Redefining members (not pastors and staff) as the “church” and the community (not members) as the “customer” would reverse the lens through which churches evaluate nearly every decision they make today. The most controversial and challenging aspect of adopting a Biblical definition of the “church” and its “customer” is…yes, Money.
Church giving per attendee is down substantially – and it’s in large part due to the fact that we’ve flipped those two definitions. Therefore, restoring giving and maximizing the impact of every dollar will require:
Flipping the Script on "Church Generosity"
Current Lens – Member Generosity
Member generosity is one of church leadership’s greatest concerns and the lens through which leaders view the generosity of their church. They see the church as the object of generosity, not the instigator of it. They ask – “What percentage of our congregation is giving?” and “What’s the average giving per family?”
However, members ARE the church so if pastors are worried about whether they’re giving enough TO the church, they’re missing the point. It’s not about “them” giving to “us” (the church), they are the “us” (the church). Pastors who have truly empowered the congregation to BE the church will ask a completely different set of questions.
New Lens – Church Generosity
What leaders should instead be asking is whether their church (the organization itself) is generous. In other words, how much are we giving out of our church’s budget to our real “customer” – the helpless and hopeless outside the “4 walls”? And how generous are our members in sharing their time, talents and treasures with the poor and lost around them? Churches should model the behaviors they want members to imitate. It’s no coincidence that members today give (to the church) at approximately the same rate that the average church gives (to those outside the church) – 2.5%. Historically, members gave a much higher percentage to churches back when churches gave a much higher percentage to the community.
Flipping the Script on "First Fruits"
Current Lens – Member Priorities & Obedience
A common complaint among pastors is how churches wind up getting the “leftovers” after members pay all their bills. The Bible is clear on this subject – the Lord deserves the first and best of what we have to offer. Pastors know it’s wrong for churchgoers to lock in so many fixed expenses that they only have a couple cents on the dollar available at the end of the day to give to the church.
New Lens – Church Priorities & Obedience
Yet aren’t nearly all churches today doing the exact same thing? Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s intended “customer” (“outsiders”). Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years. They started the schools and hospitals. They had far few fixed expenses and allocated a much higher percentage of their budgets to sharing the gospel through serving, as Jesus modeled. If churches were more obedient in giving their first fruits, members likely would follow suit.
Flipping the Script on "Investing for Growth"
Current Lens – Reinvest Inward
As we discussed earlier, churches budget roughly the same small percentage for external missions that members budget for their church. New Christians never plan to short-change God – but then life happens. Likewise, churches plant with a vision of the Biblical model – impacting the community mightily – but then get sidetracked by the demands of running a church. Gradually, budgets get redirected toward staff and buildings to attract and retain people. They replace intensive, personal discipleship with small groups and year-round community engagement with occasional service events. One day they realize they should have never compromised, but by then it’s too late to extricate the organization from its fixed costs and debt.
New Lens – Invest Outward
The same cycle occurs with nearly all entrepreneurs. The companies that survive refocus outward at some point on the needs of their target customers. If they persist in serving internal stakeholders and neglect the marketplace, they go under. Over 90% of today’s churches are not growing because they fall into the latter camp. They don’t adequately challenge or equip churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”.
Church is not the end but the means. Its purpose should be to build disciples and take ground for Christ. Do either of those objectives require an expensive facility or a big staff? No. Decentralizing and empowering is not expensive – but centralization and administration is. Pleasing consumers is costly – equipping disciples isn’t. For example, raising up and training lay leaders to run home churches and neighborhood groups covering every block in a city involves very little fixed cost.
What if your church budgeted with the goal of maximizing its community impact and footprint for the Kingdom? Yes, it would dramatically alter the allocation of dollars but would also radically transform the perception of your church in your city. Imagine what people would say about your church if you decided to invest in mobilizing members to rescue schools, neighborhoods, and families in lieu of expanding facilities and hiring more staff?
Flipping the Script on "Give More, Get More"
Current Lens – Catering = More $$
In business, you don’t make profits if you ignore your target “customers”. Yet in churches, many leaders believe their financial viability hinges largely on catering to members – and wind up ignoring their intended “customers”. For example, a wealthy family leaving is cause for concern in most small churches. That mentality is natural and expected, but wrong. It’s also wrong if pastors would be more inclined to challenge their congregations more directly and preach the gospel more boldly if NONE of the church’s funding came from members/attenders and if everyone HAD to come back the next weekend.
New Lens – Challenging = More $$
It may seem counter-intuitive, but your church would actually bring in more income if it were more focused on disciple building and community engagement. No doubt the reallocation of funds would be painful at first. When you start boldly challenging members to BE the church between Sundays, you’ll quickly lose some long-time attenders who weren’t prepared to adopt a Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle. And some of those folks who are quite content with the status quo could be your church’s biggest givers. The financial risks of calling them to truly live out the Great Commission seem daunting.
However, in the long run your church’s income would actually increase:
- Evidence shows that members are more generous with generous churches
- Donors are more compelled by emotional “causes” like orphans and widows than administration and buildings
- More disciples translates into greater community impact, which in turn produces more visibility, interactions and attendees
Would you give to a charity that essentially gave back 97.5% of its donations to benefit those same donors? The beneficiary of a church’s services shouldn’t be those who give to it (e.g. members). In fact, charitable receipts state that “no goods or services were provided in exchange for that donation”. Charities and churches both share the same “customer” – the community in which they are planted. A significant percentage of the dollars given to both churches and charities should flow through to the benefit of those they exist to reach.
It’s Your Turn…
Is your church as generous with its intended “customer” as it should be? Would your church’s members be more generous in giving (internally and externally) if your church‘s budget better reflected a spirit of generosity?
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By Sam Allberry on May 29, 2017
Too many of us view the resurrection of Jesus as little more than a nice, happy conclusion to the gospel story. But the Easter story isn’t just “what happens next” to Jesus after his death. It doesn’t just wrap up the story; it fulfills it. In fact, there really is no story without it.