My congregation’s giving is under budget. Tuscaloosa is actually much better off than many communities. I imagine there are many churches in near-desperate circumstances. And so I thought I’d share some financial advice from Mark Driscoll, at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church.
Driscoll is an interesting personality. He’s been extremely successful at building a maga-church in one of the most unchurched communities in the country. He is theologically conservative — a neo-Calvinist — and yet methodologically on the cutting edge.
The Acts 29 Church Planting Network now has over two hundred churches in the U.S. and many more overseas. Our goal is to be at five hundred churches in less than three years and over one thousand church plants in less than ten years, running a total of 250,000 people.
Additionally, Mars Hill Church is currently running eight thousand people in twenty services spread across seven campuses. We are pregnant with our eighth campus, and are exploring options to start two more in 2009. Now our goal in ten years is roughly one hundred campuses running fifty thousand people.
And so, anyone who has planted 200 churches and runs 20 services a weekend knows something about leadership. It’s not surprising that he has some thoughtful ideas to share about financial management during a recession. After an introduction of scriptural principles, Driscoll offers some very concrete suggestions —
Spend money on those things that grow the ministry and not simply on those things that make it easier on your staff.
One is investment and the other is expense. There is always pressure from the staff to spend money on such things as improved working conditions and new technology. But with times being lean, all money needs to go toward welcoming as many people into the church as possible.
As an example, we outgrew our very limited office space at the Ballard campus and rather than renting nice, new, well-lit office space that was built next door, we have chosen to make due with what we have, which is not great. For example, my office is on the complete opposite side of the building from any bathrooms, has no natural light or fresh air, and is about 10 feet by 7 feet. It’s not big or pretty, and I lack my own private bathroom, sitting area, and eating area, which are common in megachurch pastors’ offices, but it works. Others on staff are making due in similar ways.
If we spend money on facilities, it has to be for increasing seating capacity so that more people can meet Jesus.
Financial crunches are good seasons in which to make the cuts you have desired but have not had permission or timing for. Some will hear this as cruel, but it is in fact true. All of life and ministry is about pruning and then harvesting and then pruning again.
Without pruning, a ministry is wasting energy, time, resources, and leaders on proverbial branches that are no longer bearing lots of good fruit.
Because times are lean, there is no waste to be tolerated. Any ministry or leader that is not bearing much fruit may need to be pruned so that the proverbial tree can survive and continue to reap a harvest. Having consulted with a great number of ministry leaders, I can assure you that most—if not all—leaders know what needs to be cut. But they fail to act with courage because they anticipate fallout, people leaving, and hurt feelings. Sometimes God uses hard times to compel his leaders to make the decisions they need to make, and this is one of those times.
Don’t make cuts on your core essential ministries but rather on your secondary and auxiliary ministries.
Tough times call for tough decisions. One of the toughest decisions is actually listing what your core ministries are. Those ministries need to be funded first and cut last.
Remember, this advice is coming from a minister. I don’t think I could have gotten away with saying no. 1 myself, but Driscoll walks the walk — and you can see the results that his attitude produces.
As to nos. 2 and 3, read the Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, a great book on how to decide between core ministries and those ministries that support little more than tradition or Christian consumerism.