As good Christians, we praise thrift and hard work, earning and saving. Do we sometimes go so far?
Jesus told a parable that may apply.
16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.
17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’
18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
I know we have to take care of our families, that is clear. And it logically follows that as churches, we should handle our finances carefully, too.
But do we go too far sometimes?
I especially wonder why some churches have a year’s worth of expenses (or more) squirreled back, and give only a pittance to poor relief each month. Granted, this is probably better than being mortgaged to the hilt, and unable to afford to help people, but is it really Jesus’ ideal?
I’m not advocating consumerism, borrowing money to build huge, super-modern Church buildings, paying celebrity pastors six figures, and generally reveling in our American bling. I can’t see any justification for that, honestly.
But might our focus be just a little bit off? Might our thrift be impeding our generosity?
I guess I shouldn’t raise these sorts of questions without at least trying to give some kind of answer.
And my answer is: a church’s finances should be guided by their situation and by prayerful consideration of how to address that situation, always keeping in mind that doing good is more important than looking good, and that true security comes from God, not a fat bank account.
Growing churches sometimes have to borrow money to expand. I don’t think it’s ever good for a church to be in debt (see Proverbs 22:7), but sometimes a church might have to do it. Sometimes borrowing money might even be a leap of faith.
However, I’ve personally been a part of two churches that experienced splits/mass defections (before I got there) over building big new buildings on credit. In both cases, many of the most vocal proponents of the expansions ended up leaving, even though the expansions happened.
I wasn’t there, so I won’t pretend to know anybody’s motives, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. Honestly, it was more of a minefield. It certainly soured me on churches borrowing money.
As for the other extreme, I see nothing wrong with a church saving up large sums for major expansions or needed renovations. It’s better than borrowing, if the church can do it.
And as for general savings, I think a church should have enough money saved back to weather an emergency (whether that’s unexpected repairs or an economic downturn that reduces giving), but not a death spiral.
If a church enters a period where its incoming offerings are consistently falling behind its costs, there’s a deeper problem. Maybe membership is declining. Maybe the church became too dependent on a few large donors, and one of them has gone. Maybe there’s major inefficiencies in how the church spends its money.
In any case, something needs to be addressed. And the real problem will get addressed faster if the church doesn’t have a year’s operating expenses sitting in the bank waiting to be drained.
Ultimately, a church that doesn’t interact with the community, that hoards its resources while ignoring the needs just outside its well-manicured lawn … that church is missing a great opportunity, like the rich man and his barns.