Bang for your buck

downloadI recently encountered an intriguing thought process on the subject of church funding, budgets and expenditure. The point made was that the best measure for evaluating where things are at money-wise is cost per head of the Sunday gathering. In other words, if a congregation with an average attendance of one hundred has a monthly budget of forty thousand, and the average month has four Sundays, then the cost per head per service is one hundred (whatever currency applies).

Churches do a heck of a lot more than host a Sunday service – anything from counselling, small groups and youth ministry through church planting and TV ministry – and unless these are separate cost centers, these costs will inflated the cost per person per service number, because they’ll be wrongly included there. That said, the number arrived at is accurate when it comes to giving required per head per service, because that is precisely how much the church needs on the incoming end in order to meet budget.

Once you’ve done the maths for your church, here are some factors worth considering as you think things through. In random order, then, and with the stated intent of provoking thought – 1. Church as we know it is a very expensive endeavour. Spiritual food, it seems, comes at restaurant prices. 2. Staff and facilities are typically the biggest expenses, and when we break our number down into what goes where, we’re likely discover that much more is going into making Sunday mornings happen than what we would’ve initially thought. And 3. The bigger the church gets, the higher the number is likely to be. Large churches seem to attracted a better-heeled membership and can appear awash in money, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to an economy of scale, because bigger demands better in our day and age, and better doesn’t come cheap. Bigger churches being more expensive to run per member than what smaller ones are seems counterintuitive.

These same dynamics are all-the-more evident when we consider how the church spends its human capital, which is far more precious than cash. Innumerable volunteers spend endless hours making Sundays happen. The bigger the ship and the more its sails, the bigger the crew. Except that in this department tiny churches are probably the most demanding, because it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair. Could it be that inordinately high levels of demand are because churches set out to provide a forum for people to come to be baptised and discipled, when what Jesus explicitly commanded us to do was to go out, baptising and discipling as we did so?

Throwing stones is always unhelpful, and running the numbers for the church I love and lead simply exposes me as another noisy fella with a megaphone who is standing in a glass menagerie. The truth is that the measuring any local church’s effectiveness and efficiency is less than straightforward. For me and mine, we are not where we once were on these matters, but neither are we yet where we want to be. There is also no desire whatsoever to entrench any form of poverty mentality; the Bank of Heaven is certainly not cash-strapped. That said, I am convinced that a significant key to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth is a radical rethink about what we’re doing with what we already have. How much bang for the buck we’re getting is an integral part of that. What do you think?

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6 comments

  1. It’s unfortunate that the “Churchianity Culture of the 21st century” has dictated that a performance/concert sort of offering be dished up on a Sunday morning (Cruise Ship analogy). And it’s largely THAT Sunday offering is what is used to draw people to that church. As long as people are getting good entertainment and show, they’ll come back week after week. And then as the crowds grow so success is defined. And this is an entrenched culture of church today.

    I suspect in 50 years time, we will have empty mega church buildings around the world and a lot more smaller gatherings in clubs, schools and homes where the Gospel has entrenched church culture and the money being used to send groups around the world to preach and teach and use money to hold events that touch their immediate cities….

    1. Interestingly enough, although mega-churches tend to be the most expensive in terms of cost per head per service, they are also the movers and shakers in the Christian world, and are the one’s most likely to be running training centers, mercy ministries, schools, mission programs, and be out there planting churches. They also tend to have a voice in politics, business, education, art and entertainment. The bigger the Sunday morning service (cruise ship), the more the lifeboats being sent out during the week. It seems that those who have already have really are given more.

  2. I do see a lot of small churches planting churches too though, which is great. The Acts 29 network is a great example of a network of churches that can’t be called mega churches, but they’re doing an amazing job of being out there, sharing, discipling, equipping and planting. I would say that a big budget is not a prerequisite to being a growing, planting church, but of course having a bigger budget does help in that it affords more missionaries, etc. But really, every local church can and should be fruitful simply by living out the Gospel and living in community with one another, and inviting people in to experience Gospel community. And we don’t need a big budget to do that 🙂 Great conversation guys, love it

    1. Thanks for the contribution Nick. This is very much a “western middle class” conversation. In the so-called third world – India, China, Africa, Central and South America – folks are planting churches and being used of the Lord to reap enormous harvests numerically speaking, and on breadline budgets. The sheer sincerity of the overwhelming majority of the church also touches me deeply. The vast majority of Christians are folk who love Jesus and who are doing their very best to serve Him. Me thinks the best is yet ahead 🙂

  3. Hey Gavin, loving this piece. From my business experience perspective, yup – staff and property, staff and property, always the keys. Church staff are notoriously underpaid, no “saving” possible. So it boils down to: Is that perfectly groomed building, parking lot and steeple really what our faith is about? Is that not why so many churches are finding extra ways to “fund” the building though – hiring the bricks & mortar out for conferences, music concert venues etc? Do we have to aim for “mega”, using all the Marketing tricks in the book to draw the paying public in? I’d be mortified to have to say yes.

    Which brings me to Ross’ point. I’m coming from a place where, never mind 50 years bud – I believe that to “x” degree, the average church has become so navel-gawking, program driven and maintenance focused, that the Lord HAS TO use Joe Soap to reach out to the hurting, the desperate, the guilt-ridden, the suicidal… I know, I was one of them. The church offered me nothing, so I didn’t go there much any more. I was sick to the pit of my stomach with the “FIFO” mentality I found. All neat and crisp and beautifully packaged – like you say, “Entertainment”

    But here’s the rub. I bumped into this crowd called HCC recently, with this unselfish, uncompromising, gospel-driven and passionate oke called Gavin at the helm of a ship (not a Cruise Liner) that sails perilously close to rocky shores to be REAL. And they do “church” like my heart says it should be done, IMHO. So my pet theory evaporated, coz with guts and brokenness, that ship has cured my cynicism. It’s on the right course, for sure!

    I’m not answering questions, I may be raising more …Coz deep, deep down (with my heart on my sleeve as always) I believe unshakably that #GodIsEnough. We (and I proudly include myself) do not need the fancy stuff, the trimmings, the pretty frilly things. His presence is all we need. Do we still perhaps “cater” too much to what attracts people, to what they think they “pay for”? Not a popular or easy question …

    So, having “Pantsed” my way this far – let me challenge myself. Maybe I should be talking harder to all (and there’s lots, really there are) of disillusioned people I come across. Telling them more often and with more conviction that there IS hope after all. Taking the slaps in the face until they give in and come and experience freedom that the #GoodNews offers. That there really is a place where there is no condemnation. That small group you speak of starts with me.

  4. Hey Ian. Thanks for the compliments, affirmation and encouragement. Ultimately the church is people, and the bother stuff can be a great servant, but sure makes a dreadful master. Every blessings!

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