How To Give Money Less Power Over Your Church

10 billMoney is in charge of too many of our churches.

We all know about the (so-called) churches, ministers and ministries that are in it for the money, while using their religious exemption to avoid taxes. Those aren’t the ones I’m talking about. I’ll leave them to the Lord and the IRS. (Thankfully, those are far more rare than the anti-church cynics want to believe.)

I’m talking about good churches that want to do great ministry, but their limited finances cause them to make too many decisions based on what they can or can’t afford, instead of what God is calling them to do.

It’s a trap too many good churches find ourselves in. Maybe yours.

There are no easy answers, but in today’s post I want to tell you about a decision my church made over two decades ago that has been a great starting point in allowing us to follow God more and money less.


Put God Back In Charge

What is God calling your church to do?

Open a food bank? Be an evangelistic center? Support missions? Plant other churches?

Then do it!

You don’t have enough money to do it? Do it anyway.

Start small, if you must. But, by all means, start!

Never give money the power over whether-or-not to do ministry. Just figure out how to do it in a way that is financial responsible. What the bible calls good stewardship.

Years ago, our church decided we would never let money be the deciding factor of whether-or-not to do a ministry. But we do use it as one factor in deciding how to do ministry.

By doing so, we’ve avoided making the two biggest mistakes churches regularly make regarding money.

I’ll tell you those mistakes in a moment. But first, here’s an example of how we did ministry when we didn’t have the money to do it.

Today’s post is part of an ongoing series on Money & the Small Church. Click here to read other posts in the series.

Doing Ministry With Little Or No Money

Over a decade ago, teenage skateboarders started showing up in our church parking lot. We saw it as a ministry opportunity coming to us, so we decided to put up ramps for them. But skateboard ramps are expensive and we had no budget for it. Zero.

We knew we were supposed to offer this as a ministry to the teens in our community, so we didn’t let our lack of funds stop us from doing it.

No, we didn’t spend money we didn’t have. That would have violated the Prime Directive of Church Stewardship – never spend more money than you take in. Instead, we prayed that the Lord would help us meet this need.

Then we got to work. We asked around and discovered some churches several miles from us that had stopped doing skateboard ministry and were about to throw their ramps away. Our prayers were answered. Instant – and free! – skateboard ministry. 

If we had waited to raise funds before acting on what we knew we were supposed to do, it might never have gotten off the ground. The old saying is true. Where God guides, he provides. But the Jordan River doesn’t roll back until the priests carrying the ark get their feet wet.

Too many Small Churches make one of two opposite mistakes in this regard. Sometimes they swing wildly between the two.


Mistake #1: Giving veto power over ministries to the accountant, treasurer or budget

In many Small Churches, Jesus in not in charge as much as we’d like to think he is. Neither is the pastor or the congregation. The treasurer or accountant is. Sometimes literally, with a dictatorial hand. I’ve heard from far too many Small Church pastors who feel completely hamstrung in their church because all the power is in the hands of one person who has been given the power of the purse.

Sometimes it’s not one person, but a committee of people. Sometimes it’s just looking at the amount of money that isn’t there and feeling helpless. Either way, the results are the same.

Money is in charge of too many churches.

I believe this is one of the situations Jesus was referring to when he said “you cannot serve God and mammon” (the god of money). Many of us have interpreted that scripture only one way – that rich people will have a hard time getting into heaven.

But I think the god mammon is in charge of many of our financially struggling churches, too. It happens when we decide whether-or-not to do ministry based on whether-or-not we have the money. In too many churches, money is calling the shots and we are serving mammon.

Our budget should never be the deciding factor in doing a ministry God is calling us to do.

But, let’s not swing the pendulum too far to the other side and start spending money we don’t have. Debt puts mammon in charge just as surely as fear does. Which leads us to…


Mistake #2: Ignoring the accountant, treasurer or budget

We’ve all heard the stories of churches and ministries that felt called to do something they couldn’t afford and – voila! – God provided the needed funds after the church “stepped out in faith” by committing and/or spending money they didn’t have.

But that’s not typical. And it’s not faith. It’s getting away with recklessness.

The greater reality is found in all the broken ministers and churches on the other side of those stories. The ones that pledged or spent money they didn’t have, only to lose their ministry because of their foolishness.

More churches have been destroyed by bad stewardship than any other factor. 

For every church that started a ministry they couldn’t afford and saw the money come in after-the-fact, there may be 100 churches that went bankrupt and/or closed their doors when the needed money didn’t materialize.

It didn’t matter how much they believed, or how hard they prayed.

Spending money you don’t have isn’t faith, it’s bad stewardship.


What’s the Alternative?

Jesus asked “if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

Nowhere is that more true than in our handling of church finances – money that has been given to God’s work. When people entrust us with being stewards of their hard-earned tithes and offerings, we have an inescapable obligation to use it for God’s work.

The answer to bad stewardship isn’t more money or more faith. It’s better stewardship.


So what do you think? What ideas have you used to do ministry on a smaller budget?

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($10 Bill photo from elycefeliz • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “How To Give Money Less Power Over Your Church”

  1. Our small church felt called to offer an HIV food and hygiene pantry to the community. We soon discovered we didn’t have the financial resources to keep it going. I told God I had done absolutely everything I could think of, and God’s reply was, “No, you haven’t.” That’s when I realized that I had quite a mailing list of people in the community-at-large who never (or rarely) came to the church but were our allies. I sent a letter out to all of them saying, “Here’s how much it costs to feed a person for a year. Here’s what we purchase to give them. Can you help to feed a person for a year?” Money came pouring in! Now we continue to operate the only HIV pantry in the county and offer the only HIV support groups in the county. So I would say in order to do ministry, (a.) make sure you have built relationships with the community-at-large; (b.) make sure your ministry meets the needs of the community-at-large (instead of what you think the community-at-large needs); and (c.) remain transparent as you appeal to the community-at-large for funding.

  2. This indeed a very fine and difficult balance to achieve and keep. The line between faith and foolishness is sometimes difficult to discern as is the line between stewardship and stinginess. We started out ten years ago with two key guidelines I think have served us well. 1) We tithe on our General Fund income to missions. Always. No matter what else is happening. 2) We worked hard to build a 3-6 month operating fund balance. We’ve chosen to draw it down a couple of times for a ministry opportunity that came along that wasn’t in the budget or to augment the building fund during construction, but we’re committed to the concept and build it back as quickly as possible. We’re still a small church …50 families and average attendance about 100 and we’re in a relatively poor community but God has blessed in miraculous ways on occasion and we have never struggled to pay bills. Thanks for the thoughtful post

  3. Your quote: “But I think the god mammon is in charge of many of our financially struggling churches, too. It happens when we decide whether-or-not to do ministry based on whether-or-not we have the money. In too many churches, money is calling the shots and we are serving mammon.” is absolutely on target!

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