Preacher: "I have good news and bad news for you this morning. The good news is that we have all the money we need to fix the roof. The bad news is that it's still in your pockets".
Being a beancounter-turned-minister means that I probably pay a bit more attention to the finances of the church than the average minister does, and I've long been of the conviction that our current "business model" is simply not sustainable.
And it seems that the British Methodist Church is finding itself in the same boat, if this recent post by a local preacher based in my home town of Birmingham, who blogs under the name "Methodist Preacher", is anything to go by.
I'm not going to repeat any of the details that he raises in his post, but suffice to say that the 80/20 principle certainly applies in South Africa as well. Given that the 20% of the congregation that provides 80% of the finances in most churches has decidedly grey hair, we are in SERIOUS trouble if we cannot get our people to understand the need to give.
And while stewardship campaigns and the like are useful for generating awareness, the real question is: "Why should we give?" And if the answer is: "To carry out the work of God in our local church", then we need to ask ourselves whether we are REALLY carrying out the "work of GOD", or whether we are merely perpetuating some sort of club.
We need to be honest and ask ourselves what the REAL reason is for all those empty pews.
I've always maintained that one can often measure what is happening in a church spiritually by looking at the monthly financial statements. As ministers we would do well to take note, for there's only two reasons why a person doesn't give: They can't, or they won't. If they can't, the Church needs to understand why so that we can journey with that person. And if they won't, the Church needs to understands why so that we can journey with that person...
As for the misuse of funds that sadly too often happens in some of our churches - we have much to answer to God for.
(Some more thoughts on how our finances are a barometer of our spirituality, to follow...)
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