Thinking Out Loud

May 17, 2018

Thursday Link List

It’s a great weather day where I live, so for some of you, these are the only links that matter.

A few things seen the day after I would like to have included yesterday. Some of the items below are perhaps of greater interest to people in vocational ministry, but I chose things that I think all of us can connect with. If you missed the bigger list yesterday, click here.

  • Canada’s John Stackhouse guests at Lorna Dueck’s website and looks at the composition of the Willow Creek church board and how the choosing of board members can influence outcomes in situations like the one the church just faced. “From what I could read … the website indicates that the Board of Elders of this large, globally influential church features eight impressive people who are long-time members of Willow Creek and who bring a range of gifts and experiences to the Elder Board. All well and good. Collectively, however, they list not a single year of theological education. Nor do any of them have experience in pastoral ministry.”
  • Egalitarian in theory, but not in practice: Canada’s Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada — the country’s direct equivalent of the Assemblies of God — has been at the forefront of ordaining women and even having women as senior pastors. But it doesn’t always translate into actual positions being granted with what the denom would like to see. So, at this year’s annual conference in Victoria, BC, they affirmed their stance: “Two decades later, we recognize that although our accepted, official position is one of equality between men and women, that position has not translated to reality. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented both as vocational pastors and in governing roles at District and National levels, despite female students consistently attending our Bible Colleges in significant numbers. There is a gap between our official position and our lived reality.”
  • Following up on a link from yesterday, we listened to the most recent John Mark Comer sermon online. If nothing else, listen to the first 5-10 minutes. We also linked yesterday to a piece about “data dumping” where pastors simply unload a great volume of information in a non-academic, church environment. With that in mind, check out how this is done in Comer’s sermon. It’s a friendly, unthreatening approach with an admitted theology “nerd” sharing what he learned and recognizing some people may temporarily tune out. I think however, it’s also the degree of sermon prep which attracts people to his church.
  • Andy Stanley has been the most recent target of the label Marcionite, because of a sermon in the “Aftermath” series wherein he spoke of the first generation church ‘unhitching’ itself from the Old Testament way of doing things. Peter Enns addressed this a few months back, noting that God’s so-called “split personality” isn’t just apparent along the OT/NT divide: “Different portrayals of the one God are self-evident, not simply between the two Testaments but within each Testament. Israel’s Scripture does not present God in one way, but various ways—depending on who is writing, when, and for what reason. Same with the New. This is what keeps theologians so busy, trying to make that diversity fit into a system of some sort.”
  • Staying with the OT for a minute, what is the last book of the Old Testament? Did you say Malachi (the Italian prophet)? “The Bible that Jesus was familiar with, what we now refer to as the Old Testament, did not end with Malachi. In fact, it wasn’t even a single volume book. Rather, it was a collection of separate scrolls that were made to be read as a unified collection, and the book designed as the concluding crown jewel was 1st and 2nd Chronicles! Your favorite book of the Bible, I’m sure.” We don’t know how the change happened but we do know the “The general picture we get from the book is that the long years of Israel’s exile did not fundamentally change the hearts of the people. They’re still in rebellion against God, the temple is corrupted, and it leaves the reader waiting for some kind of resolution.”
  • An Arminian website offers “Five Biblical Texts that Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of.” The outline parallels TULIP, and at the end, they admit their strongest case is made with “L” — an argument against limited atonement.
  • Still continuing with the number ‘5’ an article by a lawyer at Christianity Today offers five things your church should purchase before adding a coffee bar, or making another such purge. (This article may be pay-walled soon.)
  • Got an hour to think about comedy? We listened to this over two nights. Christian stand-up Jon Crist was the guest on The Wally Show (WAY-FM) and they left a camera running in the studio as they recorded the segments.
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December 16, 2016

The Resource Nobody Wanted

Short Stories 2When Pastor Craig and his wife Linda were one of three hundred couples in ministry selected to fly to El Paso last winter to preview a new type of video teaching series, they knew right away it would be a great fit for their church. Churches had two weeks to consider the series and get introductory pricing, but Craig completed the forms signing up on the spot.

The series was a hybrid of every elective the church had offered before rolled into one super-course. The twelve weeks were divided into three weeks each on marriage, parenting, spiritual development and finances; but all interwoven with material from the other sections to form a holistic approach to Christian family life.

Craig’s hunch about the series proved correct. They did registration by families, irrespective of whether one or both spouses would attend, and out of a just-under 500-member church with weekend attendance averaging around 900, he was thrilled when 154 people signed up representing 96 families. In other words, during the course of the 12 weeks, about one in every 6 people in the church were taking the course.

During each session of the videos, there were promotions for something called the Home Resource Kit. While these were available from the same source as the course itself, they were also sold in Christian bookstores. Craig was a bit wary of the $40 per kit price, but when he found a store willing to sell it to him for $30 — albeit non-returnable at that price — he figured about a third of the families would buy-in and committed to 32 kits.

The 96 families paid a $29 fee which covered the cost of buying the videos, renting a neutral auditorium in the community and also having coffee and snacks. A future showing of the series would someday put the church ahead financially. But immediately Craig saw that selling the Home Resource Kit was going to be a challenge. About half of the people really didn’t think the teaching offered anything new, although they stuck it out with only a handful dropping out. But the other half felt the course material was so helpful that no further aid was needed.

So Craig cut the price to $25 with the church taking a loss of $5 on each kit, but again found himself with no — as in zero — interest in owning the home kit. When he cut it to $20, it soon became apparent to everyone that he was holding a fire sale, which resulted in him finally announcing in week twelve that if there were families that would commit to using the resource kit, they could have it for free. All but a couple of the kits were then claimed; after all, the price was right.

church-budgetBut there was this small matter of the bill for the 32 kits, which was over $1,000.00 with State Tax. The problem was, that while Craig and Linda had gushed over the course and got the church finance committee to approve the cost of the seminar series at the last minute — confident that it would be recovered — there had never been a budget approval for the resource kit purchase; and in their denomination, purchases over $500 needed to be pre-authorized.

While $1,000 in a 500-member church averaging 900 people per weekend may not seem like much to you or me, this was a church that took their finances seriously and there was considerable discussion that the pastor had acted unilaterally without going through what is, in church governance, called process.

So Pastor Craig found himself the target of a very upset group of board members on a Thursday night just two weeks after the course had ended — they quickly named another similar transgression a year earlier which apparently they had quietly voted to overlook — to the point where he started to reach in his wallet for a blank check before realizing this was the very day of the month the payment for his daughters braces was due to come out of the account…

So what do you think? Was this expense, not covered by a line item in the church budget, the unforgivable sin? Was there not a reasonable expectation that participants would purchase the Home Resource Kits? Should Pastor Craig pay this out of his own pocket just to keep the peace? Also, why did Craig and Linda stay an extra night in El Paso? And how will Max the dog communicate effectively to the church finance committee that little Timmy has fallen down the well behind the church parking lot?

 

March 19, 2015

Why Are We Still Using Offering Envelopes?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

Today’s article first appeared in the October issue of The Anglican, a newspaper for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Author Norah Bolton gave us permission to use it here, for which I am grateful because I have been trying to get this message across to a church in my area for a long time, a church which has a particularly young demographic, and they just don’t see it. So thanks, Norah for being a fresh voice on this subject.


envelope

What’s in your wallet? It might be fun to see what is there right now?

When I tried it, mine contained: Two $20’s, 2 loonies1, 8 quarters, 8 dimes, 3 nickels, a debit card and two credit cards – and a bunch of loyalty cards – some of which haven’t been used in years.

When you attend a church on a Sunday as a visitor, what would you be prepared to put on a collection plate from your wallet? What else might you need to hold back as cash for today or tomorrow? Lunch? Subway tickets? The kids’ pizza day at school?

I thought about this when our parish treasurer received a bill of $500.00 this week for a reprint of pew envelopes and, as warden2, I had to sign the cheque. Open collection is also down this year in our parish.

It will take 25 donations of $20 just to recover those costs. We will then issue a receipt on paper that will include a thank you card, a printed receipt, an envelope and a stamp now costing $1.00 to finish the transaction. So let’s make that 26 to 27 donations at least. That doesn’t include the volunteer counters’ time.

It will take 50 donations of $10 to recover the cost.

It will take 100 donations of $5.

It does not include those attractive pew envelopes hanging on the hooks used for other purposes and wasted – note taking, drawing, paper airplanes. We won’t recover those costs at all – but we will still pay.

In other words, we are using a system designed for another century – and we are spending time in committees discussing whether the colour of the band on the side of the pew envelopes should be red to match a recent brochure or blue to match the signs on the outdoor notice boards – rather than noticing how the world is changing.

We are also assuming that some of the users of the envelopes are potential parishioners, who will fill in the printed copy on the envelopes, when many folks are potential one time “friends” at best. They might or might not ever attend again. They might or might not have a pen in their pockets or purses to fill in the information on the pew envelope either. Some of the envelopes put on the collection plate are blank.

So maybe it’s time to re-frame the conversation.

How do people pay for things now – including making on-site donations?

img 031915I’ll use myself as an example. All my banking is now online. I pay for utilities, groceries, residential fees and taxes, car payments and monthly contributions to the parish via direct debit from my current account – and make two transfers a month to pay my credit card balances in full. Nearly all other purchases are paid via those credit cards – some as monthly deductions including the diocesan capital campaign – and others when I buy online. (The points I earn on one card add up to a free flight a year; on the other it brings me occasional cash deductions). I still have a small business account which receives the odd bit of income from an online order site. I have a line of credit to cover emergencies and a savings account to hold occasional surpluses. I make withdrawals of cash – usually to buy subway tokens – the withdrawal is always $60 in multiples of $20.

Sometimes the cash sits in my wallet for most of the month – but it is there for an emergency. I visited another church recently and didn’t really want to donate $20 but it was all I had in bills and I wasn’t keen to drop a bunch of change.

I donate to my college and TVO3 via their websites. I contribute to another warden’s charity walk online too – and get the tax receipts right away. I read my bank statements on my laptop, tablet or phone.

I’m a senior. Am I typical of my own demographic? How about a younger one? My guess is that the laptop is the least used device for the 20-50 crowd, and I look at the passengers on the subway car, it’s all about the phone.4

So here is the challenge: How are we going to encourage visitors5 to make one-time donations when they visit a parish church on a Sunday – in a way that works for them, not us?

The method does have to maintain confidentiality, be secure and allow us to obtain their basic information, issue a tax receipt and have enough information to thank the donor appropriately.

I think it’s time that churches begin this conversation. How about you?


1Affectionate term for Canada’s $2 coins
2Warden is (I believe) one of the highest offices in the Anglican Church open to the laity
3Equivalent to donating to PBS or NPR in the US
4A large church in west Toronto, which has been using a point-of-sale terminal for several years, has now set up a program where people can give through their phone. Many do this as the offering plates are being passed.
5While Norah’s article points to visitor donations, in many Evangelical churches right now visitors are actually discouraged from making contributions. My own take on this is that a point-of-sale terminal should be available to regular attenders, and I’ve seen this work in other churches. The machines cost to a church or charity is under $35/month, and they can be used for things other than tithing, such as paying for an upcoming youth or women’s retreat. The church I mentioned in the introduction also has a Daycare, with which they could split the terminal’s cost.

March 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

This isn't related to anything that follows, it's just here... because.

This isn’t related to anything that follows, it’s just here… because.

Featured Links

Passivity, Submission, Bullying and Christian Womanhood – “As I grew up, I watched my Christian mother take a lot of emotional and verbal abuse…from my father and my older siblings, from people at church, her own siblings (my aunts and uncles), and neighbors. My mother rarely stood up for herself when she was treated poorly… I was also being taught to bottle up all my anger and never speak up on my own behalf, if mistreated. I was taught that the bully’s feelings were more important than my own… After many decades of living like this, when I got to adulthood I had no clue how to deal with conflict…Sometimes it took weeks, months, or years before I even recognized that I was being used or being treated poorly by someone because my mother (and Christian literature, sermons, Christian books, magazine articles, etc) had taught me to never think about myself, my feelings, or my needs, but to be intently ‘outward-focused,’ always striving to meet other people’ s needs because to do anything less was supposedly ‘selfish.’…I also had no skills or practice at how to handle conflict. I was taught that conflict was to be avoided, Christian women ought not to debate or argue with anyone nor to be assertive for any reason. This left me vulnerable to being picked on in adulthood with adult predators, as well as being mistreated as a kid by other kids …Many well-meaning Christians and churches unfortunately encourage girls and women to be this way, to think it is pleasing to God, or that God commands all women to be this way…”

Crafting the Best Sermons – Two links here; first an experienced pastor explains his decision to go back to writing full manuscripts: “I’ve found that if I don’t manuscript, I’m not capable of producing the kind of sermon that will live up to the kind of church that we want to see planted.” And then, the practical: “In the old days, before church planting, I’d devote four mornings a week to sermon preparation. On Monday and Tuesday I’d work on exegesis; on Wednesday and Thursday I’d begin to craft a sermon from the exegesis. I now do the same thing, except on one day: Thursday.”

Engaging the Culture: An Open Letter to Hozier, composer of Take Me To Church – “I had to find out more about you to understand why someone would write such lyrics. According to interviews you seem to have animus toward the Catholic Church and definitely an issue with Russia’s laws against homosexuals. Still to indict all of Christianity seems quite harsh. It is worth noting you wrote this song when you were only 22-years-old. Your fellow Irish rocker Bono has arrived at a very different view of the Church and Christianity with a few more years of life experience. Maybe given some time and a few more interactions with Christ followers you might have a change of heart.”

The Weather Impacts Church Revenues – “‘You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs,’ Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England, told the Associated Press. She told the news service that the financial toll might force some of the 60 Presbyterian churches in the region to close. Other denominations and religions told the AP of similar predicaments.”

Dawkins: Your Devotional Time with the Kids is Child Abuse  – “Richard Dawkins has said that children need to be protected from ‘religious indoctrination’ by their parents. The prominent atheist claimed that being brought up in a religious household prevents young people from being ‘properly educated’. Professor Dawkins, a well known evolutionary biologist, has previously caused outrage by remarking that teaching a child orthodox Christian beliefs about life after death is tantamount to ‘child abuse’.”

And Now for Something Completely Different – You don’t have to know exactly what Biblical Philology is to appreciate the self-congratulatory nature of this academic’s knowledge of the original sacred texts.

Don’t Fund-Raise Your Missions Trip on Social Media Alone – “It won’t be enough to just promote your mission trip through social media platforms. Fundraising will cost you time, work, money, and personal comfort. Be careful not to go the path of least resistance. Social media is the easiest way to get the word out to lots of people at once, but easy doesn’t always mean effective. Don’t shy away from the hard work of communicating with individuals, organizing events, doing extra jobs, and all kinds of other creative ways people have come up with missionary support.”

Museum of the Bible – “When it opens in late 2017, just about every aspect of the planned Museum of the Bible – the building materials, doorways and common areas – is intended to bring to mind the Holy Land or stories from the Bible itself. Hobby Lobby president Steven Green, in search of a home for his museum, purchased the building for $50 million… in Washington, D.C., located a few blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall.”

A Crisis in Cosmology – A new film, The Principle is now showing in selected markets and available for presentation in your city. “Dark Energy as we call it is the greatest mystery in all of creation.” “Science has said you must stay over in this category here, you’re not to go over into the God category, because that’s going to destroy our science.” “You can go on websites…NASA has started to take down stuff that might hint to a geocentric universe.” “We find ourselves in a part of the universe that is perfectly tuned to life.”

Quest Church Purchases the former Mars Hill Ballard – Eugene Cho writes, “No one could have imagined the situation at Mars Hill turning out the way that it turned out. When we first heard that the building would be available on the market, we met with their team and they expressed their desire to sell to a church if possible. They received a total of 10 offers – 9 from developers with tenants in tow and one from Quest. We weren’t the highest offer but we offered flexible conditions. They were true to their word for which we are grateful.”

The Worst Book Ever Written About Jesus –  Sadly, books like this are far too common, and often appear shelved at Barnes & Noble next to works more worthy of respect. Customers lacking discernment don’t know the difference. “For example, the authors argue that a celibate man in first-century Galilee would have been shocking, so Jesus must have been married. While overstated, we can follow their intended logic. But they also maintain throughout the book that Jesus’ marriage was so scandalous that it had to be covered up. So which was it? Was Jesus’ sexuality scandalous to his first followers or not?”

Frank Viola, The Songwriter – Who knew? And the song is good, though the tune is borrowed. border

Short Takes

Chris Rice once asked, "What if cartoons got saved?" Now Dan Pagoda asks, "What if cartoons were pastors?" Click the image to see all five.

Chris Rice once asked, “What if cartoons got saved?” Now Dan Pegoda asks, “What if cartoons were pastors?” Click the image to see all five.

 

 

October 30, 2014

Church Tech Gear: Feeding the Bottomless Pit

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-Design

Who’s up for some adventure?

Your mission Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to get at least 30 churches of varying size to grant you access to their budgets for the last 30 years.  Your job is to pinpoint how much churches are spending on tech-related equipment for the worship center, sanctuary, main auditorium or whatever you call the place where people now are led in worship by bands using the latest in-ear monitoring systems, the loudest amplification and the brightest spotlighting and back-lighting that money can buy; all while lyrics, sermon theme teaser videos and message slides project on one or more screens. Don’t forget those broadcast-quality cameras, the licenses to show video clips and words to songs, and the software that allows parishioners to stream the service live or watch later on-demand.

Then, if those churches will allow you, dig deeper than the budgeted amounts and percentage increases over the years, and find out what equipment was purchased, how long it lasted, and how much of it was, by the mutual agreement of all concerned, trashed prematurely because something better came along. Or how much of that gear is still sitting in back rooms and storage closets without even so much as a yard sale or eBay offering that would at least contribute an offset to present spending.

Churches are spending a whole lot of money these days on technology-related stuff, and we haven’t begun to touch what’s being spent on word processing and communications in the church office, or tech spending on the place where children and teens gather. (Fortunately, except for parent paging systems, the nursery has been spared the hi-tech assault, at least I think so, my kids are well past that stage.)

As in government or charity work, everyone’s money is no-one’s money, and waste and inefficiencies abound. My point is that churches are quite capable of screwing up the stewardship process from within, so they don’t need problems coming from outside.

But that’s just what is happening.

For the second time, churches now face a round of having to replace cordless microphones and monitoring system because, for the second time, the FCC is proposing to auction off a section of the UHF spectrum in 2016 in which those devices operate.  This would render more equipment useless; a situation that some churches are still recovering from financially, not to mention community arts groups and private clubs and concert venues.

Are not landfills in the United States already overflowing with television sets rendered obsolete by the conversion to digital TV?

A petition asking the FCC to reconsider this has only two weeks — until November 12th — left to collect signatures.  You can sign the petition, and then forward this, or the article below, to the tech people in your church, your church finance and budget committee, and the musicians on your worship teams.

Read more about this at Technologies for Worship website


Ethics question: Should the winners of the frequency auction, if it happens, be forced to compensate microphone and wireless equipment owners.


Graphic image: From a recent article at Church Stage Design website.

December 29, 2013

Fantasy Financing: Church Edition

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Dollars and Ministry

In the small town we live, several years ago I identified 38 “worshiping groups” locally and in the surrounding area, and set out to experience worship at 33 of them, in most cases attending more than a single service. Because of my work, I also am closely attuned to what’s currently going on in our local churches.

I also have an over-active imagination. In one of my fantasies, a tall distinguished looking man walks into my place of business wearing a suit. That in itself would be a rarity in a town that super-casual part of the world where only the funeral director wears a jacket with matching pants and tie.

The well-dressed man explains that he wants to invest a large amount — somewhere between one-and-two-hundred thousand dollars in the ministry of local churches in our region. He then asks me to identify some needs and tell him how to divide the pie. So as the fantasy continues, I get to play God with money that’s not my own; though I also get to apply knowledge as to the needs in our area.

Now the fantasy isn’t an obsession, but I’ve played this mental game several times over the years and each time the dividing takes a slightly amended form. There’s one or two ministries that are consistently at the top of my list, both in terms of need and the impact of their ministry in our community. And to be honest, there’s a few that are consistently near the bottom because either the need isn’t great or nobody’s being impact.

There’s also a few that I can’t guaranty will be around in five years. True, there are some things they’re doing now, but I’m assuming the well-attired gentleman in my fantasy wants to make a ministry investment. It also needs to be said that a huge amount of money that is suddenly dropped into a church’s balance sheet can actually have a devastating effect. So although I don’t write anything down, I know my list changes somewhat over time.

Generally speaking though, I think many of the local churches in my area would be thrilled that they got mentioned in my visit with the stranger in town with the deep pockets.

The other day, while was doing something completely unrelated, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a major flaw in my fantasy.  The flaw is this: Money isn’t the answer for whatever challenges your church is facing. Yes, a financial shortfall may require adjustments, but at the end of the day, someone passing through town with a large bank draft made out to your church doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference to the day-to-day ministry of the place where you worship.

It would be nice. It’s a fun fantasy. But the churches in your area simply need more people who will take their faith seriously and then two things will happen. You’ve heard the phrase, “Follow the money.” I offer you this one, “Money will follow.” If ministry is taking place, people will respond without promptings and urgings and money won’t be a problem. Secondly, the church will grow, and there will be more people contributing.

If your church (or parachurch organization) operates on an “If only we had…” basis, then by all means, start your own financing fantasy. But ultimately, I think God uses our congregations most when we aren’t sitting with budgetary surplus, flush with cash. On the other hand, if you own a nice suit and a large checkbook…you know how to contact me.

November 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Biblical Disaster

Our opening graphic, “Biblical Disaster,” is from an Auckland, New Zealand artist, Glenn Jones.  Click the link to see more.   Our closing graphic is proof that some book covers are simply funnier in Spanish.

Once again, we continue our symphony of shortcuts to articles and stories you may have missed. BTW, I do check comments both at my blog and Out of Ur; so let me know what you think of the mid-week madness. 

Click to read this week’s links at Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today.

The rest of the week, Paul Wilkinson rants at Thinking Out Loud, and assumes a much more pious posture at Christianity 201.

Spanish - When Donkeys Talk - Tyler Blanski

March 1, 2012

Warning Signs: Your Church May Be Dying

Blog Crime in Progress:  I want everybody to read this, so it’s here in full, but give credit traffic where credit traffic is due and read this at Trey Morgan’s blog.

You may have already read these, but according to Barna, 3500-4000 churches close their doors every year… AND recently the Christian Chronicle just published a report saying that in the past nine years that church attendance has dropped by more than 100,000.

Just a few days ago I visited with a man that was very concerned about the church where he was attending. His exact words were, “We’re dying and the sad things is … some don’t care, and the others don’t know what to do about it!” He and I got to talking about some of the signs they were seeing that pointed to their church dying out. We made quite a list, and of course a few were tongue-in-cheek. I thought I might share a few with you today. Of course I’m no church growth expert, but I’d bet that most are generally true.  So, here are “17 Signs your Church may be Dying.”

  1. If your church does nothing to reach the community where it is located.
  2. If your church believes doing church is something that takes place inside the walls of the building on Sundays and Wednesdays … instead of outside the walls in the community during the week.
  3. If your church’s sermons are issue oriented or not relevant, instead of being relationship centered and Jesus focused.
  4. If your church is afraid of change, making changes and taking risks.
  5. If the only thing your community knows about your church is where it’s located.
  6. If the only thing that seems alive in your worship service is the greenery at the front of the auditorium.
  7. If the song you sing most on Sundays is, “Tis so sweet to Rust in Jesus,” or something close to it.
  8. If your worship is quiet because there are no children.
  9. If the only new members that are ever added to your church are people who have moved into the area … instead of people from your community.
  10. If your church is content with just keeping its heads above the water.
  11. If your church is out of touch with the current generation.
  12. If your church’s leadership’s motto is, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” 
  13. If your church has money in the bank that could be used to reach the lost and serve the poor, but it’s being saved for a rainy day or an emergency.
  14. If your church’s biggest fear is criticism.
  15. If your church’s leadership doesn’t set the tone, and is more concerned with supporting the system than shepherding the people.
  16. If your church promotes outreach as an option and not a necessity.
  17. If your church lives in the past not in the present.

Honestly … It makes me sad that the topic of churches dying is even a topic that is trending…

~Trey Morgan

November 25, 2011

Unlike Keyboard, Piano Story Probably Not Black and White

I can already hear the cries of, “But, Paul; you don’t understand the big picture; there’s another side to this you have to consider.”

So let’s begin with the facts.  St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto, Canada recently paid $100,000 for a Bosendorfer grand piano. 

Actually, that’s not fact, either.  The price of the piano was at least $100,000, but the exact amount is protected by a non-disclosure agreement by both the church and the vendor, Robert Lowry Piano Experts, also of Toronto. 

But can the church keep the secret?  By law, sometime in the spring the church has to have an annual meeting; copies of the budget need to be distributed and the purchase price of the piano should be there, in black and white for all to read.

Unless it’s buried in another budget item.  Last month, a Toronto Star piece on this musical spending spree noted that superior instruments of this caliber (or calibre as we spell it here) can go for up to $240,000. 

Some context:  St. Andrew’s is not a megachurch.  A survey of 1,000 churchgoers in the greater Toronto metropolitan area might, if we’re lucky, reveal 50 people who could place the church on a map or among a list of church images. 

Unless we asked a specifically downtown crowd.  The church is located in the heart of the financial district and also just a block from Toronto’s gallery of live theaters (or theatres, as we spell it here; noticing a trend?) on King Street West, not to mention across the road from Roy Thompson Hall.  Perhaps both arts-minded and wealthy business patrons require excellence in their musical instruments, and this church does host the occasional concert, and wanted a piano that any self-respecting pianist would desire to play.

However, walk a mile in almost any direction from this church or any other downtown church and you’ll find examples of poverty.  Two miles and you’ll find shelters and missions and soup kitchens.  The question is not, “How could the church spend $100,000 on a piano?”  There were after all donations as part of a two-year fundraising campaign.  The better question is, “How can a church justify having a $100,000 piano in the present economic climate?” 

It just seems a little out of touch with times we live in. But then this strikes at the heart of times we live in; where examples of grotesque wealth of the few exist side-by-side examples of gross poverty of the many. 

You’d think someone would see this and stage a protest or something.

August 13, 2011

Trend Toward Part-Time Church Staff Raises Other Issues

With declining attendance figures, and a tight economy, many mid-sized and smaller churches are moving toward models involving part-time or bi-vocational staff.  But what does this trend mean in terms of the training that church staff committees look for in a candidate?  Normally, in any profession, one sees a full-time position as the payoff for a four year investment in college or university courses.  While one could argue that theological study is its own reward, certainly in economic terms, it doesn’t make sense to invest those years if the resultant job is only 20-30 hours per week.  And while Christian institutions of higher learning are increasingly offering specialized courses in urban ministry, student ministry, or worship ministry; these positions are most vulnerable to reduced hours or even elimination when money isn’t there.

If post-secondary education for ministry development is peaking, what happens to an entire Christian magazine industry that has budgeted vast amounts of income from advertising to Christian colleges, universities and seminaries?  I know that may seem cynical, but those adverts in those glossy periodicals are indicative of the vast amounts that have been historically spent on recruiting students.   Most Christian colleges have been in a growth mode for several decades as prosperity has allowed more people to pursue education beyond high school.  But if the economy slows and churches are cutting back available job hours, it means these institutions could see themselves facing years of decline.

Do you know anyone in ministry who has recently had their hours cut? Or lost their job completely due to the economy and/or church attendance issues?   Continue the discussion by looking at a Canadian study at ChristianWeek.org.

 

Photos: Cross Island Chapel in Oneida, New York has turned up on this blog before, but the one in Drumheller, Alberta was new to us!

 

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