Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Can a church exist without money?

We were asked this in Reading the Audiences precept group yesterday*.

After a pause, Britta said, "Yes."

I immediately added "No."

I think Yes, a church can exist without a budget.  House churches come to mind, for example.  They have no building to pay mortgage on, no electricity or heating bills.  Their staff live in them and don't work enough hours to get paid.

And it's possible also to envision a larger congregation existing without a lot of money - if the building where they meet is free or paid off, if the pastor is a working preacher who has a "regular" 9 to 5 job, etc.

The first question that comes to mind is, How long is this kind of church sustainable?  Can it grow?  Can it teach?

But the reason that I answered "No" is implicit costs.

If, for example, I end up being a "working preacher," I'll be limited in my occupational scope.  I won't be able to take a job that requires me to move away from my congregation.  I won't be able to work when we're having worship services.  And I won't be able to spend fifteen hours a week on my sermon - and I know some pastors do.

And if we have Sunday School curriculum or musical instruments or coffee hour, someone has to pay for those things.

I'm not saying that these are bad things; I'm simply saying that there are implicit costs to "running a church without money."

Just as there's no such thing as a free lunch - there's no such thing as free church.

*Reading the Audiences is a course in understanding the challenges the twenty-first century church is experiencing.  Precept groups are when a lecture class breaks into smaller groups for discussion.

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