I am going to begin this by saying that I don’t have the answer. I want to be clear right up front that I am as perplexed about this as the next person. But… I do have some things on my mind and hopefully, this will spawn a bit of a discussion.
A while back, I was teaching a course on Discovering God’s Way of Handling Money and I wrote almost daily emails to my class hopefully keeping the subject fresh in their mind throughout the week. One of the first emails I wrote had to do with Faith or Fundraising. I had been receiving (and still do) mailings from different Christian organizations requesting funds for their ministry. I know that I gave $50 to one of them 5 years ago and I still get monthly mailings from them asking for more money. They have most likely spent that whole $50 trying to get me to donate more. I haven’t opened a letter from them in years. It goes directly to the trash. So, I ask you…is that being good stewards of God’s money?
The church that I attend is currently having a space problem. We don’t have enough room to offer small group studies for adults or children on Sunday mornings. In fact, our Sunday mornings are getting more and more packed. It is obvious that we need more space. Our first attempt was to rent the gymnasium across the street for our services and let the kids have full use of our currently building. That relieved the space pressure – but for various reasons, we also lost a large number of people. About a month or so after we moved to the school, we decided to move back. Once we moved back to the church, we started filling up again. So, what do we do? We know we need more space but as a church, we want to be good stewards. Temporary buildings or more permanent buildings? Do we look at other locations? If so, will the people move with the church? I don’t have the answers. I see good points and bad points to all of the alternatives.
Another question I always ask myself is how much of our tithe should go toward financing church expenses? This is a big issue for me since I am a preachers kid. We grew up being paid by the members of the church my Dad was a pastor at. But the big question is, what is the tithe for? Is it to support big buildings and large salaries? (I will be the first to tell you that most full-time ministers don’t make large salaries – but there are those small percentages that make a lot of money.) Large staffs of church workers? Programs, programs and more programs? Or is it to care for the homeless, the sick, the widowed? Jesus conducted his ministry without a building or a salary. So did the disciples. Paul worked so his parishioners didn’t have to support him. When we give our money to the church we attend, how much should be spent on facilities and salaries and all of the expenses that go along with it, and how much should be dedicated to caring for the sick, homeless and poor? What is our primary function as a church?
My idealistic mind says that we should be spending as little as we have to on “overhead” and the majority of the money received toward caring for the homeless, the poor, the sick. Some have suggested that we only use 10% of the money given to cover the overhead and the rest toward caring for others who need it. That means that for a church with a $100,000 budget, $10,000 goes toward administration and $90,000 toward caring for those in need. Do you know of a church that does that now? I tend to lean toward more of a middle ground option. Here’s an example I read about. A church decided that it needed a larger building to meet their current needs. It was decided that the church needed to raise $500,000 to build a new multipurpose building. The leadership of the church was also in tune with what their primary mission should be so the leadership approached the church with the proposal that although they needed $500,000 to build the building for the church, they wouldn’t start building until they raised $1,000,000. $500,000 for the building and $500,000 to be used to directly benefit the homeless, sick, poor and needy in their community. Can you guess whether or not they had trouble raising all of the money? Of course the congregation got behind the leadership and giving actually went up. They raised the money faster than they had planned for.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t have any answers yet. For me, every question begets another question. I see a legitimate need for a full-time staff to serve the needs of the local congregation – more and more who have never attended church before. There is also a need for the church to be actively serving the needy in their community both financially and physically. Here’s a thought. If churches actively supported organizations and ministries that served the homeless and needy in our community, those organizations wouldn’t have to spend millions on fund raising.
One last question to leave you with – As Christians, what is our main purpose here on earth?
I’d like to hear from you….
Want to know where your money goes when you give to your favorite charity?
Charity Navigator is a great resource.