Thinking Out Loud

July 18, 2009

Church Asks Denomination: What Do You Actually ‘Do?’

When Mrs. W. and I got married twenty-plus years ago, we became part of a church in north Toronto which was formed when a breakaway group from the somewhat liberal United Church of Canada decided to embark on something a little more Evangelical, patterned after Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida.    For purposes of identification, they chose to join a very small handful of congregations in something called the “Congregational Christian Churches in Canada,” or “4Cs;” a remnant of the original denomination that had merged with three others in the forming of the United Church.    Years later, when issues such as sexual orientation threatened conservatives in the United Church, many other churches also joined the 4Cs, which was then simply a loose association of churches.

To keep the association running, the church my wife and I had history with contributed $1,500 yearly to its maintenance.

In 2006, the 4cs decided it was time to start being less of a fraternal association and more like a denomination.   Instead of churches providing a token fee, they asked churches, including the one in question, to contribute 3.25 percent of their ‘income’ to the organization.    For this church, that would have hiked the contribution from $1,500 to $7,500; and not seeing where the real ‘value for money’ was to be found, they decided to keep remitting the lesser amount.

In 2008, the denomination — still somewhat invisible to the folks in this congregation — decided to increase the ‘royalty’ payable to the denomination to 5.0 percent.   For this church, this would involve $13,500.   When they remitted $1,500; they received a registered letter (no less) demanding the difference.

“Show us what we’re getting out of this;” they asked.    What follows is sad, hilarious and pathetic all at the same time:

“The 4Cs believe that Good Shepherd [Church] is a financial (sic) sound church and should be able to afford the new fees.  When asked what should be cut in order to pay these fees, the 4Cs suggested that we cut our missions budget.   When asked what value the 4Cs provided to [the church], their response was that other 4Cs churches view the membership fee as “giving back” to God’s Kingdom.   When pressed to provide a more tangible example of how the 4Cs is contributing to the Kingdom of God, the answer was that the national pastor assists churches in trouble.   When pressed to further justify why we should cut our giving to our missionaries, who provide tangible insight into how they are contributing to God’s Kingdom, there was no reasonable explanation.”

June 21/09 congregational letter
Good Shepherd Community Church, Toronto

Yes, it’s true.   They actually suggested that this church cut their missions budget by over $13,000 to pay the denominational membership fee.   Arrrrrrrgh!

Americans reading this may not get the issue, but independent churches are somewhat of a rarity up here.   This church will take the next 6-24 months to find another body whose label it can attach to the front of the building.    Perhaps they will chose to go it alone.     The vote not to increase the budget to pay the fee was unanimous.

Groups that bring oversight and accountability to local churches can be a good thing.  They can mobilize national initiatives and missions programs that individual assemblies can’t do on their own.  They can provide arbitration to churches facing issues, and both guidelines and candidates for churches seeking new pastors and associate staff.

Or they can be a big bureaucracy that sucks revenue out of local churches.

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