
Too much value can be placed on what “puts people in the pews.” This focuses ministry on those people in the community who are most like us and most open to attending church. Gathering the “churched” but currently not attending is not the full mission of the church. I would argue there is also value in connecting with masses within the community through the use of mass media or other means (large rallys, etc.) in a way that doesn’t directly put people in the pews. We can argue about the effectiveness of newspaper ads vs websites, and lame ads vs engaging ads, but your article doesn’t make that distinction. I’m a champion of personal disciplemaking within our ministry, but I’m also a champion of engaging with as much of the broader community (with a view to leading them to take steps towards Jesus) as possible.
Having done ministry in Sydney, Australia (where the evangelical population is about 3% and definitely doesn’t have resources to “waste” on things that dont put people in pews) and Denver, Colorado (where several large churches seem to promote themselves regularly to the broader community with varying degrees of effectiveness), I know I find mission easier to engage with in Colorado because the secular, non-churched community have at least heard about church and seen some things that go on whereas in Sydney they’ve just got no idea.
At the church I currently attend, they have a box at the back of the sanctuary where bulletins can be dropped after the service for recycling versus people just walking out and throwing them away.
This is so very true…I recently visited a new church in the So. Florida area, meeting at a high school auditorium. Ok, so it was not exactly a church but it didn’t have to look like a performing stage either. There was a fog machine, lights and the lead singer playing the electric guitar took off his shoes to “praise” more comfortably…too much of a show for my taste. But who cares my taste, I wondered about the Holy Spirit’s taste…
I truly agree with this article. You are right there are definitely plenty of good ways to defend each of these ideas, but fruitfully and Godly-based we need to remember as the church body our mission is to grow. Not just for the sake of growth, but to actually grow in community and in covenant relationships with people. If what we spend our money on does not fit this mission, then as a church we have to step back and realign ourselves with His word and purpose for us. Reading this really reminds me of what I have to keep in mind especially when it comes to the budget that I am allotted. Its not how much we have it is what we use the money to seed and God will do the rest!