It is Saturday morning in the Swan household, so guess what we are doing? We are in front of the computer working the monthly budget. For the past decade or so, every week (unless we are not home that weekend) my wife and I sit down and input our purchases and balance our monthly budget. We see where our money is going and evaluate why we spend what we spend.
Well, speaking of budgets, it got me thinking about how church budgets are formed, and was curious where all the churchgoers’ “tithing” money goes, and do they even sit down to see where their money gets allocated and why.
I am going to have to pick on the church I used to attend (because that is what I know). It is nice that they post their budget online for all to see, however, I look at charts for a living, and charts can be interpreted differently.
Here is the budget layout:
Ministry Support 25%, Payroll Benefits 11%, Capital Additions 3%, Debt Service 14%, Teaching 7%, Impacting 7%, Build/Deepen 11%, Awaken 4%, and Outreach 19%.
This budget can be broken down into two main categories, in-reach (81%) and outreach (19%).
81% of the budget is for in-reach. This would include all the salaries, employee benefits, programs, bible studies, youth groups, maintenance, construction for more buildings, and my kick-ass favorite… debt service (or interest on million dollar loans being repaid). The amount of debt being repaid almost equals the second main category of the budget, outreach, which is 19%.
Well the way I see it, a major portion of the 19% outreach is not outreach at all. Let me explain.
Institutional churches, to me, are self-serving. Along with the 81% of in-reach that is self-serving, even a portion of the 19% outreach is self-serving too. A self-serving church is one that makes people happy, it makes people busy, and it makes people feel good about themselves.
Look at all the bells and whistles, programs, and activities of many churches and mega-churches. As consumers (churchgoers), many think the one church with the nicest “stuff” is the “best” church for them to find Jesus (find the church that fits is self-serving). I have heard people say they have a great church because their nursery is unbelievable, and runs like a well-oiled machine. I have heard that their youth center is state-of-the-art, and all the groups and programs my teenager can go to are phenomenal. There are basketball courts, coffee shops, bookstores, and a ton of big screen plasma TV’s in case you want to watch the sermon while sipping coffee with your friends. If I have all of this, it will be much easier to follow Jesus.
Is this church, and many others just like it, giving sacrificially? I might not know the correct answer, but the way I see it, my answer is… no way.
One of the best indicators of a “church” that is caught up in marketing and commercialism strategies (one that takes a business model over a biblical model) is to look at their budget a bit more carefully. Churches (the system) that are obsessed with pleasing their members instead of God typically have budgets that reflect that. I feel this church organization (not the people), and many other “churches” just like it, fall into this category.
So, what percent of the church budget is spent on items that do not directly benefit the church itself in any material way? The 19% is supposed to be outreach, but I feel a huge percentage of that 19% should be categorized as in-reach. So, the money that is tithed has less than 19 cents from each dollar going away from the church to help others and is not self-serving. To me that is really sad.
People get comfortable and are satisfied that their church is doing so-called “outreach”, spending money on missions and such. When they see video clips from 1-2 week church sponsored mission trips visually and dramatically depicted during worship, or when they are told that the church gives a certain amount to missions, or when they see pictures on walls of “missionaries we support,” or when they see church facilities used for community activities (T-ball, basketball, concerts, etc.), they are satisfied with their outreach, or in other words, they are making themselves feel better.
But I do not think these are true indicators of sacrificial giving on the part of the church. Many of these activities and mission trips benefit church members themselves as much or more than anyone else (even if they are justified in the name of ‘outreach’). So how much of a “church” budget is reaching others, and how much of it is self-serving? You answer the question… it is a toughie.