Every church goes through lean times financially. Four years ago it was our turn.1 Our church treasurer came to me with the bad news. “Pastor, as you know, we have been falling behind on our bills each month for several years. Our church is now financially broke. We can’t even pay the utilities bill this month. What are we supposed to do?” But today, four years later, all our bills are paid, we have a reserve fund of four months’ expenses, and our tithe two years ago was almost twice what it was four years ago. When people ask how we did it, I tell them that only the Lord can reverse a downward spiral like that, but there were three key ways we learned to cooperate with Him.
CLARIFY YOUR CONCEPTS
I had heard all the excuses for why churches struggle financially. “The economy isn’t as strong.” “The church has a changing, poorer demographic.” “Millennials don’t support local churches—just the projects they like.” “People are going to give their tithe where they want to give it.” I determined to replace these ideas with clear, Bible-based concepts and show the church leaders and congregation a better way.
• Emphasize the distinction between tithe and offerings.Much of the Christian world does not recognize the Bible’s distinction between tithe and offerings. Tithe is the first 10 percent of our income that we give to Jesus and His workers around the world to show our trust in Him. We do this by releasing it from our control and giving it to the world tithe fund.2 Offerings, however, are any amount of our income or possessions that we give to Jesus’ work (locally, regionally, globally) to show our love for Him (Mark 14:3–9).
• Emphasize the spiritual blessings of giving. When talking about returning tithe and giving offerings, talk about the blessings of God. He created everything (Gen. 2:1–3; Exod. 20:8–11; Rev. 14:6, 7), so He owns everything (Ps. 24:1), including all the money in the world (Hag. 2:8). He gives us the sunshine and the rain (Matt. 5:45). He gives us every breath we breathe and every heartbeat (Acts 17:25). He gives us the ability to gain wealth (Deut. 8:18). He even gave His own Son to die for our sins (John 3:16; Rom. 6:23). He wants us to learn to trust Him in every part of our lives (Prov. 3:5–8; Matt. 6:25–34), even in the most sensitive areas such as money. He asks us to test Him so He can open the windows of heaven to us (Mal. 3:10), reduce our expenses and financial losses (Mal. 3:11), and use us to bless others (Mal. 3:12). Generous giving is a way to express that our hearts belong to Jesus (Matt. 6:19–21; 2 Cor. 8:1–5; 9:6–8). When done with a heart full of love, it is actually a way to become more like Jesus.
• Emphasize “how to” more than “ought to.” Many sermons and offering appeals tell people they “ought to” return tithe and give offerings but rarely tell the stories of “how to” respond to God’s goodness. We determined that our stewardship sermons and offering calls would primarily be testimonies by church leaders and members, including children and youth, of how God was blessing homes, families, and individuals, and how they were responding to God’s goodness financially. Some members share a brief story of how they gave their first tithe or offering.
SOLICIT AND ACT UPON WISE COUNSEL
Our church was so financially challenged, we needed a team to provide wise counsel and assistance.
• Financial ministries team. I asked our treasurer to recommend a group of faithful givers that the church board might vote as our financial ministries team. We met with the team, as soon as possible, to brainstorm as many options as possible on how to correct our situation. We prayerfully discussed options and voted each one up or down. I could see our team gelling together as we prayed, listened, shared, voted, and came to a unified consensus. We determined to meet each month to review where we were at financially and to pray for the spiritual and financial prosperity of our church and its families.
• Church board. We took our plan to the church board where, again, it was prayed over, discussed, modified slightly, then voted on and adopted. Church-board mentors3 filled out commitment cards. It was easy to find unity because everyone who serves on the church board must return tithe and give at least something regularly to the local church budget.
• Entire congregation. Finally we took the plan to the church family on a Sabbath morning
SIMPLIFY YOUR SYSTEMS
Through the years we had developed some bad financial habits as a church that made giving more and more complex and did not really inform our congregation of our overall financial situation. In our discussions with the financial ministries team and church board, we knew we needed to simplify our systems to make it easier for people to become consistent givers and fully aware of how we were doing as a church family.
We made these decisions.
• Simplify loose offering. All loose offering will always go to the conference-designated offering for that Sabbath (world, conference, local) with no exceptions. We believe this builds confidence in our integrity as being a part of the global Adventist Church family.
• Simplify ways to commit. A church cannot have an aggressive education and evangelism program on just loose offerings. There needs to be consistent giving by a growing number of people. We asked everyone to prayerfully commit to one of these three levels of commitment each year. When they turned in a commitment card, we sent them a confirmation letter congratulating them on their decision.
» Moses’ 70 (Numbers 11) = Givers who will give 10 + 10, or 20 percent of their income in this way: 10 percent tithe plus 10 percent local church budget offerings.
» Gideon’s 300 (Judges 7) = Givers who will give tithe (10 percent) plus $70 a month or more to local church budget.
» Widow’s Mites (Luke 21) = Givers who give tithe (10 percent) plus anything monthly to local church budget.4
• Simplify communication to church family on ways to give.We changed the way we informed the congregation about our financial situation. Every week you will see an update like this in the church bulletin and e-newsletter. This was for Sabbath, April 25, 2015.
» July 2014–June 2015
» Tithe to date: $1,174,632.82
» Local church budget
• Yearly budget: $569,933.00
• Given last week: $17,487.67
• Given to date: $486,188.11
• Needed to date: $460,330.50
» Ways to give
• Offering plate
• Drop box in church lobbies5
• Mail to church office
• Give online (RichardsonSDA.org)6
» Please remember to fill out your tithe and offerings in a tithe envelope. Thanks!
On the fourth Sabbath each month, I also take a few minutes before I preach to share a simple financial stewardship principle, thought, or testimony of God’s blessings.
PRESENTING THE PLAN
Our church finances are now strong. But I remember that Sabbath morning three years ago when, before I preached, I took about ten minutes.
“I have a difficult announcement I need to make this morning. Our church is financially broke. Our treasurer tells us that we don’t even have enough money to pay our utilities bill. But I have good news and bad news for you. The good news? There is plenty of money to take care of all the facilities and ministries and Adventist education and soul winning God has called us to take care of. The bad news is that it is in your bank accounts!” I said with a smile.
I continued, “I believe that it is God’s plan for each of our families and our church family to live within our means and to prosper financially. God wants all of us to pay our bills and to build up a little reserve in case of emergencies. We can all learn this together if we haven’t learned it yet. This becomes vitally important whether we are old or young, rich or poor.
“I’d like each of you to take a tithe and offering envelope from the seat back in front of you and hold it up. Whenever we receive money from pay or as a gift, we need to remember that all of it belongs to Jesus. He has given it to us to learn how to manage it for His honor and glory. He calls each of us to be faithful in returning tithe, our first ten percent, to Him by releasing it to the world tithe fund. Do you see the line marked ‘Tithe’ on the envelope? That’s where we put the first ten percent. If I receive ten dollars, then one dollar goes to tithe. If I receive one thousand dollars, then one hundred dollars goes to tithe.
“Someone might say, ‘But what if the conference misuses my tithe?’ That is God’s business, and He will deal with them if they are unfaithful. Someone else may say, ‘I send my tithe to ADRA’ or ‘Amazing Facts’ or ‘the church school.’ But that isn’t really tithe—that is a ten percent offering. Money only becomes God’s tithe when it is fully released from our control to the ‘storehouse’ where it is distributed to pay for God’s workers around the world.
“Besides tithe, the Lord invites us to give offerings as He blesses us. With our Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church family, practically all of our local expenses for ministries, church school, soul winning, and facilities are paid for from the local church budget. Do you see that line on the envelope? We’re inviting each of you, after returning tithe, to give generously and regularly to the local church budget.
“Now look at the card in your bulletin that says ‘Count Me In.’ It is a commitment card. Your church leaders are inviting you to seriously pray this week and ask the Lord what level of commitment He wants you to make this year. If your situation changes, then you might need to adjust your level, but ask Him what it should be right now, and He will let you know. We are inviting you to fill in the card and turn it in the next Sabbath or two as an act of faith.
“There are three levels of commitment—Moses’ 70, Gideon’s 300, and the Widow’s Mite. After prayer I have personally committed to being one of Moses’s 70, committed to returning ten percent tithe plus giving another ten percent to local church budget. I’ve already been doing this for several years and have never gone hungry. But if I were hungry, I know I could come to any of your homes and eat! And any of you who make a commitment—if you don’t have enough to eat, you let any of us on the church board know, and we’ll make sure you get some food. We can truly help each other. Let’s see what God does with our difficult situation.”
I then had prayer and preached my regular sermon message. And God has done what only God can do. He has blessed us to grow in faith, finances, and preparation for His imminent return.
1 This experience happened at the Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas in 2012–2014.
2 For more on the concept of the “storehouse” and the giving of tithe, see the articles at “Site,” Biblical Research Institute, www.adventistbiblicalresearch .org/search/site/storehouse.
3 Our church-board members are all called churchboard mentors because their main role is to mentor groups and individuals to help them find success in their walk with Jesus, family and relationships, and ministry and mission in life.
4 All new members (baptisms, professions of faith, transfers) attend a new member’s orientation for two hours (see www.richardsonsda.org/lead). We briefly mention these three levels of commitment and invite new members to pray about what the Lord wants them to do.
5 We installed simple locked drop boxes in each lobby with a sign that says “Tithe, Offerings and Suggestions” and a holder for tithe and offering envelopes, commitment cards, and communication cards. We have recently added a drop box in our Kids’ Zone that is lower and includes children’s tithe and offering envelopes.
6 We signed up our church at http://www.adventistgiving.org. At first there was fear of how this would affect cash flow in the transition. But ultimately this has really helped people become more consistent in their giving. The giving form automatically includes tithe plus conference and world giving options. To keep it simple and focused for our local church offerings, we offer only three options—local church budget, North Dallas Adventist Academy student aid, and White Rock Lake campus (a church we are planting).
This article by Dan Serns was published in the June 2016 issue of Ministry Magazine.