Christianity is big business these days. All you have to do to make money is keep up with the current trends (WWJD, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Prayer of Jabez, etc.) and make products to suit. Somebody will buy them. And you don't even have to go to the Christian bookstore. You can sell them right there at church. We have a bookstore and a coffee bar right here where you can put your trinkets in a little dish on the counter to sell. Somebody is sure to see them when he stops to pick up a WWJD pen or a large mocha before church.
So where is the line drawn between the youth group doing a bake sale to raise money to go to youth retreat and setting up a department store in the foyer? Uncle George is selling watermelons after church to raise money for foreign missions. Does that mean it is okay to open a computer store in a spare sunday school room, if the profits are going to church uses? Shoot, we could partner with Starbucks and Walmart and let them open little branch offices, if they will split the profits. It's for a good cause, right?
For the record I'm not hard-line against selling anything at church or selling anything related to Christianity. I have a lot of respect for the hypothetical Uncle George for spending his time to raise money for foreign missions, and I hope the youth group gets all they need for the trip... and I sure hope there's a chocolate chess pie at their bake sale.
But where do we draw the line?
Please note I am not saying we should be drawing any lines for anybody else. Every church needs to make these decisions for themselves. But it is something I think we all need to think about, because we need to know where that line is in our own lives, in our own churches. If your church proposes a new coffee bar to the side of the fellowship hall, where will you stand on it?
We have a coffee bar at Church and it offers free coffee and donuts with a mixture of other pastries. I think we are having a cake auction for the youth later this month.
I have heard stories from my missionary friend about people in Kenya who walk several miles just to hear the gospel. There is no promise of refreshments or anything. So, things like this have me wondering why we nearly have to bribe people to get them in the door over here. I'm not opposed to coffee and refreshments at Church, but you have to practically beg people to visit a church. Maybe we have it too good... I don't know.
As far as cake auctions etc... to finance missions or outreach, I suppose so long as the auction does actually support the objective (missions/outreach), I don't see anything wrong with it.
I'm just waiting to tally up how many times the passages about how money is the root of all evil (actually, it's the love of money, not money itself), and that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven will be quoted (but yet many of the major figures in the Bible weren't exactly poor.) I often wonder if Abraham's wife Sarah would have ever been seen shopping in Walmart in today's world.
Ah, money and the church - a debate that's sure to last until Jesus finally comes back.
I've wondered about these things as well whenever I go to pick up a new Bible and have to try to avoid tripping over the racks, shelves, and dishes of "Jesus" lunch boxes (loaves and fishes, of course!), "Jesus" arm bands, "Jesus" kitchen utensils (nothing like making bread in a pan that reminds you that Jesus is the bread of life), and, quite literally, "Jesus" rocks (an actual pan of rocks with inspirational words, passages, or messages on them.)
Now I am all for having Jesus-themed merchandise available to us... But as someone who's grown up in the church all my life, unfortunately, I only have more questions and no solid answers.
1. Rodney made an interesting point about the fact that most people (including myself) want to come to a church where comfort and benefit are involved, especially these days. Everyone wants comfortable seats in a temperature controlled building, an outstanding praise and worship team, a wide array of refreshments, and sermons that knock us off our feet with feel-good messages that tell us how much God loves us and is going to heal our sicknesses and solve all our problems.
And all of those things, whether outwardly admitted or not, take money. No one is going to show up if the church is too hot, too cold, too uncomfortable ("I can't stand those hard pews!"), has too much or too little lighting, or is too loud or too soft. Even if a church has talented musicians, no one will come if the sound system is too outdated to be able to comfortable hear the worship. Everyone (including me) is looking for their own version of a Goldilocks church in which everything is JUST RIGHT.
Churches that can't provide those things quickly go under, because everyone wants them... but who should have to pay for them?
There is a myriad of things I'd love to bring up here, but don't want to run the risk of boring people to death
, so I'll just mention a few observations.
2. Years ago, I wrote a thread called, "We Want to Have Another Baby - and We Want You to Pay For It." This was a thread based on real-life things I'd encountered with some of the missionaries my church supported - Godly, loving people who were following what they believed was their calling from God, and felt that part of this calling was to expand their families.
But I was left asking myself, what separates their need and want from any other Christian family who wants to have a child, and does being part of the mission field automatically mean that the people supporting them should be expected to up their donations (taking away from their own families or own desire to have another child) in order to pay for it?
3. The Lutheran synod I grew up in (WELS) believes in having their own separate school system as an option for Christian education, but unfortunately, usually (at least where I grew up), has absolutely no means to pay for it except donations from its members, and that never seems to work out very well. People only have so much to give, and for some reason, that seems to go by the wayside.
At last check, the Lutheran high school I attended is 1.5 million dollars in debt. I remember when I first attended another church (in a different synod) that DID NOT HAVE ANY DEBT, and I was blown away because I didn't even think that was possible. But this was a church that believed in sticking to a budget rather than plowing ahead and hoping for miracle money to show up.
In the church I grew up in, they had great ambitions and good hearts, but also a rampant habit of always spending far beyond their means - however, it was always justified because it was believed that since they were doing the work of the Lord, somehow, the Lord would provide. I have even heard of churches praying for millionaires to come to their church, get saved, and then make massive donations, which, to me, is pretty much the spiritual equivalent of counting on winning the lottery.
And all too often, these miraculous provisions never appeared. Something I witnessed that always frustrated me in my old childhood church is that leadership often seemed to ignore what might have been God's very answer to them. My particular church had several gifted businessmen on their board of elders who put a lot of their own time, energy, and effort into drawing up reasonable budget plans for the church, which, to my limited knowledge (though I could be wrong) were always ignored. All I know is what I heard behind the scenes, and that the the church was always striving for more, more, more, and then we would see a big, bigger, outrageously-sized debt that would be printed in the church bulletin.
No, the solution was never to budget, spend within the church's means, and limit themselves to what the church could afford. No, no, no, because the men of God always knew better than men whom God had gifted in specific areas having to do with money (because after all, people who know anything about money are those dreaded camels who can't fit through the eye of the needle.) But yet, of course, the people who knew how to manage money were always expected to be the ones to give, rather than helping others learn financial responsibility as well.
Why would God drop more money into anyone's lap, even a church, if it was just going to be spent like water and with no accountability?
The one thing I do think my childhood synod got right was trying to keep their ambitions separate from outside funds, which I was reminded of when Lynx wrote about engaging in partnerships with Starbucks or Walmart.
I might be wrong about this (please correct me if I am), but the Catholic church will take donations from anyone (I don't mean that as a criticism, just as a point of difference, and maybe I'm wrong?) but the church I grew up in kept all funding within the synonymous synod network to avoid being influenced or lobbied by outside sources.
For example, in my neighborhood, kids would come around selling things for their Catholic school fundraisers all the time, but our synod never did that. All funds had to come from synod members, which is why we were always so behind in everything.
Everyone wants the "best" church that they can attend.
But who, what, and how it should be pay for?
Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to agree, and it becomes yet another point of contention that just further divides the church.