Joining the Green Revolution
Rethinking our stewardship of the church's space and staff.

by Dave Gibbons

We are witnessing what some are calling the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. The McKinsey Global Institute has shown how assets are moving primarily from Europe and America to the oil countries of the Middle East and the manufacturing giants of Asia.

At the end of 2007, these oil producing countries owned about 4.6 trillion dollars of assets. That's about 1.6 times the whole economy of the UK. The six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are receiving 1.5 billion dollars a day. Those are pretty staggering numbers.

Our "dangerous dependence on foreign oil" and the transfer of wealth it is producing, is moving both political parties to emphasize a new green agenda. This includes new technologies, further exploration into alternative energy, clean energy, drilling off-shore, and conservation.

As we consider conserving energy resources for environmental and economic reasons, maybe we should reconsider how we steward our resources in the church.

Around the country, there is growing concern with diminishing giving because of the state of our economy. People are giving less because they are earning less, and because they're having to pay more for things like gas. But this trend may prove to be good in the long run, especially if it teaches us to better manage church resources.

The largest expenses for most churches are facilities and staff. First, let's consider the stewardship of our space. Is it really the best to buy as much land as possible and erect large buildings, when the same dollars could be better deployed in other initiatives that prove more impactful? How much of our space is actually utilized during a given week? In expensive urban centers, every square foot comes at a very high purchase price, and we can't forget about the cost of furnishing and maintaining the space.

I'm not saying buildings are bad, but are we being good stewards? I asked our director of operations who helped build three of the largest church facilities in America, to assess our space usage. I discovered that we use our facilities about 30 percent of the month - mostly on weekends. So how much were we spending for facility space that we didn't use? Around $60,000 a month; $720,000 a year! In ten years that's over $10 million dollars!

How about staffing? As culture moves from a hierarchical model to a more flat, open, or wiki model, how should we staff? When I looked more closely at our budget, I realized that over 55% of our budget was staff related. While our staff is amazing, it had unintentionally created a bottleneck in our mission - it impeded the development of our people because we were "staff-driven."

September 16, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments

Elias Kruger

September 24, 2008  1:23pm

How about shifting these resources to churches overseas? Local churches in the US supporting local churches and missions overseas. Talk about a true transfer of wealth!

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Casey Taylor

September 22, 2008  8:36pm

It seems that the comment board here at Ur always go back to a free church vs. established church argument. Paid staff or not? Buildings or no buildings? The conversation is fascinating and frustrating as someone who grew up free church (Southern Baptist) and is now wholeheartedly United Methodist. So, a few points. 1. I sympathize with the debates about buildings. Are buildings being properly utilized? No. Creative ways to use what's already there can sometimes - not always - create good ministry opportunities. But sometimes you have to build. And as long as building churches continue to draw more people, churches will continue to build. 2. It's lovely that some of you have churches where lay people just seem to do everything, but the majority of churches are not in your boat. We may not even be in the same ocean. If churches want someone at the helm who can effectively lead, than that usually requires more than "the loudest voice." Churches need leaders trained to lead, which includes both spiritual leadership and other administrative details. Paid staff aren't going away. 3. Amidst all the national talk about healthcare, etc., someone please tell me how bi-vocational pastors are taken care of? Is it just to ask people to work two jobs, neither of which will provide healthcare for the pastor and her family? How do we address healthcare and retirement issues for part-time staff? Now please point out blindspots and I can call it a day

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Steve Grove

September 18, 2008  11:52am

Churches have moved away from parsonages. Reading this it seems to make sense for a church to provide a parsonage, especially for a bivocational pastor. A church's investment in a house is both liquidable, and profitable in the long term (in spite of what happenned in the US). The issue here is that the pastor isn't able to build equity like any home-owning person in the church, so maybe an RRSP (or the like) contribution is in order as well. I'm all for daughter churches and multi-site venues. One of the largest churches in Canada is a muti-site that uses movie theatres in several cities near the traditional "mother ship". They have a lay leader/pastor for each location, and a joint Youth guy that travels to each are on a schedule helping organize and lead the youth stuff. The example of Paul was that he was supported by the local people (stayed in their homes, etc) when he could, and "tented" when it wasn't practical or safe. he was also itinerant, which is a bit different than a leader of an established church. We actually don't know if some of the local churches took on paid staff. Did Timothy receive room and board and an income while at Ephesus? I also think most churches should look at themselves as Ministry Centres rather than just sanctuaries. It echoes that we are based in communities and reach out in many ways to provide venues for spiritual, emotional, and physical help to those of need.

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Todd Burus

September 18, 2008  11:28am

Chad, Actually Paul supported himself, working as a tentmaker. "Am I saying we should do away with pastors? Of course not." Why not? First, Paul chose to support himself outside of paid (1 Corinthians 9.1-15). And as far as the statement about "Why not do away with pastors?" I will again reiterate my point from before: because that's not biblical. God established for elders and overseers in the church, that is a calling, and the fact that so many in this time despise that is something to have concerns about. If one can't get that bit of the Bible down then how can we expect them to deal with the actually hard stuff correctly?

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Travis Greene

September 17, 2008  3:40pm

Chad, Actually Paul supported himself, working as a tentmaker. "Am I saying we should do away with pastors? Of course not." Why not?

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Richard Dennis Miller

September 17, 2008  8:01am

Sorry, I can't relate to this one. Our church meets in a storefront and our two pastors have non-church jobs during the week. We own a small lot and have plans to build but, recently, the congregation has expressed an uncertainty as to whether that is the best use for the small fund we have in the bank. Many of us would prefer to pay our pastors. By the way, our pastor chooses not to do a sermon on giving. He's a line-by-line preacher. He says we will get to it soon enough. My question is this: What will the big-facility churches do when the tax exemption for churches is taken away and property taxes are due?

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September 17, 2008  12:50am

Three observations: 1) I think there are a growing number of churches that see their space as a neighborhood asset, rather than a dedicated space for Sunday worship and mid-week bible studies. 2) Worshipping in a breathtaking space, a place that is itself a work of great art, is an amazing thing. It's the architectural equivalent of a great song or finely crafted and stirring sermon. Much as I'd like to tell myself that God is present even in the mundane, I really hate trying to worship in an elementary school lunchrooms. 3) There are many reasons for churches to consider planting new congregations sooner and more often, rather than continue to expand their facilities. One that I rarely here mentioned is the environmental and economic impact of so much gasoline burned to bring people from far away. Instead of racing to increase attendance, what if churches bragged about how few people drove there? (Wouldn't this also push us toward equipping "lay" leaders instead of hiring more professionals, too?)

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September 17, 2008  12:50am

i agree times are changing, but weren't Paul and other missionaries paid for their troubls? didn't they receive compensation of some kind for their efforts? i believe Paul mentions this in his letters. i could be wrong!

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Don Warrington

September 16, 2008  5:08pm

I am my local church's Finance Committee Chairman. This is the first time I have ever heard anyone in Evangelical Christianity challenge (other than me) challenge church buildings on the basis of underutilisation. I have reached the point that there are few things that anger me more than ministers telling us that they "have" to have these monstrous edifices that sit idle most of the week, or that the new sanctuary "has" to accomodate the entire congregation at once. I am tired of grandiose building programs. Building programs (good or bad) are the most divisive thing a church can do, and paying for them drains God's money away from direct ministry application. The theory has been for too long that the building drives the ministry. But the opposite is true. In a corporate setting, you have fixed assets (real and otherwise) to generate revenue for the corporation. Churches should be no different. You have buildings to serve the ministry needs of the church. Personally I think that too many of our church edifices are built to satify the egos of clergy and/or laity, or to make a statement. But there's one thing for sure: they make a statement. But what kind of statement?

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C.K. Tygrett

September 16, 2008  3:53pm

my question in this discussion is biased, yes, but it still needs to be asked: what's the plan for those who have spent their lives in traditional ministry preparation for a life supported by paid-staff ministry? are they simply out of luck, is there space to have staff but only bi-vocational, or is there some other suggestion? I realize personally, being 30 right now, I'll most likely be doing bi-vocational ministry at some point in the future as churches in America become smaller and less capable, but I ask the questions above out of sincere interest and not objection. What happens when you've spent most of your life preparing for a life/vocation that will no longer provide financially for you and your family? And I know, I know, there's not really a comparable NT model for today's paid ministry, but the system is in place all the same. I agree also that the congregation should be the "movers and shakers" but I've only seen one or two of these type of people in any one church in my life. Is this because of paid staff or is it really the other way around? grace and peace

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