How effective is the witness of the Church today?
Missional church congregations of today claim to obey Jesus’ well-known command:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matt. 28: 19-20; NIV).
Using research data, PEW Research Center says (Sept. 13, 2022), “Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of U.S. adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’.”
In a recent article titled, “Against the New Paganism,” in the National Review (May 7, 2023), Jack Butler said, “Over the past few decades, Christianity has both retreated from the public square and from mass culture and been pushed from them. Its once-venerable pillars in this country have atrophied.” He is right.
In addition, the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (2023) estimates that “59% of the world today is considered unreached—meaning Jesus is largely unknown among 4.6 billion people.” There is still a lot of mission work still to be undertaken.
The foregoing accounts tell us something is holding back our missionally-minded churches. What could be holding our churches back?
What is holding back missional churches?
Speaking of church budgets, tiny churches often struggle with meagre income. For such churches, allocating half the church’s budget for missions may be impractical. However, today, God has blessed many churches in America and in other countries with generous budgets. But how the churches use their budgets is another matter.
In the article, How Churches Spend Their Money (Church Law and Taxes, 2014), Mathew Branaugh says, an average church spends about 10% of the budget on missions; local and international missions combined. Further, Prof. Troy Gibson in his critical blog, Church Budgets: Shame on American Evangelicals, quotes Prof. Gene Veith:
Of every dollar given to a [US] Protestant church, the average amount that goes to overseas missions is two cents [=2%]. In contrast, of every dollar Antioch Presbyterian Church in Chonju, Korea, takes in, 70 cents [=70%] goes to missions…
I consulted a friend, actively engaged in international missions, and previously associated with a large missionally-minded church in another city. That church was well-known for its missional work. My friend revealed to me that he was their mission’s director for many years before retiring. He said the church operated with a missional budget that was around 52% of the total church budget.
This came as a surprise to me as I was beginning to wonder if it was unreasonable to suggest to pastors that missional churches devote 50% of their church budgets to missions. Later it came to my attention that Matt Svoboda also proposed the idea of 50% of a church’s budget going to missions in SBC Voices (March 26, 2010).
For the sake of clarity, it may be useful to distinguish between the terms, “ministries” and “missions” in the context of church budgets. I read somewhere, “…all missions are ministry…but NOT all ministries are missions.” Therefore, church budgets may support several ministries of the church today without supporting missions or being a witness to the world.
Budgets can hinder a church’s missional purpose
Church budgets enable or hinder a church’s missional purpose. Having once worked as a manager in Industry, and having taught business management for over three decades, it occurs to me churches could learn a thing or two from businesses regarding budgets.
When profit-making businesses change their highest corporate priority from one thing to another, to make the change take immediate and permanent effect, they would REALLOCATE the budget to ensure that the new corporate priority is backed by their revised budget; in other words, they put their money where their mouth is!
Once the corporate budget is reallocated to pursue a new priority, the new corporate priority receives enhanced funding for, 1) increased staffing, 2) relevant investments and 3) targeted expenditures. They use the budget to lead the way.
Similarly, church budgets can be ACTIVE ENABLERS of the stated missional purpose of the church by adequately funding missional work in local, national, and international mission fields.
Without adequate budgetary support, a church’s stated missional purpose may be no more than idle words.
Inputs from pastors
I sought inputs from a few American pastors on this idea of 50% of a missional church’s budget going for missions—one of them, a missions’ pastor, supported the idea and excitedly said that church members may become more generous in giving to the church, when members realize 50% of their church contributions will go to missions work—churches should welcome his insight.
The biggest challenge that other pastors expressed to me is summarized by this quote, “It is difficult to reallocate our budget as suggested.” History shows an expression of “difficulty” is the typical starting point before changes occur.