For many churches today, ministry is big business. Staff need paying. Buildings need refurbishing. Projects need funding. God’s house needs building, right?
Last week it was reported that the USA's biggest congregation - Lakewood Church - has an annual budget of $90m! It's a phenomenal figure. But tragically, only $1.2m of this huge budget is spent on mission and outreach. Far more went toward weekly services ($31.7m) and fundraising (11.9m).
But before we throw stones at another church (never a good idea!) we should reflect on how our own, much smaller, churches here in the UK are using funds. Do our budgets reflect what is most important to us? Looking at how church funds are spent says a lot about what we value as being most important. As Jesus said – where our treasure is – there our hearts are also.
Have we lost our way?
The truth is that Lakewood's budget isn't unusual. The size of it might be, but how its used is not. Many churches across our nation spend far more on maintaining their building, general administration and hiring staff than actual evangelistic outreach or ministry to the poor.
This is arguably a very different model from the one that Jesus gave us. When Jesus sent out disciples into his harvest fields he sent them out with nothing (See Matthew 10, Luke 10) He was pioneering a new movement of disciples and churches that would penetrate the hardest to reach people and places and be able to multiply and be flexible enough to transform Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Has Jesus’ Apostolic movement become a self-serving club? Has refurbishing the sanctuary become more important than mobilising the saints for worldwide mission and caring for the poor?
Putting mission back where it belongs
A few years ago we began to ask the question – “What would it take to see our region transformed by the Kingdom of God?”
God began to show us a completely different way of making disciples and planting churches.
We realised we needed to see new Jesus centred communities that were not reliant on the 3 'B's of budgets, big-shot leaders and buildings!
I’m fascinated by church planting movements in places like India and Africa where ordinary followers of Jesus have been used by God to multiply thousands of churches among people considered hard to reach. They had no budgets, big shot leaders or buildings but they experienced God at work in amazing ways.
If movements of churches can multiply around the world through unpaid ordinary disciples of Jesus who meet in homes, workplaces, café’s and pubs – then why are we in Europe so concerned about financing our buildings and leaders, rather than resourcing the work of disciple making?
A new movement needs a new mindset
Jesus started a missional movement. The multiplication of churches and the rapid spread of the Gospel were not add-ons for followers of The Way. Mission was not something that a few – ‘more qualified’ – people did in addition to the normal church activities.
Of course the message from the front of many big churches is that we are all called to make disciples, to live sacrificially and to spread the Gospel. But in reality – how churches budget their funds shows what they really think.
Throughout the New Testament we see finances being used to resource the work of church planting and caring for the poor. There weren’t crowds of overpaid professional Christians – just a handful of devoted servants of Jesus who gave themselves to equipping the saints to do the work. There weren’t massive buildings that demanded huge amounts of finance because the people of God met from house to house and in the Temple (a public meeting space).
So consider this…If God desires no-one to perish – then how long will it take to see everyone in the UK given the chance to respond to the Gospel and grow as a disciple of Jesus if we persist with our current models and forms of church? I fear the answer is 'never'.
But what if followers of Jesus met in homes, cafés, pubs and workplaces? What if these disciples practiced ‘bring and share’ and gave all their finances completely towards the work of Apostolic mission and to those who had need? What if the concern for Jesus’ unfinished commission to disciple all nations was greater than the concern to offer over-fed Christians a comfortable worship experience on a Sunday morning?
What if a new movement of churches and communities sprung up where ordinary disciples were empowered to obey all the commands of Jesus without being dependent on the 3 'B's and where there were no financial overheads – other than to support each other’s needs and the work of mission?
Then maybe we would see Jesus’ work in the nations completed in our time…
Ben and Catherine Taylor are based in Somerset, have four children and work with the MissionBritain team (missionbritain.com) to see churches multiplying in the harvest across the 12 regions of the UK and Ireland.