Faith and Financial Recklessness

by Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

I personally believe that if a church project is of God, the money will be there to make it happen.  Throughout history, God has done miraculous things to further the kingdom, so shouldn’t we believe that will happen in our church projects?  Some have labeled this idea as “taking a leap of faith.”

I’m torn, though, when I read stories of churches that began a project without the money to finish that ended with tragic financial outcomes.  Was the project not of God?  Did those churches not have enough faith?

Some churches begin building projects with donor pledges covering the amount not already raised.  In most cases these pledges are a legally binding contract.  What if the donor loses his or her job?  What if the donor passes away?  Does the church really want to get into a legal battle with a church member?  But what if the church really needs that money to survive?

Karl Vaters of ChristianityToday.com states that “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.”  Wow!  That should give any church leader pause before starting a project.

Christians are called to be good stewards of the resources God has given them.  For me, the key words in that statement are “God has given them.”  Is it possible to be a good steward of something God hasn’t given you?  Vaters goes on to state that “spending money you don’t have isn’t faith, it’s bad stewardship.”

Can we take a cue from Luke 14:28-30 (NIV)?  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”  Although Jesus was talking about counting the cost of discipleship, this passage also makes sense in counting the cost of starting a new ministry.

Let me re-examine my first statement: if the project is of God, the money will be there to make it happen.  Yes, the order is correct in this sequence: “the money will be there” comes first.  “To make it happen” comes second.

I’m not arguing against congregations taking out a mortgage on their church properties; some would label buying a church building as investing rather than spending.  Counting the cost does mean discerning questions like these (and others) ahead of time:

  • Have the church leaders counted the cost before taking that leap of faith?
  • What is the percentage of the mortgage to the value of the property? Is it a sound financial move?
  • Did you seek wisdom and advice from others outside your congregation?
  • What is the plan should the funds needed for completing the project dry up or funds in-hand not be enough to make the next payment?
  • Have you put too heavy of a financial burden on your own members?
  • As a last resort, can the congregational survive losing its building?