Earlier this year I read an article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine that I’ve since quoted and emailed repeatedly. It has echoed through conversations I’ve had with people around City Church, many of whom found it to describe their own uneasy relationship with money. Because of that article and those conversations, I’ve been thinking about finances.
Money is often a taboo. It’s one of those things (like politics and sex) that we don’t talk about, especially not at church. Jesus, however, had no problem talking about money. He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If Jesus is a guide, we separate our finances from our faith at our own peril. Our finances serve as a barometer for our spiritual health.
Because the demographic at City Church continues to tip towards the younger generation (although we are getting older every year), it’s particularly important that we talk about finances. Many members and attenders at City Church are just starting adulthood–beginning jobs where they actually get paid, starting out in married life, following budgets in order to save for the future. As people take their first steps towards financial independence and responsibility, we want to encourage them to make generous giving part of their lifelong habit.
“I Don’t Give Because I’ve Never Been Asked”
One of the main reasons people don’t give money is because they aren’t asked. At City Church, we have never passed an offering plate during our worship service. In the early days of the church I was told by a seasoned pastor that we would start passing the plate when the bills got bigger. We haven’t started passing the plate yet.1
Nonetheless, encouraging people to give is a priority for us—partly because the church depends on the generosity of others and partly because giving is good for us. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying, “I don’t give to City Church because I’ve never been asked,” let me put it bluntly: “Will you give some of what God has given you to City Church?”
Over the last few years, the City Church budget has been growing steadily, approximately 6.5% per year. Even with that budget growth, the church remains a comparatively lean operation. Most of our budget goes to people: our staff (over 50%) and the many ministry partners that we support (a full 20% of our budget).
This fiscal year (which runs July 2016-June 2017) we have adopted an ambitious budget plan expecting 20% growth.2 While 20% may sound like a lot to you, it is not a reckless goal, partly because City Church is in a place of real strength financially. A historical perspective is also helpful. Just a few years ago City Church budgeted 50% (and even 100%) growth in congregational giving. God has always provided.
At the budget meetings when we presented 50% growth, I remember incredulous looks staring back at me from some faces. I said then what I repeat now. City Church will grow its budget in two ways: 1) by seeing more people come to City Church (the congregation grows) and, 2) by seeing those who are here giving more (the congregation’s sacrificial giving grows).
Some of you who are reading this have never given financially to a church. Within the last month I’ve had several conversations with mature, committed followers of Jesus who had never supported a church financially. Maybe you’re like them. It’s okay. Now is a time to start a habit that will be good for you for the rest of your life. You can experience trusting God as your Provider in ways you never have. You can receive the blessings that come from generously giving to God’s work in the world. Imagine what it will be like to look back in 50 years and see that your generosity provided for others.
Others of you are regular givers, but you have never given sacrificially, even though you could. What would it look like to grow your giving to God’s work by 20%? Giving out of our excess is good and noble, but God particularly challenges his people to give to the point of it costing, to the point of it hurting. When our giving requires some modification to our living, then we know that we are following the way of Christ, who for our sakes became poor.
Because the Gospel Grows
A growing budget is important for City Church because we find ourselves at a pivotal moment. We’re big enough and established enough that inertia could set in, causing us to relax, to stop, to grow complacent. But that wouldn’t be faithful to the gospel, which, God tells us, is bearing fruit and growing (Colossians 1:6).
The last year has been one of transition at City Church. We now have a strong staff team in place with recent additions of Joshua in Christian Formation, Jim in Children and Family Ministry, and Harrison at VCU. We are poised for growth and our budget must expresses our readiness for that growth.
We’re confident this ambitious plan for an increased budget is a sign of our growth as a church. It also means that we, as a church, will give 20% more away to others. Our aim, of course, isn’t that City Church will be 20% richer at the end of the next fiscal year. Our aim is that Richmond will be 20% (or more!) richer because of City Church.3 The compounding effect of an increased church budget will be our own enriched spiritual lives and a city filled with the fruit of faithfulness.
If you’d like to give to City Church, click here to be redirected to our online giving portal. If you’d like to talk with a staff member or City Church Deacon about the church’s budget or about your individual stewardship, please contact Val Catrow (email@example.com).
1With more and more of our giving coming in through online options the importance of the offering plate has diminished.
2The complete FY17 budget was presented at a meeting following worship on June 26. Because not everyone could attend, we provide a summary here.
3A recent study explores the so-called “halo effect” that churches can have on their communities.