Monday, October 15, 2007

The Blessings and Challenges of Ministering in the Small Church (Part 2).

Challenge: Too few people give too much of the churches money.

Smaller churches generally have one or two families that give the vast majority of the money to the church. This can be very unhealthy for the church.

What can happen when too few people give a bulk of the church’s money? Here are the things I have seen, experienced or heard direct accounts of:

  • The people who give the money can (and do) throw their financial weight around. They feel that their giving entitles them to “call the shots.” They know that the church will be in a dire financial position if they withhold their money. Such an attitude can have horrible consequences for the entire congregation. People can resent the person who throws their financial weight around.
  • Individuals can feel that they do not need to step up their giving because “what’s his name” will cover any shortfall. Individuals lose a sense of responsibility and ownership of the church’s financial condition when too few people give the greatest percentage of the church budget. The congregation will never learn the blessing and joy of sacrificial giving.
  • The people giving so much money want to have a huge voice in the selection of the pastor—when a pastor comes or goes. This is much like the first item in this list but it is so important that it must be listed separately! A PNC (pastor nominating committee) is to represent the congregation—all of the congregation. One person or family is not entitled to the ultimate “for” or “against” a possible pastor or in the leaving of the current pastor.
  • The missional view of a congregation is negatively impacted when too few people give most of the $$$. The church tends to move into “survival” mode—trying to stay afloat. The ministry and mission of a church have costs: financial, time, talents, effort and opportunity costs. Absence of a missional view of the church comes when the church members do not have ownership in the church and its ministries and missions.
  • The church lives in fear of losing the person who gives all the $$$$. Church members are afraid that they will not be able to pay the insurance and the electrical bill. FEAR!! Not faith! I am convinced that the best thing that could happen to a church in this situation would be to lose the big contributor.

I have personally seen the devastating effects of one person contributing too much of the churches financial capital. I had that church elder tell me that it was time for me to look for another church. His best friend went to our church and was the session state clerk. The stated clerk’s wife had mental issues. She started acting them out against me by refusing to talk to me. The stated clerk came to me and assured me that I had done nothing wrong. She had a history of doing this very thing! I went and apologized to her. Nothing would change the way she acted towards me. The wife of the guy who gave all the $$$ to the church came and talked to me. She told me that this lady did the same thing to her. For five years the lady refused to talk to the wife of her husband’s best friend—even at church! Church members were becoming openly frustrated with the way this lady was treating me. It was in that context that I was told to leave. The deep pockets guy would give me a few months to find a new church, and if not, he would stop giving to the church. His actions caused half of the session to resign and leave the church! Fortunately, I was already in the final stages of seeking a new call and accepted an invitation to candidate at another church.

Challenge: Too many older folks.

Most smaller churches are filled with older folks. I know that this statement will rub some people the wrong way, but I believe that it is true. I cannot remember seeing a single small church (other than a new church plant) that was primarily made up of younger families or individuals. Please don’t take this the wrong way! Evergreen Presbyterian Church is a smaller church with LOTS of older folks. These folks are wonderful. They faithfully attend church and go to Bible study. Still, there is a problem. These wonderful folks like the church “comfortable” – they want it to stay the way it is. To be sure, most would say that they would like to see the church grow but they are unwilling to change anything to bring about that growth. The idea seems to “the church was good enough for me when I was younger so it will be good enough for my children and grandchildren.” Such an attitude kills a church!

What is a church or presbytery to do in such a situation? There aren’t any simple answers. Unfortunately, it is easier and cheaper to start and new church than it is to turn around a dying, older congregation. We need to increase our emphasis on church planting! Hire energetic, enthusiastic folks to start new churches. Let those older, small churches become “hospice” churches and staff them accordingly.

Check back tomorrow for more thoughts on smaller churches.


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