Rich churches can buy shiny new printers that scan 100 pages per minute and print professional quality posters. Poor churches print dated-looking bulletins with battered office machines.
Rich churches might use a 3D printer to create a model of their new building addition. Poor churches find their buildings to be a financial burden that they cannot maintain much less renovate and expand upon.
What makes a church “poor” or “rich”? Most of us believe that small numbers + large buildings = impoverished ministry.
Of the 98 congregations in the Presbytery I serve, 26 of them had an average weekly worship gathering of 60 or less in 2011. 14 had less than 30 worshiping together on average. Most of these congregations have neither large endowments or wealthy members to sustain their buildings or staff a thriving church. If these smaller congregations were House Churches – without a building to maintain – they might be considered healthy and even “rich.” But – again – small congregations + large buildings = impoverished ministry most of the time.
Obviously there are rich churches that have few financial resources, but what they have feeds hungry bodies and souls. And there are churches with lots of money and impoverished spiritual lives.
Is there a right way to be the church?
Maybe, but it has less to do with attendance, building, and cash than it has to do with service to the neighborhood, organizational creativity, and the shift from a 1950s paradigm to a 21st Century paradigm for ministry.
The bigger problem is that our churches – rich and poor – are stuck.
- Maybe our congregation can afford to buy a pricey printer that will enhance our communication, but we can’t imagine how fresh communication will make a difference. Or we are simply too cheap to go for it.
- Maybe we could sell our building and move to a more manageable space but we cannot imagine worshiping in a room with no center aisle or stained glass windows. Or we simply won’t let go of the memories of past glories.
- Maybe we could relinquish some of the endowment to employ a minister whose focus is to serve those who are not yet part of the church, but we are uncomfortable paying for a staffer who’s not available to serve our needs. Or we simply don’t want new people with us, in spite of comments that “we need to grow.”
Image source here. This is what you can do with a 3D printer.