“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.

  1. 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.
  2. Do an audit. Look back over the previous year and ask how–or if–each expenditure led to changed lives–or not.
  3. 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.
  4. Have faith. Pray for God’s guidance and step out and invest in direct ministries that may stretch your comfort levels.
  5. 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.