Friday, October 28, 2011

Christians Are Giving Less to Missions, Concentrating on Local Church Programs

A recent study conducted by Empty Tomb, Inc. (a religious relief organization) suggests that Christian giving which serves the needs of others has dropped to its lowest levels in over 40 years. It was a study that involved both liberal and evangelical church groups. And, contrary to what you might first think, these results are not merely the result of a bad economy. No, American Christians are looking more inward than ever by tithing less and by using a greater percentage of the money that does come in to fund church programs that directly serve the parishioners.

My personal experience tends to back up the contentions of this study. I'm all too well aware, for instance, of how few churches ever made donations to Vital Signs Ministries. And of how the few that once did have stopped. (Vital Signs only has 3-4 churches that help us out in our Christian pro-life ministry and the regular monthly total of all of them put together is less than $350.)

The situation is very much the same with most of our friends who are missionaries and para-church servants. We hear all the time about how local churches are reorganizing their finances by severely cutting their support of missionaries and investing instead in more local church staff, programs, building projects, equipment and events. I know of one evangelical church (otherwise sound in doctrine) that has 0% of their budget directed to missions of any kind! No, it's all too true. The priority of giving has shifted quite dramatically.

Also undergoing a dramatic shift is the willingness of the congregation to themselves meet the needs of the local church. For example, just a couple of generations ago, the idea of paying for multiple ministers (and a secretary for each one), custodians, song leaders, groundskeepers, consultants and so on would have been laughable. These services were then performed by members of the congregation. Out of love for Christ, they mowed the lawns, taught the classes, cleaned the church, visited the sick, played the piano, and so on.

In many small churches, like Faith Bible Church where Claire and I are involved, these things are still done by volunteers.(Even the Teaching Pastor of the church receives only the regular guest speaker honorarium.) But the ongoing work of the ministry is performed by the people of the church. And performed very well. Though only a congregation of about 65, Faith Bible Church provides a neighborhood relief and gospel outreach, an open gym night, AWANA classes for neighborhood kids, visitation, summer camp, an ongoing Bible study for women, a monthly men's breakfast, a weekly Bible study, Sunday School classes for all ages, grounds and building maintenance, worship team, sermons that are recorded and uploaded onto the internet (some translated into Russian), a library ministry, numerous fellowship events, special summer classes, film nights, Good News Clubs, participation in various pro-life events, advocacy letter-writing, neighborhood barbecues, adult retreats, work days, and more -- all performed by volunteers.

And one more item that's very relevant to the Empty Tomb study showing the sad downturn in church giving -- In this little congregation of Faith Bible Church, a church located in a poorer section of town and having nothing remotely resembling a wealthy parishioner in the whole bunch, over 30% of the church income goes out to missions!

The American church desperately needs to get back to biblical principles and role models. They need to serve sacrificially, look outside themselves and get a lot more generous in meeting the most crucial needs of the world around them. And the example of Faith Bible Church is a good one to be stimulated by.