Windfalls for Jesus

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 9, 2006

I got some guff, both on my blog and in "real life" about my challenging of the church in Minneapolis that spent millions on a bell tower.  Instead of pointing a finger at a specific church to advance the discussion, I would like to direct your attention to a GOOD example of a church, and how it spent a windfall they received.

According to a news story, when St. Mary’s United Methodist Church received a HUGE donation of $60 million.

  • They put $40 to start a foundation which will support non profit causes.
  • $16 million will go towards educational efforts, a children’s home, youth programs, and mission projects.
  • $500,000 will go towards a residential facility for the elderly. 
  • $4 million will go towards a building campaign. 
  • And $2.8 million will go into a fund that will generate $100,000 a year in income for the church.

Contrast this with a recent Facts and Trends newspoll.  The poll asked what a congregation would do if it received an "unexpected financial windfall."

  • 31% of the more than 500
    Protestant pastors surveyed said they would build, expand, or update
    their church’s buildings and facilities (The number was 43% among Southern Baptists).
  • 16% of the 500 Protestant pastors said they would use the money to increase evangelistic activities.
  • 12% would use it to pay off debt.
  • 10% would use it to add staff.
  • 1% would increase salaries and/or benefits.

a companion survey of almost 1,200 Protestant lay people, the top priorities were different:

  • 18% would pay off debt.
  • 18% would increase social programs.
  • 17% would use it for new, expanded, or updated church facilities. 

It isn’t bad to have church buildings.  In fact, at Missio Dei we want to have a space on the West Bank so that we can begin to do more intensive ministry on the West Bank (legal and business services to the immigrant population, arts programming for the kids, etc).  But I think St. Mary’s and 1200 Protestant lay people have got their priorities much more in line with Jesus’ concerns than the 500 protestant pastors polled. 

How would you divide up a big chunk of cash in YOUR church?

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2 Responses to “Windfalls for Jesus”

  1. James on May 9th, 2006 11:27 pm

    As a Christian in a Southern Baptist congregation, I think that poll data is accurate. I can honestly say that the majority of the money given in many congregations goes towards internal ‘must pays’ i.e. building, bills, insurance, and salaries. If the giving drops beow 75%-85% on any given week then all the money goes to those ‘must pays’ and the ministry of the congregation is sacrificed.

    In fact, one man said in a business meeting one night that the ‘must-pay’ portions of the budget were the essentials. In other words, salaries, the building, etc. are more important than the ministry of the church. I was shocked and disheartened that we waste so much of our resources on ourselves at the expense of doing the work of the Lord in our community. When I advocated cutting portions of the budget to free up some resources I was basically told not to fight that battle because I would lose.

    What the Methodist congregation did with the donation should be an example to all Christian pastors and laypersons of what self-sacrficing cruciformity looks like. I hope one day that will be the norm as opposed to the norm presented by the polls you cited.

  2. JVD on May 10th, 2006 3:45 pm

    Mark - That is a worthy list that the church used their funds for. I am a HUGE advocate for thinking outside the box and not just buidling bigger church buildings.

    I mean to spend 10 - 50 million dollars on a building, its crazy to me.


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