BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. ?Offerings to the church by the American Christians have steadily decreased, while the base demographic age sharply increased in the past decade, leaving many churches and mainline denominations in a state of “deep financial trouble?which, if left unchanged, would lead to a “bleak future.? To offset this destructive pattern, many Baptist church heads gathered for a nationwide training convention, which was organized primarily by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, on March 29-31.
"We are in bad trouble in the churches, and we won't be out of it in your lifetime or mine,?said Loren Mead, founder of the Alban Institute and author of “Financial Meltdown in the Mainline?as he began his keynote speech.
The convention provided a battery of speakers to train the church leaders, who flew in from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida Missouri and Alaska, about long lasting funding efforts that would secure the future of the church.
According to Mead, many churches have no long-term offering goals. Instead, they often focus on short term and erratic efforts that try to let the church “survive?or “break even.? This mentality eventually leaves the church in a negative loophole that is harmful both physically and spiritually.
"A lot of churches don't know how to do anything else, and when the church is focused on survival, there is less energy for mission."
Howard Dayton, founder and CEO of Crown Ministries, agreed, saying that money has a spiritual as well as a practical impact on churches. Dayton noticed that there were 2,350 verses in the Bible that refer to money. And because money is God’s major competitor, how Christians handle their money has a direct correlation to their intimacy with God.
According to Dayton, American consumer debt is up 20 percent in the past two years, while savings are down by half. One sixth of Americans will gamble in a casino this year, and the number of bankruptcies could reach 1.6 million, he said. Meanwhile, charitable giving as a percentage of income continues to decline, and the younger generation is unlikely to reverse it. Adults 35 years old and younger have more debt, less savings, and are less generous than any previous generation, said Dayton.
Mead also noticed a similar trend: Financial planning is disconnected from the congregation, and those who bring up these urgent matters to the parishioners often face residence and even resentment. This pattern, in turn, gets passed on to the future leaders of the church ?the youth ?who give less publicly to the church, bit spend more for their own private costs.
"We have lost generations of young adults, youth and children by not teaching stewardship," said Mead.
Dayton urged pastors to talk openly about the issue of money, and teach their members how to handle all of their income, and not just 10 percent of it.
Though pastors may feel unprepared or hesitant to talk about the money matter, “teaching God’s people to handle God’s money is a big thing,?said Dayton.
"Nobody in the church is talking about this. We think one good year will fix it,?said Mead. The picture looks bleak 10 years down the road, but “we're so focused on getting through this year that we're not looking down the road."
The solution? Churches must talk directly about finances, and train clergy as well as children and youth to appreciate the importance of giving. In order to do this, Mead said that pastors must get over their reluctance to understand and talk about financial matters.
"We must stop being amateurs in fundraising" and get professional help, he said. Annual campaigns should be well planned and administered. Regular capital campaigns should be planned to deal with routine maintenance. And systematic planned giving efforts should reach every member.
Dick Towner, author of "Good $ense Resources" and affiliated with the Willow Creek Association, gave a similar solution to the church leaders at the convention: Pastors must institute a ministry of financial stewardship that teaches, trains and supports church members.
According to Towner, a effective financial ministry is both practical and spiritual, and will assist people who are seduced by the gospel of materialism" while "looking in all the wrong places for the contentment that only Jesus can provide."
Towner insisted that there are three biblical truths to money: God created everything, God retained ownership of all he created, and humans are made trustees of part of God's creation. Trustees have more responsibilities than rights, he said, and are held accountable for what they do with what is entrusted to them. Therefore, churches should not shy away from financial matters.
"The failure of the local church to give adequate attention to financial matters prevents the church from fulfilling its redemptive potential," he said, and is "the largest example of self-marginalization in our history."