Today concludes the brunt of my talk on churches and finance. What should you take away from my series?
1. Never judge a church as "miraculous" or having the "hand of God" on it simply because its numbers are growing rapidly and it can afford to do a lot. Megachurches that are growing rapidly are in fast-growing communities that are seeing per-capita income grow rapidly. There is nothing miraculous about the growth of these communities or the churches in them. They have succeeded in attracting wealthy people whose giving make the programs higher-quality, and this has caused the church to expand and attract even more of the wealthy. These churches don't appear to have any more discipleship or miraculous works of the Spirit than the 200 member church down the street (maybe even less so). Willow Creek's apology should be a wake-up call to all those who copy these churches' recipes.
2. Word Faith churches have large numbers, worldwide ministries, and a lot of money. They also preach a false Gospel and have leadership who live lavish lives. If money and numbers is how we judge a church's blessing, then Word Faith churches must be considered blessed. The fact that they don't pass any Scriptural tests should cause us to re-evaluate how we judge churches. Check out this John Piper video to find out what he thinks.
3. If you want to grow your small church into a megachurch the key is to attract a few wealthy people. These will allow you to grow your programs disproportionately to your attendance, and attract more people. Plant/move your church into an area where population and incomes are growing rapidly, and attract the upwardly-mobile income earners who are moving into it.
4. There will always be a small number of the congregation that does a much higher proportion of the giving than the rest. This happens even if everyone gives 10%, it is simply because there will always be some who are very wealthy and their 10% makes the majority of the giving. It's a mathematical identity.
The aforementioned church that was $200,000 in debt has been preaching a series about the dangers of materialism. Now, the easiest way for the church to get rid of its debt would be to attract a few wealthy people. The church, in my estimation, is following the recipes of church growth literature produced by a megachurch. However, by preaching sermons that repel the high-income, the church is shooting itself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways; either gear your programs around the income of your congregation, or continue to aim high and attract the wealthy.
I once attended a church that was engaged in a large building program, the church was growing, and everyone's talk was that the "hand of God" was on it. The church's programs were well-attended, and discipleship was program-driven. However, it didn't look any more like the book of Acts to me than the churches it considered rivals. Due to some internal problems, the church lost most of its high-income 10% whose giving made up 90% of church funds. The church had to tighten its belt in many areas, and many sermons were preached on how "if you just had more faith, you would give more money. If you want to see more people get saved, then give more money." It didn't seem to grasp that the 10% it lost were the ones that had funded these programs that it pointed to as evidence of its "blessing." It kept on with its building program, going into debt to complete it. The church sees completing the building program as evidence of God's blessing carrying them through the hard times.
These two stories helped inspire these posts, along with looking at the church growth literature in bookstores and on blogs today. Churches often don't have a grasp of the importance of their wealthy 10%. Other churches are trying to grow larger, rather than deeper, because the fast-growing churches are pointed to as examples of "God at work," even though their growth is purely due to economic factors. They're following recipes to attract the rich rather than finding ways to make true disciples. Where is your church in this spectrum? Where does it want to be?