A month ago my family and I were driving to church and my oldest son Jonathon asked a question out of the blue:
If churches already collect the tithe from everyone, why are there building campaigns? I mean, it seems to me that churches should save their money to afford a building with the budget they have, or not move. Am I missing something?
Before we go any further, let me clearly state this: The church we attend is not having a building campaign and has no plans for one. Our senior pastor told us that in the new members’ class.
As a family, we talked about the idea of a giving campaign the rest of the way to church. I explained to Jonathon church expenses can outstrip their needs. Expanding the kingdom costs money. Reaching more people isn’t free. Community outreaches and giveaways and electricity and salaries all have a cost.
He heard me walk through all my explanations. I do have a degree in Biblical Studies, so I am quite learned in such things, you know. Then wisdom escaped his mouth again:
If we are told to be good stewards with our money, and we give our tithe and more to the church, isn’t it their job to be good stewards with the money they are given? Dad, as a family we can’t run a campaign when we don’t have the money to pay electricity. The power just gets shut off. Why is the church different?
I was out of answers from a Biblical Studies trained mind. Baffled by the truth and simplicity of my son’s statements. We make things too complex as adults. Sometimes it takes a mind less flooded with reasoned excuses and experience in the ways of life to see the truth. I realized there are actually very few reasons for a church to run an additional giving campaign if they are managing their money wisely.
Hold a special offering for the guest speaker? Sure, maybe those funds can help the itinerant preacher. After all, a worker is worthy of his wages.
Run a missions month and ask for gifts to sponsored missionaries? Absolutely! These brave individuals have given up their worldly goods for the sake of the kingdom.
Ask for more money to build a new building, or pay off the existing one? I don’t see it. The church leadership should have planned enough to cover their needs.
There are some exceptions. Break ground on a building at the start of a recession and you might be in trouble. Church members will usually choose buying food over tithing. You cannot plan for or control this. But making an intentional plan to rely on members to give over and above their tithe to fund a new building is just poor stewardship.
So what, you might ask? So not all churches are being faithful with the money given to them. What does it really matter? There is nothing I can do anyway unless I leave the church, right?
Wrong! We always have options.
Whether you have any direct financial background or not, you can offer your services to the pastor and staff. We all have budgeting skills on some level, because we have to run our own household. Offer to help with the budget, or identify savings opportunities within church operations. Maybe your offer will be rejected, but you will never know unless you ask.
Not all pastors will respond kindly to this. Some may even become angry at the insinuation any help with financial management is necessary. And with the wrong approach, their offense may be warranted. We must lead out of our convictions: to see our church honor God with her resources and to serve as many people as possible.
Now we can lead from our convictions and still be rejected. This doesn’t mean leave the church, or allow anger toward the leadership to settle into our hearts.
Rather, we can make a choice to more actively pray for our church leadership. Simply pray for wisdom and financial blessing for your church. God is in the business of answering our prayers, so don’t underestimate how He might move.
We can also ask a follow-up question after our initial conversation:
My heart is really moved toward our church being financially wise. How else can I step into this type of ministry?
I expect the answer to this question will be very positive, and potentially lead to new ministry opportunities.
What do you think about church building campaigns?
My main complaint is when they want to replace the carpet in the sanctuary or get new chairs. That money could build a well somewhere.
The biggest problem we have is our church members not tithing. But I agree that many churches have their priorities wrong. I know at some churches the poor treasurer would just love a volunteer to step up and offer to help.
My dad was treasurer for several years at the church I grew up in. He was very happy to drop that hot potato as quick as he could. 😉
You would do very well at it though. Aren’t you an accountant?
I’ll go out on a limb….If the regular attendees at our mini-mega-church actually tithed, we’d be golden. Only a small percentage do, even when the pastor has taught it multiple times (and done well–not the heavy-handed “give or we’ll go broke” message). Our leadership is committed to spend within our budget (we have about half the staff of similar-sized churches in our area), but we’re over-capacity in our sanctuary, which we built too small six years ago because that was the money we had to work with. The campaign is coming because the baskets are empty when they get to the end of the rows.
I completely hear you and agree about tithing. I wish I knew the balance on that from a shepherding perspective. I feel like too much teaching on tithing makes it feel like a burden, while too little means the church is not hearing the whole counsel of God.
My experience has been that many volunteers are desperate for help in the ‘unsexy’ but necessary roles within a church. I believe that a conversation from a place of nonjudgment can be so fruitful in this regard.
I am an accountant.
I hear you Pamela! I do my best not to come at a church’s budget choices with judgment, because I rarely have all the information. Sometimes that is hard, honestly.
I know there are even times when a person gives a restricted donation, meaning their funds can only be used legally for a certain purpose. When that happens, I tend to think the problem is with the giver more than the church.
I am glad you are putting your two cents in, whether you agree with me or not. I hoped to get some good conversation going. I also hope this isn’t read as a ‘shock blog’, because that’s not who I am.
You are so right about folks not tithing. It is such a challenge to help people understand the fuller sense of obedience on this concept.The broader reality is this — it’s all God’s, and He lets us manage some of it. Yet the tithe is often viewed from the perspective of God ‘demanding his due.’ Worse yet, people can get a service-oriented mentality. ‘Oh, pastor preached a great sermon! I am going to tip him extra this week!”
It sounds like your church approaches building from a place of real wisdom, by building what it could afford at the time. I don’t think there are easy answers about how to approach capacity issues. I wonder how it would be taken if the leaders of the church were just honest. Outside of the sermon, a person (likely the treasurer) could stand in front of the congregation and speak honestly.
“Look around – we are full. We want to build a bigger building, but the tithes are not enough to do so. Would you give, or give more, after prayerfully considering this?”
What are your thoughts on that, Christine?
I think there are several issues to be dealt with on this topic. First, most people do not tithe, they give an offering. A tithe is 10 percent of your income, an offering is what you give from your heart. Many cases what one gives from the heart consists of the change that may be in his pocket on any given day. There may be little thought or preparation given to this “heartfelt offering.” If a true tithe was given by each church member most churches would have enough to money to be financially stable. On the other hand, being financially stable requires an understanding of the needs of today and preparing for the needs of tomorrow. Just like a family, a church never knows when a crisis will hit, but being prepared would help take some of the financial strain out of the situation. Your son asked some good questions, maybe some adults should ask themselves a few as well.
First…I totally agree that God is amazing and creative in the way he provides for the things that he calls us to.
Six years ago, we were meeting in a school and we simply had too many people each week — we outgrew all the rental options that were available and we had to either make a move or start turning people away. God blessed us in incredible ways that basically got us about 40 acres to build on for free, but we had to raise about $5M for the first building–and we’re bursting at the seams.
Church leadership aren’t willing to go into the amount of debt that we’d have to in order to fund the desperately needed expansion through the operational budget and tithe income (even at an increased tithe level). I support them in that…and would rather see a capital campaign to pull as much one-time or pledge support to fund the building vs. commit to long-term debt.
We have the “look around, we’re full” announcement every week as they make us do the “shuffle” to move in and make room for people looking for seats…and then they pass the buckets (seriously. we use cheap plastic buckets instead of fancy velvet offering bags). And we still come up low. We meet budget, but the staff is making a lot of sacrifices to keep the budget low for a church of our size, and to prioritize missions and community service in that budget.
Basically, at least for our church, it’s a personal responsibility and priority issue. We live in a pretty affluent community, but people continue to prioritize their own desires and pastimes over what God is calling all of us to. They’ll drop $1,000 on a set of golf clubs or their kid’s football equipment, but then complain that there’s no money left for them to give to missions or the church. Not all, but too many.
Sorry, sore subject! Now…..off to church with me! 🙂
This question might look different for some churches than others. Honestly, it sounds like your church pastors have it right in this case. Avoid debt, challenge people to step outside themselves, wait for God’s blessing, and get creative in the meantime.
Our experiences certainly bias our opinions on this. I’ve been in churches that saddled themselves with debt, then let pastors go to afford the mortgage. That’s just not right. This experience plays a key role in my perspective.
I do hope I didn’t offend you. It wasn’t my goal. Rather, I’m looking to stir up thought and conversation on a topic with many opinions.
Like Christine said below, so many won’t give to the church because they give first to themselves. The church gets the scraps, and therefore suffers. This is a good point, and maybe one I should have mentioned in my initial post.
Perhaps, not everyone in the church tithes. And I just thought of the story Jesus told when the poor widow brought everything she had to the temple, whereas the pharisees and scribes were known for making a big deal of giving their tithe. Maybe, because the building program is above the normal budget and needed to hold the larger and growing congregation if that is the case. Otherwise, I think you are right the church needs to be stewards of the tithes. And I agree with Sherrie about offerings being given from the heart, but the tithe is too, if you are doing it out of loving the Lord Jesus Christ in obedience, because “the Law” from the Old Testament is not what gives a person salvation; so, you don’t have to tithe. Again, that is a matter of heart too, also conviction and maturity in faith.
Another point, if I may, besides the obvious and well-stated one in most of the responses that most (or many) people don’t actually tithe, and churches’ incomes are therefore somewhat unpredictable: In my experience, churches tend to be loathe to incur debt for their projects, whereas we as individuals are much less so. If we had to save up the money to buy our homes (or build them) without a mortgage, we would all be renting for a very long time. And the vast majority of us utilize credit in one form or another, at least for emergency situations. I know I use credit cards, and although my goal is to pay them off each month and I am pretty successful at that, I’m not ALWAYS successful. When the water heater went out and then we had to repipe the house within a month of each other … well, we weren’t quite ready for that expense. So I think the real question you have to ask about your own personal church’s stewardship is, is the leadership spending the income the church has wisely? If they’re budgeting well and spending wisely, then I don’t think fundraising for special projects and events is out of line at all. Better than having a credit card, right?
The main point (as has been stated) is that most likely only 10% of a church body actually tithe and give above and beyond. God honors, then does the miraculous: the tithes become the loaves and fish among thousands.
Seven years ago, our congregation built a new church costing $3 million dollars. At this month’s business meeting (church members get to see where every penny is spent), our balance for the debt is under $500,000. That’s what happens when the church is a good steward of their monies.
Obedience to the tithing principle releases God’s miraculous blessings on the giver. What Christians often fail to realize is that God gives to us in order that we can be a blessing to those who have not.
comments that point out the many facets here – so a BIG thanks to you,
Chris for writing about a subject that doesn’t get talked about as it
should! There’s an amazing book out about this subject, called Plastic
Donuts by http://www.acceptablegift.org/
. I’ve been on the “inside” as an executive pastor, and have to say
that a root cause is this issue not being addressed clearly and openly
well, our church had a capital campaign for a new building and built it (during the recession i might add). now, while there are those in church leadership who are anal and anxious and looking at things from a perspective of scarcity rather than of abundance (god ALWAYS provides, my friends) but we make our mortgage payment each month.
but what i really wanna share is that although your son has a point, chris, here’s the deal: not everybody tithes. if everybody who attended a church actually tithed – that is gave a full 10 percent – no church would ever be in want of anything for ministry. the average christian gives 2 percent. that’s not a fucking tithe. that’s pathetic. at our church, we have roughly a congregation of 300 or so, a good chunk (can’t remember exact number) DON’T GIVE ANYTHING! WTF?
if you can’t tell, tithing fires me up. my wife and i have been tithing for a while now and we don’t miss the money. we approach it as part of being a good steward. look, it’s all god’s money anyway. he can take it ALL from you if he wants, just ask job. all he asks is 10 percent. we get 90 percent. that’s a laughably awesome deal! but people too often approach their money from a scarcity mindset rather than one of abundance and actual stewardship.
but not to be too harsh on people who don’t tithe. the church is to blame, too. it doesn’t do enough to educate on the importance of tithing and actual stewardship. here’s the deal: people are fucking moronic when it comes to finances. hey use credit cards, go into debt like fools, and generally live one paycheck away from financial ruin. sorry, my inner dave ramsey is coming out. and while i don’t agree 100 percent with everything dave talks about, what he teaches is biblically based and works. my wife and i are proof of that. we haven’t used credit cards since we got married five years ago, we have an emergency fund, we have no debt but our mortgage, and we tithe and give to other causes and ministries regularly. i don’t share this to brag but merely to illustrate my point.
sorry for my terse tone but i am extremely passionate about the practice of tithing (giving for those who don’t believe in jesus and his magic powers of grace — yes, giving is important whether you believe in god or are a staunch atheist!).
Oh, goodness, no–no offense taken AT ALL. In fact, I totally agree…different situations call for different solutions.
Your son asked a legitimate question, and he’s absolutely right…Churches do have a responsibility to be good stewards of the the money that their parishioners give. In the situation you cite above, I would be right there with you. Not right at all!
And thanks for opening up a topic for discussion that many people in the church try to ignore. Way to be a Tribe Writer…take a stand and support open discussion and debate about the topic. Great job at doing both! 🙂
Chris, This is a great post!
I think what you talk about happens very often.
I believe that what Shelley says is the reason for it: “The main point (as has been stated) is that most likely only 10% of a church body actually tithe and give above and beyond. ” If the management is good, there is enough to take care of business and ministries; if not, there is a problem.
When we first began, 40 years ago, few families had to sustain the church and the priest from our pockets. We rent the basement of another church for quite a while. Eventually, more families joined, a very dynamic leader came in, we bought a large lot, signing our homes for the morgage…and farther down the road we build a beautiful church and school and ministries. It was and still is hard work and responsibility with which the younger generations cannot keep up.
Easy or not, I haven’t heard of a church gone on bankrupsy.
Our church is one campus of a multi-site church. Six years ago, we had a building campaign and members were given the opportunity to prayerfully consider pledges. The elders were very conservative in their planning and we built a modest building. Almost immediately after moving into the new building, we were at near capacity. However, the elders would not borrow additional money before the current debt was paid off. About that time the recession hit and things didn’t happen as soon as planned.
Now, regarding the tithe (and I may be going out on a limb here). First of all, as others said, not everyone tithes (with their money, talents, or time). I’ve heard it said at 20% of church members give 80%. But, I wonder how much God honors our giving out of “duty” or “obligation” without the right attitude (a cheerful giver). I think the person that gives 5% willingly and out of love will be blessed more that the 10% giver that gives reluctantly. However, God does tell us to test Him by bringing the whole tithe into the storehouse. His economy is amazing. When we give to Him first from love, there is no limit to what He can do.
I don’t understand why churches need to build expensive buildings with elegant new furnishings as long as 6 million children die every year from preventable causes that result from extreme poverty. My former church went deep in debt to build a fabulous new building with a huge airy sanctuary that wasn’t near as welcoming as the small cozy sanctuary they had before. Then the church lost everything in a lawsuit, so it was all for nothing.
It is so hard to find the balance, isn’t it? For example a grand campus will attract people just walking by, because of its beauty and prominence. This can literally expand the kingdom of God by drawing people in.
On the flip side, the mission of the church is definitely to go. Not to stay. Or to build. I struggle with this quite a bit actually. I think if I planted a church, I would minimize overhead expenses as much as absolutely possible, in order to focus on the main and plain goals of the church.
It sounds like your church leaders are moving with wisdom. There is a part of me that thinks a near-capacity sanctuary in an indicator to plant a new church or start a new campus. This would allow new leaders to develop, while also reducing the sanctuary stuffedness. This is of course hypothetical, and I know it’s not easy to find people ready, willing, and interested in planting a church. Nevertheless, it might be something for church leaders to consider. The larger church my family went to for a while actively planted churches, and saw great success all around.
I know not everyone tithes. That topic is such a huge problem. There is a dearth of effectively teaching on financial management and faithful generosity. I believe our God is far more concerned with the health of our heart than the depths of our pockets.
I have some more thoughts on tithing which I plan to share soon in this forum.
There is another related thought here Katina. We view the professional Christians i.e. pastors as the ones responsible for doing all the important work of the church. Normal Christians like you and I are left to do the menial tasks. This creates a broken view of the church which affects so many things, including giving.
Rather than viewing giving as a way to contribute to the ongoing ministry of our church, we view tithing as a bill to the service providers called pastors or priests. It makes me both sad and angry to see this happening.
So many church goers have sloughed off the responsibility to contribute to the church, in time energy and money. It’s just the job of the pros (pastors) to make everything work. I cannot really disagree about the lack of wisdom many have with their personal finances either. I believe there are many opportunities for folks to learn wisdom with their cash, whether from Dave Ramsey or Tim Gallen.
Like you, my family has been tithing consistently for years now. I view it was an honor to give a small portion of my funds to the church. Sometimes we exceed 10%, and we do contribute separately to a few missionaries as well. I am fully convinced that God blesses us with cashflow to be generous toward others. When we hoard, we break God’s heart and limit God’s blessing in our life. Don’t hear this wrong — I don’t believe God gives us more in direct proportion to our generosity. But God does bless the generous hearts.
By the way, I reread this response and it still feels like you were angry. I am so glad we texted back and forth so I could understand your frustration was over issues, not me. 🙂
Dude, I am so glad you felt free to share your heart here with such liberty. I love that we are in the process of creating a community here where people can share their opinions, no judgment included.
I just picked up the Kindle version of this book, and I am looking forward to reading it. I would love to hear more of your thoughts as “an insider.” I am definitely not one, as I have not been a full time pastor even once in my life. I have been an active volunteer in the church since I accepted Christ, but I wonder how different it is from the “other side.”
Thanks as well for the encouragement.
There are so many things I love about your post here Shelley!
* The faithfulness and transparency of your church to pay down the debt and show where every dime is going.
* The steady movement toward debt freedom.
* The idea of getting to give.
Wonderful thoughts — thanks so much for sharing.
I do understand what you are saying Susan. If the options are having a church credit card or fundraising for special projects, the fundraising is the better option.
My perspective is that the best option is to not put more burden on the people who DO give generously to meet the needs of the church. Heavy discipleship might be the best course of action. This would include discussing the sovereignty of God, the economy of the Kingdom of God, who owns what in life, and how to develop a generous heart.
I have to be honest — I struggle with the idea of needing to hold a larger and growing congregation altogether. I have strong opinions that a church outgrowing its building should look to plant churches. Give the best of their people — the best pastors, the best volunteers, and a good fund to work with — and send people out. This multiplies the kingdom and creates space.
I do have some more thoughts on tithing that I will be sharing in another post soon though.
I love the conversations that are happening on my page right now. I think it’s so important to have open dialogue about things, even when we disagree or see things differently. Together, we can grow and be challenged.
Thanks for bringing up a sensitive subject Chris. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. We must just be the best stewards we can be and pray for wisdom. I’ve been blessed by soaring cathedrals built by the serfs of the middle ages and also by stone churches laid a rock at a time and roofed with palm leaves. It’s where god gathers our hearts that’s most important, I feel. But sometimes, a little bit of gilding works wonders.
Cool – I hope you’ll let us know your thoughts – It’s a short book.
I’m certainly no expert, but being on staff as a “second in command” and working with finances was eye opening. You nailed it in one of your replies here: “There is a dearth of effectively teaching on financial management and faithful generosity”.
Most pastors don’t communicate clearly about the subject, and I believe the root cause is insecurity (who wants to ask for money), and not having a well-developed “theology” (which creates insecurity).
Sure there are insider horror stories about shameful spending, no transparency, and lack of planning. But perhaps all those happen because of the root causes?
You are so right Audrey. It IS when God gathers our hearts that’s most important. At the end of the day, this is the greatest question — are we allowing God free reign to move and shake us, to form us into the image of Jesus?
Touchy subject, I am glad to see you brought it up. Your son is a wise young man! Our church is dealing with this, having built a large new building while the old property was for sale. All for good reasons it seems, but the economy turned and the old property still sits. Where we live a lot of people are retired GM who lost it all, likely reducing the contributions. There is no easy answers but it takes the simple view of a young person to point out what shoudl be obvious to us all
There are no easy answers, and churches do end up in situations like yours with the best of intentions and designs. I also know the flip side of this conversation — if folks were truly generous with their churches, this would be less of a problem. I am trying to coax a friend to write something on that topic too. I do love my son’s questions though
Some very good and valid questions your son raised. Smart boy. One of the key issues though is that unfortunately, there may be many in the church who are NOT good stewards with their income and they do not tithe and yet they participate in all the activities the church has to offer. Activities that aren’t free. That is when everyone else has to pick up the slack. That might look like a building campaign 😀
I hear exactly what you are saying here. I am going to write on this more soon, or have a guest post on the problem with people not tithing. Fundamentally, many view their church as a free country club, when it’s a family. For whatever reason, tithing is not something my son questions. Maybe that’s one area we have modeled well as parents
My friends chuch is planning on building a new youth building and the preacher did a sermon on guess what for 3 sundays in a row? How is the American evangilical tithe not prosperity gospel?