By Terry Austin, Crosswalk.com
I am reading through a boring book that is filled with interesting information. I hate it when that happens – someone has very useful material but their writing skills tend to make it difficult to locate and extract the nuggets. It is kind of like panning for gold in a desert creek instead of a Rocky Mountain stream. The gold is just as valuable but the experience of getting it may not be inspiring.
The recent nugget I discovered is the observation, after examining and reviewing and dissecting numerous surveys and studies, that ninety-seven percent of all money that people give to the church is spent on the people who give it. After wading through their research and conclusion, I think the ninety-seven percent figure might be a little overstated, but not by much. Think about it! We build and maintain buildings, conduct activities and events, hire staff to meet our needs, which consumes most of the money churches receive.
The problem is that we have constructed massive organizations that require huge amounts of money to sustain. A successful church is expected to have multi-million dollar buildings, professional staff to minister to everyone in the family, as well as first-class media and entertainment resources. Anything less makes it very difficult for a church to sustain growth.
How many parents with young children are willing to attend a church that does not have children’s activities? How often do parents make church choices based on who has the best youth program? How important is it for a church to have professional quality musicians and state of the art video productions?
You might quickly say, "Not me!" and you might be right. However, if so, you are in the minority. For the most part, the churches that are growing today are the ones that have all of these things and more. Some of these churches are growing at phenomenal rates. There are churches with multiple thousands in attendance every week that did not even exist five or ten years ago.
At first glance it might seem that the existence of these enormous churches is evidence that more and more people are following Jesus. That would be nice, but incorrect. Every study reveals that fewer and fewer people are attending church and identifying themselves as Christians, almost every year. In other words, we are not reaching new folks, simply rearranging the ones we already have. The people attending these massive churches with massive buildings, professional programs, and slick presentations are leaving other churches and gathering in more appealing places.
The size of the median church in America is seventy-five attendees on Sunday morning. In the past fifteen years, I have preached in hundreds of churches in Texas and other states and can testify that this figure corresponds with my experience. There is a church within short driving distance of my home that recently constructed a new campus and announced eighteen thousand in attendance the first weekend. This church did not even exist eleven years ago.
These eighteen thousand folks represent the equivalent of two-hundred and forty median size churches. I don’t have any idea how many churches located in our city have two thousand or more in attendance each week, but it is a sizable number. In other words, thousands of churches no longer exist since folks are attending these large churches. Is this a good thing?
I have an opinion, but my purpose is not to offer an evaluation of this situation. My intent is to discover why Christians are spending such a high percentage of the money they give to the church on themselves. It is extremely expensive to do church like this. When we expect our church to provide everything for the entire family – entertainment, education, religious experience, child care, recreation, etc. – it requires a great deal of money.
The rationale for building this type of church is that it is the only way to reach modern day folks. However, given the fact that church attendance is not increasing, perhaps we are doing something wrong, or at least ineffective. It might be time to stop spending our gifts to God on ourselves and invest it in other places.
Terry Austin is partner at the Austin Group. The Austin Group provides consultation to churches in the area of stewardship, including fund raising, financial management, budget development, planned giving, and discipleship resources. The mission of The Austin Group is to prepare churches to experience generous stewardship.
GenerousChurch helps leaders like you release generosity in your church through leadership development, campaigns, and culture change. Our books, online learning, coaching, events, and web resources will help you expand the impact of your leaders, change your money conversation, and grow the giving capacity of your people. We partner with National Christian Foundation, along with other ministry alliances.
Publication date: December 28, 2012