Monday, July 25, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Giving and Budgeting

Free will, ownership, and competition within the Christian Church would all help to make Christianity a better and more attractive alternative to other religions of the world in the same way each of these factors have made capitalism the most effective economic system in the world.

I have never known of a Church that did not use a socialistic model for financing Church expenses and Church activities. Under this model, members, regulars, and visitors will donate money to a Church and then allow the Elders and/or Pastors to decide, prioritize, and budget how the donations are spent. Budgets are usually based on historical giving patterns and yearly pledges from the members. Most Churches allow input from the members and then require a vote of the members before a budget is approved. More often than not, contributions fail to meet the budget expectations.

It is a mystery to me why Churches continue to use a model that has rarely worked and will never work as a long-term model. I know there are some Churches where giving outpaces expectations during periods of rapid growth, but there are also cults where giving outpaces expectations during periods of growth, so citing examples of where this model has worked does not make it God’s intended model.

Understanding why this model has so many problems is not complicated. People who believe in a Church will give generously. Most believers look for opportunities to give. However, every time the Church Leaders makes a decision that affects how contributions are spent, some of the contributors become less enthusiastic about supporting the vision of the Church. Ideally, others would become more enthusiastic, but it is always easier for those who are already giving to start giving less than it is to start giving more.

Older churches intrinsically understand this dynamic, even if they don’t understand all of the reasons. Many Churches wither away very slowly over many years because the leaders never make a change of direction. These Churches continue to get contributions from long-term members year after year even after the ideas of the Church have quit producing new fruit because the long-term members have become very comfortable with the purpose of the Church, even if the only purpose is a Sunday meeting.

Getting rid of the big pot mentality will increase contributions, improve budgeting accuracy, and, most importantly, improve the effectiveness of spreading the Gospel and creating Disciples in our Churches. In my next post, I will discuss how ownership would change the contribution and budgeting dynamic.


Jennifer said...

David, it almost sounds like you're talking about shares of stock or something like it. But I can't tell where you're going, so I'll reserve my comments. You are right, though, that the historical model has not worked.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Jennifer,

I don’t mean to keep you guessing. I’m sorry. My writing time is limited and I don’t think other bloggers spend time reading long posts. I’ve been trying to describe the problem slowly before I get to the solution. It’s obvious you have lived the problem growing up.

Ownership will not be stocks. I don’t see how a Church can have something of retained value to keep and trade. But ownership will be a way to let members vote with their time and their money. I want Pastors to be shepherds not CEOs. I want members that make a long term commitment, not a Sunday to Sunday decision. I haven’t worked out all of the details. Hopefully you can help.

Thanks for staying interested.

Jennifer said...

I am very interested. My pastor actually wrote his thesis on the problem of pastors being CEOs, when they are supposed to be shepherds. Great minds think alike!

Hammertime said...

Bah, I was all excited, and you are still laying a logical foundation! I think you are right about long posts, though.

I may be more on board than you think. My only caution is this: What is "working"? Your claim is that "this model has never worked", but what would be success as you are defining it - and is that success as the churches in question are defining it (or, should be defining it, really)?

I eagerly await the solution!

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Please let me know if today’s post doesn’t adequately address your questions and concerns. I was almost done writing it when your comment popped up.

Will you be blogging everyday again? Your readers have been taking over your site like ants on a marshmallow.

Graham said...

Biggest challange is how to finance those unglamorus expenses such as morgage, insurance, utilities, etc. Maybe a picture of a starivng untility would help if any one has one

David M. Smith said...

Hi Graham,

You have quite the sense of humor; I didn’t get it at first, but now I do. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a good comment.

I don’t know how many people are like me, but the unglamorous and tangible is more to my sense of what needs to be funded than some of the more glamorous intangibles. I feel like I am honoring Jesus more when I mow the grass or paint the wall than I do when try to teach children’s Sunday school. Of course we need both, but I could own the lawn, I would only be participating in the Sunday School class.

If a member or members were not willing to fund the utilities, then turn them off until someone realizes the building is useless without air conditioning.

Greg Y said...

The problem with the Church is that we invest all of our money in buildings, equipment, salaries, office supplies, and stuff that will not last. I tell my church that we need start investing in people not stuff. It seems to me that what that really matters is free.