When my husband and I came to a new church plant immediately after seminary, we knew there were going to be some financial challenges for the small congregation. They had only 10 members and about 40 attending, including children. But they were a devoted, expansive-minded people, which gave us hope for the future of the church. And they offered us a livable wage, which was extremely important for a family of five. Because of their commitment, the church thrived in those early years. People gave sacrificially and the church grew.
The problem came several years in. We had grown by that point to around 200 people and had rented a larger, more expensive facility to hold everyone. And in the earliest days of the church, the pastor's office was in our home, but it soon became clear that this was less than ideal since the church needed a secretary and extra space for Sunday school. So when office space opened up across the street from the community center where we met, it seemed the perfect solution.
But as any church plant grows, the congregation's commitment to that church diminishes. The 200 did not feel as invested and determined to see the church grow as the original 40 who liberally gave of their time and money and who had a clear vision for the church. So after several months of increased expenses, our budget began to run in the red.
As a result, my husband gave a sermon on giving, but the amount that people gave was not enough to solve our financial woes. After praying about it, my husband told everyone at the next business meeting that the church would give up the office space and secretary, and that he'd move the office back into our home. Most people in the business meeting began to nod in agreement until one of the church founders stood to his feet and gave an impassioned speech about how it grieved him to see the church go backward rather than forward. He challenged everyone there to dig deep and see how they might be able to give sacrificially so that the church could keep the office. The atmosphere in the room changed immediately, and they unanimously agreed to find a way to keep the office.
We learned at least three things about ministry and money through that experience.
When church leaders sacrifice, it's a powerful example.
The fact that my husband offered to give up something for the sake of the church was powerful. His attitude of humility and willingness to sacrifice for the church moved the congregation in ways that cajoling and making everyone feel guilty never would have. It's important for the pastor to also cast vision, but if that vision seems to profit him more than the felt needs of the congregation, it is often perceived as selfish. On the other hand, if the leaders are visibly willing to give up something important to them, the people in the church take note.