Church Money Gimmicks (2022) – Dr. James Emery White’s Christian Blog
Webster’s dictionary defines the word thing as “an attention-grabbing device or feature, usually superficial, designed to promote the success of a product, campaign; any clever or cunning little gadget.
Churches use financial gimmicks all the time.
I do not like them. Not just because they are “fanciful,” but because they belittle biblical stewardship.
The heart of biblical stewardship is not complicated.
There are three main truths:
- God owns everything.
- Since God owns everything, He has all the rights as owner, and we operate only in the realm of managerial responsibility. Therefore, the question is not “God, what should I do with my money?” but rather “God, what do You want me to do with Your silver?”
- Every spending decision is a spiritual decision. God cannot be excluded from any transaction.
When it comes to giving, the Bible teaches about tithes and offerings. A dime is 10% of everything we earn, given to God through the local church we are part of. Offerings are those gifts that are given beyond these tithes in connection with special events, projects, or memorials.
The Bible is also full of wisdom about limiting debt, saving for the future, and working hard with our God-given time and talents to maximize our income.
The Bible also offers some basic enforcement principles, like the 10-10-80 principle where the sanest management of our funds is to give 10% to God through the local church, 10% to the savings and then live on the remaining 80%.
Those new to the Christian faith may find it difficult to adjust to the 10-10-80 principle, so my pastoral advice is always to start where you are. If you come to Christ and have financial realities that go against those plans, you should start with a mixture of realism and faith. Start by giving and/or saving 1% (even though it may be sacrificial), then 5%, working your way up to the percentages that will fully honor God and best serve your life.
God cares more about our heart and intention than a legalistic percentage. The amount counts, of course, but only insofar as it reflects a true barometer of our life. That’s why, for many of us, giving 10% is way too little.
(Legalism goes both ways).
This is the essence of biblical stewardship of our finances.
So where does the church money “stuff” lie?
But that hasn’t stopped leaders from using them as shortcuts to true discipleship. Here are four of the most common that I have witnessed:
Many churches give in to the ploy of offering to “tithe back” if God somehow fails to provide for someone after they have paid tithing. In other words, the line is, “Tithe, and if God doesn’t provide for you on the other 90%, we’ll give you back what you’ve given.”
I understand. In Malachi there is a promise that the gifts will never exceed the supply. By using this gimmick, it is the church that stands up and says they are so confident in God’s provision that they will “ensure” your tithe. But that is not discipleship.
Either you trust God or you don’t. Period.
Moreover, the blessing of tithing is so multifaceted that reducing it to a single income is a ridiculous truncation of God’s promise. Value is generosity, not a return on your investment.
Some churches place money envelopes under the auditorium seats. Then, after a conference on giving, they tell those in attendance to reach under their seats and (surprise!) find an envelope of money… say, $20 to $500.
Then, the challenge is launched: they must take this money and invest it for the gain of the Kingdom. Use it for a bake sale or to start a for-profit website. Do something with that money that could pay off. Of course, you can keep it and use it on yourself, but if you trust God, you will find that you can be served – and serve others – at the same time.
I agree with the principle, but the means to teach it?
You can’t trust God now, but we’ll give you “free” money to trust – which doesn’t require any trust – to see if He’s trustworthy?
Again, this does not create followers.
Contractors and bribes
If I had a dime every time someone wanted to promote their business through the church and in the process give the church a bribe, I’d be retired in Palm Beach.
Of course, they don’t throw it so clearly. It is spiritualized.
They frame it all in terms of service to the church and its needs. Their profit is inconsequential, if not irrelevant.
The truth is that many companies actually train their employees to work in church “networks” for profit. They bathe their business in “Christian-ese” to enter trusted communities and hopefully open wallets.
The church is not called to be “in” business like this. God designed it to be funded by the changed hearts of his people and their gifts.
This one will ruffle a few feathers because fundraisers are so common in churches. Especially with groups of young people.
But again, this is not about teaching stewardship. It’s just a fancy gift.
When you go down this path, you go down the path of “designated” offers. That is, a gift that is given for one and only one thing.
“I want to donate this money for…”
… my favorite ministry.
…my favorite employee.
…my favorite project.
…my favorite missionary organization.
The church I pastor does not accept “designated” offerings – we actually refuse them. (Excluded from this are fundraising campaigns and the annual Meck Giving to Christ Christmas offering, which are specific campaigns that we have imposed on ourselves.)
It’s just not healthy.
This is certainly not healthy for the church, which simply cannot function with appointed offerings. (Do you think someone wants to spend their funds on the electric bill?) But in addition, it can be a subtle sign of distrust, unwillingness to follow leadership, or just playing well with others in the bac to sand.
Trust the leaders of the church or not.
To budget or not.
But choosing and choosing where your money is spent is separate from God calling you to be part of a church, to trust God with that church, and to trust the leaders who lead that church in prayer in light of their role ordered.
Financial accountability is important – Meck members vote to approve the church’s annual budget and we have an external accounting firm that conducts an annual audit. So ask for accounts all day, but using designated offerings to try to direct things, to force things, or to enable your agenda is not the mark of a healthy church member, let alone a healthy church community.
After all, nothing about money and church should be fancy.
Even the gift.
James Emery White
This blog was originally published in 2016. The Church and Culture team thought you might like to read it again. We encourage pastors and church leaders to check out the “Finances” post category on Church and Culture to see past series given by James Emery White on giving.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.