Last week I made the boring but necessary point that some church costs can scale with size, whereas others do not.
Today, I want to tell a fable, and then ask a question.
Suppose a church plant – let’s call it ‘New Church‘ – reaches a stage in their life together when they decide to purchase and renovate a local Art Deco cinema complex. New Church have been bouncing around various community facilities, but at a special meeting of their membership, the vote was cast to take out a loan and dive in. After all the fundraising and planning and construction, the outstanding amount of the loan is $1 million. It’s a lot of money, but with New Church‘s demographics – young, inner city workers – it’s an easy load to bear.
Three years down the track, and New Church has begun to diversify. Many of its original core team are now in the family mode. Church has got a lot more complex, what with the need for kids workers and the installation of a crying room. The all-black decor has been compromised, too, with a brightly coloured corner for breast-feeding mums and toddlers, as well as signage for the playgroup that has just started up.
New New Church
Then, down the road – literally, down the road, about 200m away – New New Church opens its doors. The launch of New New Church reminds New Church members of their early days. Only, since then, the church planting scene has got a whole lot more sophisticated. The social media campaign is like a stealth blitz by internet ninjas. The graphics somehow manage to be both edgy and laid-back, communicating authenticity and excellence at the same time (no one knows exactly why, but they all agree it’s true). New New Church doesn’t have congregational ministers, but a Preaching and Vision Pastor and an Executive Director and a Community Pastor and about 50 interns.
All of this taps into something. And a group of young professionals over at New Church decide that this is a vision and a church plant that they want to support.
‘There’s always room for another church,’ they cry, as they tearfully farewell New Church and walk down the road to New New Church, full of great dreams.
A strange thing happened
The folks at New Church don’t know quite what to do. For years, they’ve talked about the importance of establishing new churches. Their lead pastor has been a keynote speaker at a number of church planting conferences and contributed to boot camps for aspiring church planters. It’s part of their DNA, their community story, that they ought to be excited about New New Church.
And, mostly, they are. The truth is that there are 500,000 people within 5km and, no matter how fast New Church grows, it can only ever scratch the surface. Multiplying churches is the only way that the gospel can penetrate the tough, hedonistic and profoundly secular culture of their city. They’ve been praying for new visionaries to found new gospel communities and for a wave of revival.
There’s only one problem. You see, they still have building debt. And while it was easy to service at first, with every member of the church a young professional with a young professional’s income, things have changed. Most of the young families now have only one parent working. Plus they’ve got the extra costs of kids ministry. And the children certainly can’t pay.
So this strange thing has happened. Even though the church has been growing – faster even than the local population – the number of people earning an income and able to give has declined slightly. And suddenly, with a cohort of young workers leaving for New New Church, the load on those who remain has increased dramatically.
In fact, for each income earner giving to the church, the cost of fixed items (see last week’s blog) has gone from 15% of their weekly giving to 30% of their weekly giving. And that’s huge. At a time when New Church feels like it needs its staff more that ever, the staffing budget takes a 15% hit.
They don’t know how to feel
And, here’s the thing. Those members who have stayed at New Church don’t know how to feel. They want to celebrate the fact of a new gospel community reaching the local area. They want to be that church – you know, the church who gives its resources away, joyfully and freely.
But they also feel a little bit betrayed. They thought their church was in this together. They thought they’d agreed to shoulder the cost of buying a new building together. They never thought a significant cohort of the church would just walk away from the loan repayments.
And it’s not just the building and the loan. Because of the increased cost of repayments per income earner, they’ve had to cut the support their church has given (and had committed) to an orphanage in Africa. And they had some ministries to local public housing, but because these were mostly run by the young workers, they’ve had to close down. And the thought of no one checking in on the local shut-ins breaks their hearts.
So here is the question. The question that I’ve never heard asked. The question is thus:
In light of the gospel, what is the nature of the ongoing obligation of a church member to the commitments that their church makes as a community?
And the second question is like it:
What impact should the above obligations have on the church planting conversation and, in particular, the transfer of members?
More next week.