Is your church really worth your investment?
As much as we might like to deny it, most churches function like small businesses. They have physical assets like property and vehicles which need regular maintenance, staff that draw upon collective resources for salary and benefits, and they are liable and responsible in ways that demand clear accounting procedures and insurance in case something terrible happens.
It is also a painful truth that many churches are underwater. While some new churches will open, an estimated 4,000 close their doors in the United States every year. Of those remaining, many others are surviving off of endowments; otherwise known as the generosity of previous generations. And still others are deferring necessary maintenance in hopes that the next stewardship campaign will finally meet the escalating needs of their aging facilities.
With the rise of the “nones” and the loss of much cultural clout, it is undeniably a hard time to be a church. Now more than ever, the churches that are leaning forward and reaching out deserve the support of the faithful. But how do you determine if your church is really worth your investment?
Let me suggest that you consider divesting from your church, and investing elsewhere, if one or more of the following is true.
1. Your church has no compelling vision for today.
In the past, a church may have been able to rest on a denominational identity or its being one of the only options in town. Today, people have a range of choices for both their church and their benevolent giving. Each faith community has the opportunity to develop a ministry that is both faithful to its values and contextual for its community. If your church seems to be stuck in the past and uninterested in connecting with the people God has placed outside its doors, your generosity may be better off elsewhere.
2. Your church isn’t meeting the spiritual needs of your family.
It isn’t easy to be a church today. The consumer mentality that so many of us bring to church isn’t always the healthiest one to have. But if we can move past our often unrealistic desires, isn’t it fair to still have some expectations that our church is capable of engaging, and offering age appropriate resources for the spiritual development of, the entire family? God isn’t calling you to sacrifice the spiritual development of your children in order to support one particular church in your community.
3. Your church doesn’t offer you a meaningful way to serve.
Giving money is often one of the easiest things we can do but, by itself, isn’t fulfilling for many people. Whether it is because the church is staff heavy, or because very little is going on, some communities offer very few opportunities for the kind of service that feeds and encourages a life of discipleship. If you are actively trying to find a way to serve, have been reasonably flexible, and still find more roadblocks than paths forward, perhaps another church would benefit more from your gifts.
4. Your church doesn’t have a reasonable financial plan.
As we mentioned before, churches carry many of the same burdens of small businesses. They have bills to pay and obligations to meet to simply keep the lights on from month to month. Good churches will take risks from time to time but faithfully risky budgets will always be on the behalf of expanding the ministry, not just in order to keep the lights on.
5. Your church’s finances aren’t transparent.
If you have to rely on the regional newspaper to learn that your pastor makes over $400,000, your churches finances aren’t transparent. While many churches are surprisingly candid about their need for your support of this or that project, too many are less so when it comes to disclosing the financial health of the church. There are a lot of reasons for this and not all of them stem from bad intentions. Still, you have an absolute right in knowing how your money is being used to help in the mission of the church.
6. You don’t fit into the community or you feel too much at home.
This one might seem picky but community is so important to the Christian life. Ideally, you want to find a community that will stretch you, and challenge you from time to time, but will also be capable of supporting you when life has been delivering more sucker punches than flowers.
7. Your church isn’t taking care of the property it has been entrusted with.
Every church is likely to encounter some season of famine; but if it seems like your church has been doing so for nearly as long as Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert, then it may be time to look elsewhere. Even if they continue to defer the needed facility work for several more years, at some point things are going to catch up and all of your giving is going to go into a sinkhole of unending problems.
Divesting from your church might seem like an extreme measure and, in all honesty, it is. If any of the above are true, your first responsibility is to talk to folks in leadership at your church (Matthew 18:15-18), voice your concerns, and discern whether they are being taken seriously. Perhaps your provocation is exactly the push needed to instigate change. And do you really want to be the next passive-aggressive person who takes their money, leaves, and doesn’t try to make a difference?
In reality, many of us have been slowly divesting from the church for years now. Charitable giving has been going up steadily, recessions taken into account, but the percentage of that giving that passes through religious hands continues to go down. The church that fails to adapt to changing realities has no real future.
One final thing. If your church is addressing the issues raised above, you probably have one last question to ask yourself. Brace yourself, it is a hard one.
Are you really giving enough?
Image Credit: “In God we Trust” by Flickr user Kevin Dooley.