Throughout the 1990s I served as the student ministries pastor in a thriving, suburban church in Little Rock, AR, that grew from 2,000 to 5,000 attending members in eight years. In that time and place, money was not an issue. Tithes and offerings provided more than enough to cover the budget and advance new ministry development from year to year.
In 2001, my wife, Linda, and I left that church to plant Mosaic, a multiethnic, economically diverse congregation in one of the most under-resourced communities in the city. In that context, however, we soon realized tithes and offerings alone could not sustain our ministry—let alone advance it. In fact, for many years it seemed that the more people who joined our church cost us money!
Desperation soon led to innovation in terms of how we funded the work. In time, we’ve realized the need for pastors to generate additional income for the church beyond tithes and offerings isn’t an anomaly, or something that applies only to churches in impoverished areas. In fact, a growing burden on the middle class, increased access to credit and rising household debt, generational differences in approaches to money and giving, a rapidly changing population and demographics (i.e., income inequality), are all negatively impacting giving to local churches today. Consider that between 2009 and 2014 average church budgets fell 17 percent (from $150,000 to $125,000 annually).
To fund ministry in a rapidly changing world, pastors will soon need to do more than host Financial Peace University, preach yet another sermon on generosity, and chase numeric growth—which, by the way, will not necessarily guarantee larger offerings as it has in the past. Indeed, there is a coming revolution in “Church Economics.” The sooner you lean in to it, the better positioned your church will be not only to survive but to thrive in these times of disruptive social and financial change.
The question to ask is this: How can we leverage church assets (people, money, and buildings) to bless the community and help generate sustainable income?
By way of consideration, you’ll first have to respond to and overcome (with sound exegesis and good theology) erroneous assumptions held by some in your congregation concerning the church and money. For instance…
- Someone will say “Pursuing profit through a church is intrinsically and morally repugnant.” They’ll need to understand that money is not a necessary evil but a necessary tool.
- Someone else will say, “A church is faith-based and should wholly depend on God for its funding.” Remind them that we go to a doctor when we’re sick, take prescription drugs as prescribed, and consent to surgery to improve our health. Such actions do not imply a lack of faith on our part.
- Still, another will say, “Conducting profitable business on church property is offensive to God,” citing Jesus’ expulsion of the money changers from the temple. Show them that He was protesting greedy profiteering on temple grounds and inequitable trade practices which placed undue burden on good people seeking to worship God in the temple, where they had come to pray, sacrifice and give alms according to Jewish law… namely, economic injustice.
Having overcome objections, you’ll next consider the following possibilities for creating multiple income streams beyond tithes and offerings.
- Become a Benevolent Owner At Mosaic, we rent half of our facility to a large fitness club. The passive income covers half our monthly mortgage payment. Since doing this in 2015, 6,000 people from the community have become members, and 15 to 20 new jobs have been created.
- Monetize Existing Services There are certain things churches are already doing and for which they are already paying that could otherwise generate income. Instead of paying for janitorial services, why not start a janitorial company that would create jobs and net profits from other contracts to offset the line item expense of cleaning the church? Sure, provide free coffee on Sunday mornings but sell other items at a profit to offset the costs.
- Start New Businesses Contrary to common misconceptions, a nonprofit may start, own and/or control a for-profit business, without jeopardizing its non-profit status. In any and all such pursuits, however, it is imperative that pastors enlist the help of credible business leaders, lawyers, and accountants, from the start, to ensure legal compliance and avoid unnecessary problems down the road.
So… in terms of its finances, how’s your church doing at the moment. Is it:
- Struggling to survive?
- Somewhat stable?
- Truly sustainable?
Like me, many now believe the days of money so freely flowing to the church are coming to a close. Considering that local governments may someday assess church real estate to collect property taxes or that the federal government could take away tax-exempt status for churches altogether, the time to pivot is now.
Mark DeYmaz is founding pastor of the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas (www.mosaicchurch.net) and co-founder of the Mosaix Global Network (www.mosaix.info). He is the author of seven books, including The Coming Revolution of Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings are No Longer Enough and What You Can Do About It, from which portions of this article are adapted. Join Mark and over 100 other speakers at the 4th National Multi-ethnic Church Conference, November 5-7, in Dallas, TX. (www.mosaix2019.com)