Missions Giving vs. Building Fund

April 7, 2010 by

My wife and I visited a church we had never been to over Easter weekend. Overall it was a very welcoming community with diversity in the pews and on the platform. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Darth Vader, Batman, Spider Man, Queen Elizabeth, Donald Trump and the Easter Bunny followed by a ballet-like dance ensemble. Yes, a bit odd, but who says church has to be predictable?

When I opened the church bulletin this weekend, the first thing at the top of the page, just under the pastor’s welcome note, was a giving update for missions and the building fund. It looks like $28,909.30 has been raised for missions (resulting in 3,614 people being “brought to Christ”) and $4,033,386.69 for the building fund.

That’s almost $29,000 on the missions side.
And over $4 million on the building fund side.

I’m not here to bash building projects.

It’s unclear the time frame on these two amounts. My assumption is that the missions giving is year-to-date (2010) and that the building fund is a running total from its inception, perhaps multiple years combined. However, may I suggest that the disparity displayed in these two numbers communicates an inappropriate balance to the significance of missions and a church building?

I know enough about this particular church to know that their heart for missions is huge and they would have the check-stubs to prove it. Unfortunately, the way they’ve communicated these two values is so poor, my wife actually leaned over and said she was embarrassed to even read the numbers.

Easter Sunday is one of the most well-attended church services during the year. Lots of new visitors, out-of-town family members and consistently inconsistent church-goers who assuage their guilty hangover from their last visit at Christmas.

Must we fuel the fire for people who take issue with how some churches appear to be money-collecting mongers?

It’s one thing to keep finances out in the open and completely transparent. It’s quite another to frame finances in a way that is a disservice to the very core values that hold the church together.

(I have debriefed my post-Easter opinions before, and they still stand today: He Is Risen, Now What? and The Week After Easter.)

The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

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Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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12 Responses to “Missions Giving vs. Building Fund”

  • Mark Petereit
    April 7, 2010

    Wow! Having been on the accounting staff in a mega-church, I can GUARANTEE that the dollar figure given for missions on that announcement is NOT the total of checks actually issued by the church to its missionaries. But it probably IS an accurate accounting of how much the church has collected in offerings specifically designated to missions. In that sense, the communication is lacking because you have no idea how much the church is drawing from the general funds to support their missionaries, which will understandably lead to what may be an incorrect assumption about the church’s priorities.
    Then again, maybe there is a disparity. Perhaps it’s something the pastor has addressed in a previous sermon and it’s something that the congregation is actively working to balance — hence the numbers on the bulletin. But again, without a clear explanation, it’s “inside information” that’s not available to a first-time visitor and it’s still communicating the wrong message.
    I hope you expressed your concern (in love) to the pastor. These types of problems are easy for people to miss when they assume everyone knows the context. It’s always good feedback to see how your message is perceived by “outsiders”.

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  • Paul Clifford
    April 7, 2010

    Good point. The message matters.

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  • Dewitt
    April 8, 2010

    Great read! Hopefully, large and small ministries can take this into consideration!

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  • Ken Eastburn
    April 8, 2010

    I think you’re too soft on this church.
    What they’ve raised for their building campaign is 138 times more than what they’ve given to missions.
    So, even IF the missions is YTD (well call it 3 months worth of missions giving, round it to $29K and round the building campaign to $4 million), it would take almost 34 YEARS of giving at that rate for the missions fund to be equal to where the building fund currently is.
    34 years.
    Further, if we use their formulas for how much money it takes to bring someone to Christ (about $8 per person), the money they’ve raised for their building fund would bring 504,173 people to Christ.
    No, there is definite disparity here.
    This isn’t just a matter of how they communicate, it is a matter of priorities…and theirs are askew.

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  • Ken Eastburn
    April 8, 2010

    Am I being too harsh?

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  • bondChristian
    April 8, 2010

    Okay, I’ll be in the minority here, but aren’t we supposed to focus local before going broad? Take care of our local needs before trying to take the speck out of the eyes of others?
    I see you’re point for sure, and yes, I still think the numbers are off, but at the same time, our mission field is to those around us first.
    “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles…” Acts 26:19-20
    Clearly, this is slightly out of context (God’s plan was for the Jews first then the rest of us), but isn’t our call generally to start local with those we can reach?
    -Marshall Jones Jr.

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  • Sean
    April 8, 2010

    Oh dear! I thought I was the only one who sees things like this!! Great point made.

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  • kevin
    April 9, 2010

    You are not too harsh…
    Maybe for Christ the King Sunday this church can unveil their new granite counter topped soup kitchen, cause if you do have to give a man some soup in the name of Jesus, it might as well be from a golden bowl.
    The fact that the bulletin headline made it through the edit astonishes me. Whereas church culture in the last one hundred years was fueled by membership growth, it seems this century’s model is at least in part fueled by building growth. Think of how much capital has been spent on buildings that arose from church splits or church moves to the suburbs. Its kinds of embarrassing.
    Wow, Jesus had choice words for professional religious people, and I is one, and i realize how much of my ministry has been fueled by less the great commission and more the great construction.
    I worshipped in a new mega sanctuary a few years ago and I had to excuse myself to the men’s room half way through. Lo and behold, upon arrival, I was nonplussed to see flat screen monitors positioned in a way that insured i wouldn’t miss any of God’s business while i took care of mine. The spirit does move in mysterious ways, but I was more embarrassed for the congregation than impressed by this choice.

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  • Ian
    April 13, 2010

    As much as I’d like to self-righteously blast the two lopsided numbers there, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. 4 million dollars isn’t all granite counter tops and marble colonnades, for a large church that’s a pretty basic building. I attend a church with two to three hundred in the building on Sunday morning. The much-needed expansion of our building–the one that will get the children’s church out of the mobile home they have to meet in now–is going to cost around $450,000. That’s for a pretty basic structure, and no, it’s not a typo. Nearly half a million dollars is a big number, and we’re not that big of a church.
    By contrast, the costs of erecting structures and performing missions work overseas are much less. For about $1, 2 people can eat for a day. $12 gets you a bike in China or India. The same buying power in the American dollar that’s sending all of our menial jobs overseas makes missions money go further than you might expect.
    Further, it’s not a happy reality to consider, but without a building to house gatherings for this community of believers, the missions number is going to be $0. Perhaps my analogy was wrong earlier; it’s not apples to oranges so much as apples to apple trees. We’d all like to get more money on outreach and missions efforts, but without the community there is no money to spend.

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  • Ken Eastburn
    April 14, 2010

    Ian said:
    “without a building to house gatherings for this community of believers, the missions number is going to be $0”
    -If the early church, churches in third world countries, or the persecuted church are any indication, you’re dead wrong.

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  • Ian
    April 17, 2010

    The early church met in houses. Churches in third world countries meet in houses or in purpose-built gathering structures, and the ones that direct large amounts of financial resorces have their own buildings. The community is always stronger when they can meet together, in a dedicated place.
    Now, it’s certainly not impossible to hold church gatherings in homes: I attended a home-based church for a couple of years, and loved it. The pastor of that church was connected to a para-church organization that does some missionary work in Kenya and the surrounding areas; however nearly all of the financial backing for those efforts was still coming out of traditional brick-and-mortar churches. With a group size of about 30 (the maximum realistic size for a home church is 30-40), there’s only so much money available, and even home churches have overhead expenses: paying the pastor (typically part time in that group size), supplies for communion and baptism, bulletin printing, etc. The typical home church doesn’t collect much above and beyond their overhead; it’s just a fact.
    It is tempting to be idealistic about money in general and missions/outreach giving in particular because numbers (so we tend to think in America) don’t lie; however, missions/outreach work is not and will never be a numbers game.

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  • Rebecca
    April 19, 2010

    Our pastor is adamant about providing a “record of faithfulness” in the weekly bulletin and newsletter stating how much we received in tithes the previous week, as well as how much was given to our building fund. (right under these amounts, we also post the operating budget and amount pledged to the building fund, meaning we appear to be at a deficit every week until December.)
    In light of this article, how would you suggest doing this differently?

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