Q: Why can’t we just take the church budget, divide it by the number of members we have, and then send a letter to everyone and say, “This is your share”?
A: I know I’ve just lost some credibility. Some of you are thinking, “I wondered if these were real questions, or if Ken just makes them up. No way someone really asked this one.”
In fact, this is a real question. It came to me a few years back when I was in my last pastoral appointment. A member of my finance committee asked the question; and I need to tell you he was not only a faithful member, but he was a pretty sharp guy. I imagine the question came out of the frustration of several factors that many of you will appreciate: (1) having to organize an annual giving campaign each year; (2) receiving estimates of giving from only a fraction of the membership; (3) continual worry when offerings received fell short of anticipated expenses.
So, my answer was simply, “Well we could do that, but then we would have to call it ‘dues’ and not Christian stewardship.”
This may seem like an outrageous question that would never cross your radar and one you would (hopefully) never need to answer. I share it though because there is a strong temptation to become so focused on raising enough money to pay the church’s bills that is easy to lose sight of our responsibility to raise up generous disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s sad that, for some, church membership comes closer to an Amazon Prime membership: charge me once a year so I’ll get free movies, fast shipping, and special deals ahead of the people who aren’t prime members!
I often use the phrase coined by the folks who promote the American Express Card, “Membership has its privileges,” because that is how many people understand membership in the church. The word “member” in relation to our decision to follow Christ connects us to the body of Christ – Christ’s hand and feet and so on. It’s sad that, for some, church membership comes closer to an Amazon Prime membership: charge me once a year so I’ll get free movies, fast shipping, and special deals ahead of the people who aren’t prime members!
This understanding of membership also helps promote the misconception that we are consumers of what the church has to offer. Putting my money in the plate is my main responsibility, and in return, the church takes care of my needs — that being the church’s main responsibility. Does anyone think this is the kind of church Jesus needs or wants?
My suggestion when I talk with church leaders is that we treat church membership, the standing in front of the congregation and stating our intention to follow Christ, as the starting line and not the finish line. We might view it as the public statement of intention to grow in discipleship for the rest of our journey.
Part of that discipleship growth is continually growing in generosity. That is the ingredient in discipleship that needs to be championed by those who have the responsibility for stewardship in the local church, and stewardship not limited to generosity of money or generosity to the church.
And that is so much bigger than collecting dues!