In 2012, I asked people to give me things to blog about. A bunch of people made suggestions and I promised to blog about every single one. Five years later, I hope to get them all done before I die.

Howie asked me to blog about “church spending”, I’m assuming he was talking about churches spending money. So I’ll see how I go. I’m sure he has been anxious than I haven’t written about it yet.

The truth is I have never made a church budget in my life. I’ve been to my share of budget meetings, and I’ve spent time looking at the spreadsheets the treasurer hands out. I’ve received a good chunk of money from church budgets. But I have never been in charge of a church budget. So to some degree, I speak out of ignorance, and what better place to speak from than that. This is the internet, this is what it’s for! So here are my somewhat ignorant thoughts on church spending.

Spending reflects values so makes sure your spending reflects your values

It’s not rare to hear people say “If you want to know what your values are, look at where you spend your money.” This is true for churches too. Often churches say they care about youth ministry, children’s ministry, evangelism, and social justice. But the biggest expenses are usually paying a senior pastor and paying for buildings. Which is fine, but usually those things are not about those outside the church but those inside the church. The pastor is to look after the flock, the buildings are to house the flock. Churches should keep looking at their budgets and asking “Does this reflect who we want to be? Are we building God’s kingdom with our money?” When the answer is “No” you can either change your values or change your budget, I suggest the latter.

If churches want their people to give they should be giving themselves

Most of the churches I’ve been to have given away at least 10% of their budget to outside causes, missions, social justice, etc. I love this. We are called to be generous with our wealth, and churches should model that generosity. How great would it be to see churches giving away even more? And how wonderful to be part of a church that celebrated the difference its money was making in the world? It would feel great to be part of a church like that, and it would inspire each member to see how they can be generous themselves.

Churches should be generous employers

I have spent quite a lot of time working for churches, and I’ve spent a lot of time with people who work for churches, and in general, churches tend to pay the minimum they can get away with, and often that’s less than is outlined by the denominational guidelines and policies. It’s always been my opinion that churches should be generous employers to reflect our generous God. I don’t mean church employees should be out-earning their congregants, but church employees shouldn’t have to fight their churches to be paid according to denominational guidelines. Almost every church employee I have met works hours of unpaid overtime every week, and pays for lots of ministry expenses out of their own pockets. Generous pay is very practical way for an employee to feel valued in what is a difficult job.

I think churches should aim to pay above the minimum outlined by its denomination, and only employ people for the amount of time that they can afford to at an above minimum rate. While having church staff is great, it’s a luxury. No staff doesn’t mean no ministry, it just means more people need to step up and help run ministries, and that’s not a bad thing. A church isn’t the building, and a church isn’t its staff, a church is its people. When the church can afford to pay staff and pay well, that’s when it’s time to put that money into employing people.

Church members who want better budget priorities should make giving to church a budget priority

We did a survey at my last church and found that while 60 percent of people said that it was important to give at least 10% of their income to the work of God. Of that 60 percent, 30 percent reported that they didn’t give any of their income to the church. I don’t know what those numbers are like in other churches, but I am sure that people are not giving a lot of money to their churches. Whatever your position theologically about whether you should give and how much, the only way a church runs is if it’s members give.

I’m not saying any particular amount or percentage that a person should give to their church. But I think if a member wants to be able to have a say in how the church runs, they should first be willing to give to the running of the church. Not that money should buy votes, the ability to be on leadership, or any other perk of giving. I think it’s best is giving remains anonymous, so that no-one is shown favour because of how much they give. But for the individual, before they get upset about how the church does its budget priorities they should ask if they have made giving to the church a budget priority.

Money is a dangerous thing

Jesus often warned us about the dangers of money. We cannot serve both God and money, and this is as true for a church as it is the individual. Churches shouldn’t be in the business of hoarding wealth but using it to build God’s kingdom. You don’t need money to share the gospel, you don’t need money to pray, you don’t know money to preach, you don’t need money to care, and you don’t need money to love. Money can be a great tool to grow God’s kingdom, but it can also tear a church apart. Churches should be wary that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Money is like fire. It’s useful often and dangerous always – we should learn to treat it that way.