Most churches, church members, pastors would prefer larger budgets, because larger budgets can mean more ministry to others inside and outside the church. Ministry does cost something. It costs time, commitment, and money. So churches need to take in tithes, which in turn fund budgets; a budget is just a bunch of numbers unless there is actually money in the bank. And this article in World Magazine explains that tithing is at its lowest in 41 years. This study was done with mainline churches, which already seem on the decline-so obviously tithing will be declining. Yet as I hear from other evangelical churches, the tithing tragedy probably affects many churches in America. I don’t want to get into the “why,” but how churches, can do more with less.
First of all, instead of an alarmist “sky is falling b/c the church has less money” mentality, we probably need a bit of perspective. As above stated, larger budgets can mean more ministry. They can, but they don’t necessarily mean more ministry is actually being done. Like a parent who gives his/her youth 20 dollars for fast food on a one day retreat-and doesn’t ask for the change back-we know that money that can be spent, will be often be spent. Because it can.
But when money is tighter, we have the option to examine what needs to be spent, versus what can be spent. Sometimes it can mean that we are better stewards of God’s money. Sometimes it can mean we truly do more with less.
For instance, you might have 500 budgeted dollars for a fellowship event. With that money, you could cater bbq. It would be tasty. Or let’s say you had 50 dollars, or even nothing. You could just have the church go potluck. This way, you save money, and the food is probably nearly as good. Plus you involve the congregation. You can involve your family in preparation, and teach them about fellowship and giving to others that which is good and precious to you (its kind of hard for me to share good food). I would say more ministry has just happened because you had less money.
Don’t equate budgeted/spent money with an illusion that more ministry is actually happening or the opposite as well: less money=less ministry.
Much ministry doesn’t cost much money.
Think of C.D. groups (community/discipleship) or whatever you call them (small groups, Life Groups, community groups), how much do those things cost? The price of electricity, water/sewer, and a dessert. Not much. Yet I’ve seen first hand people come to faith, grow in the faith, begin to serve the church, and want to bring those outside the church in. Real life-changing ministry often happens on the cheap. In relationships. In community.
Most of us do like to pay for ministry more than do ministry ourselves. That way we don’t have to enter into the mess, and get messy. But for the price of a cup of a coffee, you can meet with and minister to someone who is going through a tough marriage, dealing with a tough child, a tough illness, has a tough question, tough sin struggle, etc….For the price of a cup of coffee, or a donut (that’s what I do every Wed morning) you can meet with and disciple someone who is younger in the faith than you. And then THEY can start ministering to others. Good things happen. Relationships are costly in terms of time and emotion, but they are also cheap in terms of money. And yet the yield is tenfold.
Ministry still does cost some money.
I don’t have a budget for our CD group to purchase materials. So we (my co-leader and I) just buy the materials ourselves. A novel thought-things we can buy, we should buy. I think 10 dollars every 3-4 months is probably not that big of an investment. Other groups do the same thing, and we’re seeing the fruit. Ministry doesn’t stop when the tithing drops.
Instead of a traditional VBS (which had nothing really to do with lack of funding), I wanted to try something more outward focused. So we did a “Kids Club” at a local income restricted apartment complex. People were HAPPY to donate to this. We spent very little, and yet were able to share the gospel with a more kids than came to our VBS. Then we turned around and did 2 “Bible Clubs” for kids in our church and neighborhood friends. Some members donated stuff and we spent little. But some folks spent little or nothing, because other folks donated and spent some money, and were glad to do it.
A neighborhood Xmas party, small group Xmas party where you invite unchurched friends to doesn’t cost much more than a normal Xmas party you might already throw. I’ve done several of these out of my house and seen youth step up and lead well. It doesn’t show up in the church budget, but it is ministry. And it does cost you some. It cost several involved families money, but I think they were happy to spend some. Isn’t the ministry opportunity an eternal investment?
Something that Amy and I will be doing is buying the Jesus Storybook Bible for some of our unchurched friends-who still, thankfully, think Jesus is cool. Lifeway is selling them for 5 dollars on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Tim Challies is updating all of the deals on his website. Just scroll down to find the apropos post. This will cost you some money, but it will be worth it. If you don’t have one for your toddler-Kindergartener, get it. You’ll be hooked and handing them out to neighbors. We already have, and will be doing it some more this Xmas.
Ministry does cost. Sending missionaries cost money. Sunday School material costs money. When someone calls and legitimately needs money, that, obviously costs money. So I hope that people tithe and give generously to the local church, to missions, church planting, and other personal/group ministry opportunities. Ministry cost some money, but it costs more time than money. It costs YOU. If you find yourself lamenting that your particular church can’t do as much as you’d like it to do, consider all of the many cheap (and costly) that are waiting for you. You might have missed them if your budget/tithing was bigger. And in the end, Jesus said we find our life by giving it away (Matthew 10:39).