Sunday, October 08, 2006

Missional War Chest? 250 Billion Dollars!

What would happen to the universal church if the church in American used some of its stored up war chest towards Missional endeavors?

What war chest you ask? The value of the assets held in church property alone.

The figure is not scientific I arrived at it from a 1976 study. In 1976, one study estimated that church property was worth at least $118 billion (Martin A. Larson and C. Stanley Lowell, Praise the Lord for Tax Exemption [Robert B. Luce, 1969]). I then used an inflation calculator to discover that the real value would be $334,000,000,000.00 or $334 billion dollars. I also did some quick math and at 330,000 churches with buildings valued at $750,000 each you get about $250 billion.

Do these numbers amaze you? They do me. Maybe they are just to big to grasp. Well here’s some more.

I found this quote here: “Churches are spending more on themselves, less on global mission outreach. In North American churches, the percentage of church monies devoted to benevolences (ministries outside the local congregation) has fallen steadily since 1968.

Many studies confirm that benevolences now make up only 15 percent of a church’s budget. A study by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, however, puts this figure in its larger context. According to their research, benevolences made up 21.2 percent of a church’s budget in 1968. The figure has declined steadily over the years to its current 14.5 percent, even as giving to the church has made an upswing. When home missions are subtracted from benevolences, we find that only about 5.6 percent is left to operate foreign missions.

Thus, in 2000, nearly 97 percent of the entire income of all Christian organizations was spent on, and primarily benefited, other Christians at home or abroad:

$261 billion spent on ministering to Christian
$7.8 billion on already-evangelized non-Christians
$0.81 billion on unevangelized non-Christians

It is no wonder that “one of the reasons churches in North America have trouble guiding people about money is that the church’s economy is built on consumerism. If churches see themselves as suppliers of religious goods and services an their congregants as consumers, then offerings are ‘payment.’ ” Meanwhile, many churches say they don’t have enough money to support missionaries.“

$261 Billion on internal programs and $810 million on non-believers.

I am blown away. Change will come when we stop seeing building and programs as our primary responsibility and start seeing Kingdom building as important.

I heard the quote once that said; “Show me a man’s check book and schedule and I’ll show you what’s important to him.”

So what does the churches check book and schedule say about it?

Finally as follower of Christ and churches who are trying to be more missional, what can we do about this?

How should we respond?

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Zane said...

Going to the Root by Christian Smith
pp 95-97

Where Your Treasure Is

We might question church buildings, not only because there is no biblical justification for them, and not only because homes are more naturally suited for family-of-God gatherings. The biblical call to good stewardship of our wealth also compels us to reconsider our attitudes about church buildings.

North American Christians have great wealth, a portion of which is spent on church buildings. Conservative estimates place the value of real estate owned by churches in the United States today at over twp.hundred and thirty two billion dollars or $232,965,150,000. [This figure is based on these facts and conservative estimates: The market value of church real estate in 1968 was $79.5 billion (M. Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion, 1970). The value of new church construction between 1968-84 was $20.819 billion (Statistical Abstract, 1986; US. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Construction Reports 1979-84; Hand book of American and Canadian Churches,1980).

Estimating the average annual rate of appreciation of church properties at 4 percent between 1968 and 1990. The properties are sold at a 25 percent loss in value due to market glut. Church building debt service and maintenance consumes about 18 percent of the $11,672,316,000 tithed to churches annually (Statistical Abstract, 1986.)] Furthermore, Christians spend additional millions annually for the heating, cooling, and maintenance of these buildings. If all church buildings were sold, another $2.1 billion would be easily saved annually-through money not spent on debt service and maintenance.

Is this good stewardship? How else might we spend God's money? Imagine, if you can, all the churches in the United States making the radical decision to sell their church properties over the next ten years (to be converted to other non-church uses).

Picture all these congregations then either meeting in large, rented public buildings or forming themselves into house churches which would meet together in rented public buildings every few weeks. Then imagine these churches investing all the money from the sale of their church buildings into trust funds and each year spending the earned interest (let us say 9 percent) on missions and ministry. What could churches to do with that money?

Suppose Christians spent only the interest earned on the invested money (not taking into account money not spent on debt service and maintenance, which could also go into service projects). We could comfortably do the following every year, year after year:

• Support translators to translate the Bible into the three
thousand languages and dialects presently without a Bible translation ($135 million)

• Feed five million starving or malnourished people every day ($1.82 billion)

• Start and fund seventy-five Christian colleges and theology schools in eastern Europe and Russia ($375 million)

• Support three hundred Christian candidates running for office in the Senate and House of Representatives who would work for consistent pro-life ethic policies ($150 million)

• Send one hundred thousand "tent-maker" missionaries to China to teach English and spread the gospel to their Communist students ($250 million) Send six hundred thousand underprivileged children to Christian summer camp ($180 million) Finance new water and sewer systems in one hundred thousand Third World villages, eliminating the cause of many deadly diseases ($100 million)

• Finance fifteen hundred counseling centers to provide low-cost Christian counseling to families and individuals in trouble ($600 million)

• Print and ship to Hong Kong one small library of basic Christian books for each of the forty thousand underground house churches in China, to be smuggled in by "tent-making" missionaries over time ($15 million)

• Fund a Christian environmentalist political lobby to work for the proper care of God's natural creation in government policy ($80 million) Supplement the incomes of five thousand needy retired ministers ($50 million)

• Build, staff, and supply fifty thot.isind Christian elementary schools in Africa, Asia, and Latin America ($700 million)

• Supplement the incomes of one quarter of the 5.2 million handicapped and elderly Americans who live below the poverty line to raise them out of poverty ($4 billion)

• Support seventy thousand church-planting missionaries to unreached peoples to plant and nourish indigenous churches, almost doubling the number of missionaries on the field today ($1.5 billion)

• Offer $10,000 a year of child support assistance to every teenager who is considering having an abortion because of lack of financial support, assuming 25 percent accept it ($1.0875 billion)

Z Anderson
House Church Network

JDL said...

Last night at Awakening several of us were having this discussion as well. How will we justify our handling of the resources God gave us.

I'm not sure if the institutional church can be changed. There are so many built in interests both financial and ego, that it really will take a move of God to transform hearts.

Last night four of us discussed learning ot live in simplicity and to figure out what it would cost us to live - not elaborately, but not impoverished either. But to get to a point where substantial portions of our income will go to the poor and the marginalized.

As an organic church that meets in homes, we have very little in way of expenses, so we can begin to focus on helping others.

I think there is a consumer mindset with many believers, but I have to believe that God is raising up people who have Kingdom values who will put God first in their lives and in their giving.

Personally my journey started with consistant tithing. Now I'm giving well above that and I have a goal that I'm trying to increase to. But one thing I've decided. It won't be going to any "building" programs or funds.

Thanks for focusing on this topic. It's one that Christians are often uncomfortable with, but it's important.

Your Brother in Christ
John Lunt

Missional Jerry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Colin Lamm said...

Perhaps many churches should close the doors simply because they are more of tourist attractions than they are places of worship. Typically, in Canada anyway, these buildings are on prime real-estate with only a small hand-full of people attending weekly. The Church group, or denomination could strategically decide to open up a smaller storefront to maintain a presence in the community (if it is truly warranted), at a much lower overhead. And since these buildings are often in the heart of Urban Centers the money from the sale of the building, properly invested, could be used for more practical purposes, like feeding, housing, and job creation / training programs for the homeless and transients.

What about the possibility of doing something akin to reverse mortgages for some of these churches. For instance, just like certain people do for retiree homeowners, over a 15 year period have the bank or loan company pay for the building with regular monthly installments to help fund sustainable programs through the church for those in the community. By the end of the reverse mortgage term, the programs could be designed to be self sufficient (the deadline would ensure this remains a focus), and run without the need for the building to be there.

As for the remaining glutt of Churches and Capital - we pray for a moving of God's Spirit to awaken us all fully to the fact of our self-centeredness. My above ideas, are simply that: ideas. Apart from the moving and conviction of God's Spirit, they too will remain empty and devoid of fruit. Repentance is the heart of the matter. Then, as John the baptist said in Luke 3, "Therefore, bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance . . ."