Replanting a Church: Finances, Part 1

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

Envision a body not reacting to finances to determine God’s call (Matthew 6:24).

  1. How will faith in God calling a body to reach out to the community and world be weighed against financial responsibility and stewardship?
  2. If mortgages or debts exist, how will they be paid off in a realistic way over a reasonable time period?
  3. What attitudes or practices about money and finances need to be changed?
  4. Is a budget in place? Is it a true reflection of the church’s giving and spending (balanced budget)?
  5. What expenses can be cut immediately to be redirected toward the church’s mission?
  6. Is the body (especially the leadership) making decisions based on finances or on God’s calling?
  7. What creative ways can you generate more income without sacrificing resources, biblical principles, or expending paid personnel?

Remember: this is about replanting an existing church. And existing churches have budgets and mortgages. And mortgages and other prior ministry commitments limit a church’s options for future ministry.

Therefore, a replanting effort has to carefully look at its budget and consider whether its budget priorities reflect God’s priorities.

Budgets usually divide into these categories —

* Building — debt service and maintenance

* Staff salaries and benefits

* Ministries that serve the membership: children, teens, education

* Ministries that serve those outside the church: benevolence, missions

Now, I list them in this order because that’s how it is for most of us. We have to make the building payment and we have to make payroll. We then take care of ministries essential to the spiritual health of the members — and if there’s anything left, we serve those outside the congregation. And this is actually not as wrong as it sounds. After all, who is willing to surrender the souls of his own children for the sake of missions? It’s just that we need to be a little more thoughtful.

Try this instead —

* Building — debt service and maintenance

* Staff salaries and benefits

* Essential ministries that serve the membership: children, teens, education (which includes much of the mission and benevolence budgets)

* Ministries that serve only those outside the church: benevolence, missions

* Non-essential ministries that serve the membership (including the building expansion we’ve been talking about and the teen beach trip)

We’re legally and morally required to make the building payment, but we aren’t required to build an expansion.

We need staff but their task should be to equip us to serve others, not to serve us.

We need to provide for the spiritual health of our teens, but separating that from missions and benevolence is to utterly fail to provide for the spiritual health of our teens. They need to be involved in missions and benevolence (just like the adults). You can’t have one without the other.

I’d far rather send the kids on a short-term mission in support of our missionary’s work than to Six Flags and the beach for devos and relationship building. And I’d far rather the teen budget be committed to service projects in town than any of that. (Why on earth do we insist on sending the teens away to do good works, as though they can’t do good works here? What lesson does that teach??)

The building

Outgrowing your building

It’s been shown by many churches that you don’t have to own a building to grow. All but the largest churches can rent space at a local school, save a ton, and do quite well. The early church came to dominate Rome without having a single building for three centuries.

Or go to the house church model. That’s a First Century model, and many congregations have done this with success. So don’t just assume the necessity for a building.

Now buildlings can be great tools for the mission of Jesus, but don’t build just for your own needs. Build missionally.

If you own a building and you’re growing, at some point you’ll fill your auditorium. Don’t build a new building. Rather, go to multiple services. Members and staff will complain, but it’s the right choice. Use the savings for missional purposes — plant a church, build twenty orphanages in third-world countries. Just don’t build a monument to your success. You don’t need it.

Some churches have gone to as many as 5 services before building a new building — and many prefer to go to multiple campuses rather than build that gargantuan building. You see, multiple campuses allow a church to avoid the cost of building a huge building and to also serve a larger geographic area.

Other churches have avoided the new building by planting a new church — and even routinely spinning off new churches as size becomes an issue. And these new churches (or new campuses) often grow very rapidly as they bring a strong church to a new community.

Personally, I hope my congregation grows astronomically fast and never builds a new building on its present site. I’d far rather sort out the difficulties of a third service than take on millions in debt. And by controlling the church’s fixed costs, the additional contributions we receive from the new members can all go to God’s mission to the world rather than bricks and mortar.

Under-growing your building

If your church is declining in numbers, your building may be too big. Consider —

* Replanting within your own church (as I’m describing in these posts)

* Merging with another church in town (some declining churches have merged by becoming an additional campus for an existing, growing church)

* Inviting a church planting organization to plant in your present building

* Selling the building, giving the funds to a church planting or orphan care organization, and meeting in homes or rented space

Just don’t sit there in a too-large building thinking that doing the same thing will magically produce different results.


2 Responses

  1. I’ve visited some churches that, rather than buying or building, meet on Sundays in an elementary school cafeteria or the like. Obviously they’re able to use much more money to serve in their communities and reach out in mission to the world. I think that’s a great idea — but I think the bigger benefit (more than money) is that this allows (or forces) them to spend more TIME in their communities, or at the very least in one another’s homes. If we don’t have a church building for Wednesday night class, teen devotional night, serving meals to homeless, or teaching English as a second language, then we’re going to be doing those things out in our communities. Our service, then, will be on the soil of those whom we’re serving.

    I’ve also heard of some churches who, rather than building or buying for themselves, have decided to build a community center for their part of town. They then give it to the community to be used freely (and governed and managed, etc), but with the agreement that they are able to rent it each and every Sunday morning for their worship services. They pay to build it, give it away, and then pay to rent it. Talk about serving the community…

    It seems a lot of churches when I was in high school started getting “Family Life Centers,” which were to be available for use to people in the area. But most of them ended up being used for members only. And about as outreach as they got was CHURCH-league basketball and the occasional homeless shelter during a hurricane. It almost seems to me churches have used “evangelism, service, and outreach” to justify building bigger and nicer things for themselves. Of course our churches are made up of people who justify buying large and extravagant things while saying, “well, you know we really intend to use it for ministry…” Seems appropriate that our churches would do the same.

  2. Few churches appear to trust God for what they need. Instead, most operate like a business, often on the brink of not being able to meet a budget goal.

    Not long ago I saw some stats on what evangelical churches spend their money on. It was glaringly obvious their priorities were far removed from biblical teaching and the model of first century churches.

    I have known several churches that never had any debt and gave a much higher percentage of their annual income to getting the gospel out and aiding the poor than most others. I have never thought a church borrowing money and paying interest is a good idea.

    I have not commented much but have enjoyed this series.

    Merry Christmas,
    Royce Ogle

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