So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Matthew 20:16
When I was a child, the leaders in our Mainline Church were – for the most part – successful professionals: the professors and lawyers, the business people and doctors. They faithfully pledged a portion of their incomes towards the ministry of the church. Mission often meant writing a check to “the needy.”
One of the culture shifts for a 21st Century Church is that shift from Members Supporting Institutions to Institutions Supporting Members. In other words, if a church focuses on reaching out to broken people, there will be financial ramifications unlike those experienced in the 20th Century Church.
Of course, some broken people are financially rich. Maybe their brokenness involves family estrangement or addiction or cancer.
Other broken people are financially poor. Maybe they are dealing with family estrangement or addiction or cancer . . . as well as unemployment or homelessness or financial insecurity. In some neighborhoods, the broken also include formerly incarcerated people, gang members, victims of random gun violence.
As our congregations continue to shift from a 20th Century Model (we write checks for people in need) to a 21st Century Model (we have relationships with people in need) the financial responsibilities of our congregations will increase.
Being a missional church is inconvenient and expensive.
Let’s say our church opens its doors to tutor at-risk kids after school. Not only will we get to know the students, but we will also learn who needs new shoes, and whose mom is in the hospital, and who is on free lunch in school and won’t eat this three-day weekend. As we become aware of our neighbors’ needs, faithful congregations will seek to alleviate those needs.
This changes things. With fewer people in the pews, there are also fewer dollars for ministry. Many of our buildings are in need of expensive maintenance and we are making decisions between replacing boilers and feeding hungry people.
Nevertheless, there is enormous hope. If we are truly doing faithful ministry and caring for broken people in our communities and beyond, I believe that financial support will come. We will be able to replace that boiler because it’s clear to everybody that our buildings are tools for ministry – so that hungry people can indeed be fed in there and kids without computers at home can do their homework in there and mentally/physically sick people can find treatment in there.
Jesus spoke about reversals of fortune. It’s quite possible that “rich churches” and “poor churches” could come to trade places. The “poor church” that focuses on missional ministry might find themselves “rich” because people want very much to support efforts that make a difference. And the “rich church” that fails to financially support their neighbors might find themselves poorer for it. They will have lost their purpose. (Note: it’s not about perpetuating an institution – even if that institution is our beloved church.)
Image of a neighborhood church. More than this window is broken.