Replanting a Church: Finances, Part 2

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.

Going multipurpose

Sometimes, you just have to build. Our old building had a huge auditorium — but hardly any classrooms, bathrooms, parking, or lobby. And we were hopelessly landlocked. There was just no way to get more land to build even more bathrooms. And so we sold and moved. It was the right thing to do.

But we couldn’t afford what we really wanted, and so we went multipurpose — and it turned out much better than we expected. You see, rather than meeting in our gym, we play basketball and eat in our auditorium. We stack up the very comfortable chairs, roll out the stanchions, and play — in a space with a barrel ceiling, Corinthian columns, and wainscoting. Several churches have built on our model and have even improved on it.

The point is to have a space so nice for worship assemblies that we didn’t have to build a real auditorium sooner than we wanted to. We now have non-members asking to rent our “gym” for weddings!

It’s not perfect, but it works well. And it’s saved millions for God’s mission.

We also have a “chapel” — a smaller worship space — that’s also multipurpose. It works for weddings, funerals, smaller church gatherings, large classes, covered-dish meals … anything that’ll fit in a 300-seat space. (Our auditorium/gym holds 600+). And we’re wearing both of them out — which is good, because it’s a lot cheaper to buy new carpet and paint every 10 years rather than to buy additional space.

The trick is to persuade the congregation that it’s better to stay multi-purpose over the long haul than building dedicated auditorium space that’s used 2 hours a week. It’s a pain to pick up and set out chairs and to fix the inevitable damage that basketball and volleyball do. But it’s one way to fit your budget to the mission, rather than fitting your mission to the budget.

The staff

Now, this is the point where readers like to jump in and complain about staff salaries, but I’m a big believer in the value of paid ministers — but only if they are hired for the right purposes. I observe that in this culture, few churches without paid staff grow — or their growth quickly tops out. But plenty of churches that have paid staff also don’t grow, so merely having paid staff isn’t the key.

I have little sympathy for members who complain about having too much staff — unless they say, “We don’t need a teen minister. I’ll be glad to do the work for free!” You see, the complainers are never the ones on whom the work would fall if we reduced the staff. Those people are grateful for the staff we have.

But all staff must be key leaders in God’s mission through the church. Therefore, we have no “family life center director.” Tuscaloosa has a YMCA. We make our gym available for youth basketball, but we don’t try to replace the Y or the other community sports organizations.

In fact, I don’t believe in church sports leagues. I believe in Christians being salt and light in secular leagues. We can’t save those we never come in contact with.

(1 Cor 5:9-10)  I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

We aren’t called to leave the world. We are called to be pure in the world — and a force for purity among those in the world. Therefore, I’d rather our members join a secular gym and show the beauty of Jesus, rather than hiding from the world in a Christian gym. I see no need for a staff athletic director.

I’m old enough that I remember what my church was like without a teen or children’s minister. I was a reluctant convert. I don’t want to go back. But neither do I want staff babysitters. Rather, I think these ministers need to help the parents raise missional children — and the kids need to see the fire for God’s mission in their ministers (and, more importantly, in the kids’ parents).

In short, whether it’s the preacher or the church secretary, the staff has to be deeply missional. And truly excellent staff members will bring others along into God’s mission. Then they’re worth every penny and I’m delighted to defend them against the skeptics.

Ministries

Every church budget has line items for various kinds of ministry. Some line items are essential — grape juice and bread for communion, supplies for the nursery. I mean, there are certain non-negotiables if you’re going to do church.

Then there come the supplies for children’s and teen ministries. You can’t teach 3 year olds without lesson materials. We can consider how much it really takes, but the toddlers don’t do well with lecture-method of teaching.

But as the kids grow older, we can expect their instruction to become more and more missional. They need to transition from being served to serving others. The volunteers need to step back and help the kids grow up into leaders (and yet we parents are bad to make the ministry more “attractive” by making it less challenging, not even letting the kids handle serving the pizza).

The goal is to produce adults who enjoy serving others, and so the ministry has to point the kids in that direction. And this means that the program to tutor kids at the elementary school in the poor part of town (a very inexpensive program, by the way) is much more important than the ski trip — even though only 5 kids show up to tutor and 100 kids want to ski. God sets the priorities, not the teens (or their parents).

I’m not against ski trips at all. I just think they aren’t the heart of ministry and much less important than most other things — because building “relationships” among the teens isn’t the heart of ministry. When the kids develop friendships across racial and economic lines through the tutoring program, then they’ll be building relationships that are different in kind from ski trip relationships. Pagans can build ski trip relationships.

The goal is changed kids, not molified, catered-to kids. If the ski trip will make them more like Jesus, then I’m all for it. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be in the budget.

Now raising up a generation of missional, Jesus-like kids is a very high priority for any church. It should be the goal, and we should we test how well we’re doing by looking at the kids in the last 10 years. Are the kids growing up to be servants of God we want? If not, find something to change.

As we evaluate the other ministries in teh budget, we have to remember that merely calling a ministry an “outreach” doesn’t make it so. I mean, does our coffee shop bring in the poor and oppressed or our Baptist friends? Does the softball team show Jesus to the lost or to other believers? For that matter, does our teen program build love for Jesus or further cater to a bunch of already spoiled kids?

Missions

As the teens will be involved in our benevolence work (right?!) and will participate in short-term mission trips to support our missionaries, the teen budget and the mission budget overlap. The lines should be nice and fuzzy. If it’s easy to decide what line item to put each expense on, you’re not doing ministry right.

Therefore, when money gets tight (like now), we shouldn’t be killing missions and benevolence to preserve the teen ministry. They should be so tied together that the priorities don’t separate so easily.

Benevolence and evangelism can’t be something we’ll get to when we finally have enough money. They are what we are about. They are the core of who we are. We shouldn’t know how to do church without them. We should prefer to sell the building and meet in houses than kill the missions program. It’s just that our members, by and large, don’t feel that way — and they’ll leave and attend somewhere else before they’ll make any real sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. At least that’s often true.

Build your theology around participating in God’s mission, not being served, and everything changes. The youth ministry changes, the building program changes, your hiring choices change, even your use of the building changes.

In fact, one of the clearest measures of how missional your church is can be seen in how you use your building. If the building is empty most of the time, except for the preacher studying for next week’s lesson, you’re not a missional church. If your building is in use 12 or more hours a day, 7 days a week, because your church members are wearing it out doing God’s work, then you’re really missional.

But even better yet, if the building is empty because your members have left the building to tutor at the neighborhood school and to distribute food to the hungry and to study the Bible with their neighbors at home — then they’ve really caught on. The building’s a great tool for ministry – but it’s also a handicap if your members think they can only do ministry there. They need to do ministry where ministry is needed.

In fact, wouldn’t it be great if you could put off that new auditorium for a few more years because many of your members spend Sunday mornings conducting services in apartment houses all over town?

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2 Responses

  1. I have heard a similar argument for connection the missions budget and the benevolence budget. I feel the need to express a concern which sadly isn’t hypothetical. I see it as a growing trend in our brotherhood.

    I see an increasing number of churches that send their youth group to build houses somewhere, and the money spent on that trip is considered the entire missions budget. While short-term missions are beneficial, they need a framework of permanent missionaries who have given their life to a certain area. An increase in short-term missions should never mean a decrease in the money given to longterm missions.

    I fear that too many of our churches want to imitate other churches around, forgetting that those churches have missionary societies insuring the presence of longterm missionaries. Until we move to the model, our local churches must continue to assume responsibility for supporting workers overseas.

    That’s my one and a half cents, anyway.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Tim,

    I agree. I think short-term missions work best when done in conjunction with the church’s own long-term missions. Then the teens will be supporting the same things the adults are supporting — and the teens get to see the adults modeling evangelistic work.

    I don’t understand the idea of shopping for the “perfect” short-term mission with no regard for how that mission fits with the congregation’s overall vision. It’s as though the teens are supposed to have a different vision from their congregation — not a healthy thing.

    Obviously, there are cases where the ideal can’t be achieved, perhaps because the congregation has no long-term missions or because it’s too expensive for the kids to travel there. Nonetheless, I’m more and more persuaded that the leadership should thoughtfully work toward a coordinated mission work.

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