One of the hardest (and saddest) things I have witnessed in my life was the decline and eventual death of my grandmother. As a teenager, I watched cancer ravage her body. We prayed she wouldn’t suffer much and, thank the Lord, she didn’t. However, her decline in physical vitality was real and painful to watch. Her death was even more so.
Since that time, I have played those scenes over and over in my mind. Throughout my time as a health care professional, I witnessed families go through that same emotional rollercoaster. As a pastor for seven years, I spent a great deal of time ministering to families enduring the experiences of declining health and death. Though there are some movies I like to watch over and over, this is not one of them. These people were not my family, but it was still difficult and sad to watch life just slip away.
It can also be difficult to see the life and vitality of a church slip away. I take no pleasure in the decline or death of a church, yet it seems this is becoming reality for more and more churches, even among our Free Will Baptist churches. I am grateful for all the growing and thriving congregations in our movement, and I am glad we have many of them. I am excited about church planting efforts and the difference church planters are making across the world. I would love for this health and vitality to be true of all our churches but it isn’t.
Churches may be unhealthy and not growing for any number of reasons. One of those potential reasons is where the money is going (and not going). Most new churches grow at a faster pace than established churches. New churches also spend roughly half their budget reaching their community and the world. I think there is a correlation. The correlation is with the heart of the church. Healthy churches have a heart for reaching people with the gospel. You see this in their actions, their preaching, and their budget.
Established churches can become so inwardly focused they lose sight of their vision and heart for the world, and this is reflected in their budget. I am familiar with the story of a church whose attendance and finances were declining. Their solution was to cut money spent on outside causes. They surmised they needed to take care of their own things first. For this church, the reduction in spending only exacerbated the issue.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” This is true for individuals, and I believe it is true for churches as well. We spend our money on the things we care about and believe in. The church’s mission should be the Lord’s mission. That mission is to reach the lost and dying world. This is not to say we shouldn’t minister to those inside the walls of the church but we shouldn’t minister only to them.
If your church is in decline, perhaps it is a good time to consider where you spend your money. You may be surprised at what you learn. Each church is different, and there must be a balance between internal and external spending. The key is to make sure your budget makes room to reach out to your community and the world. Jonah’s sin was that he cared more about the gourd than he did the people of Nineveh. He cared more about himself than he did about others.
We must not allow our churches to commit the sin of Jonah. Let’s make sure our treasure follows God’s heart. Let’s ask God to give us a heart like His that is giving and loving. Let’s commit to reaching out to our community and the world. We can be healthy and thriving, but we must be sure our heart and treasure is in the right place.
Contact the Board of Retirement for more information on creating a healthy church budget and opportunities to invest for future Kingdom work.