Thursday, April 22, 2004

Bottom Line

" 4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. 5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. 6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. 7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. 8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:" Luke 10:4-8 (KJV)

Talking yesterday, a woman mentioned that her church is debt free. Her church is considering building an additional structure on their property and they intend to remain debt free. Debt and real estate are common in the American church. The church has a lot of its wealth tied up in real estate. A years ago I read a book called Problem of the Wineskins: Church Renewal in Technological Age by Howard A. Snyder. The writer advocated using the wealth of the church in other ways than building programs. Having attended at least three churches which adopted this model, I see that ministry is often slowed down by not having a building. The churches eventually out stayed their welcomes in school lunch rooms, and despite being a source of income for the school districts, they were asked to find another location. The rental properties eventually had problems too. While in the short term, investing in people rather than real estate seemed more "godly". Finding the best use of funds, real estate or programs, is far from simple. There is no one answer and individual churches must find individual answers to the problem.

There is a sense, when Christians seek to use modern communications tools to spread the gospel message, funding sources and means are not ideal either. In the case of modern communication tools, rather than stating an ideal state, Christians merely adopt a funding model emulated on another organization. Some of those organizations are so big and influential that people adopt the model by assuming the model rather than conscious evaluation and embraceable. When using the Internet, do we allow click through advertisements? Do we pay for the communication means through a line item from the church budget?

A few years back my family and I subscribed to a tape club put out by Nest Entertainment. They produced quality animated videos, at first on Bible stories and later on heroes of history. Eventually they wanted to produce a movie and after they had almost completed the Swan Princess they were in financial trouble. Another Christian video producer, Big Idea Productions who make the Veggie Tales, were solid financially until they attempted to leave the video sales and get into a full production movie. I hope both have recovered, perhaps they have, but still the business model which they adopted was one that was different than how they had built their business. Both are excellent communicators of a Christian message, but both needed to focus on what they do best and quit emulating larger media companies. Success may have been their worst enemy.

One area that Christians pioneered in media and finance was creating the first infomercials. I don't watch much Christian television any more but in the 80's when I did, some Christian programming on broadcast television was 80 - 90% pleas for giving. This is one of the low points of the modern Christian use of media.

How do we finance our communications? We have choices when we establish a new work, but when we inherit a ministry or business, it is really difficult to change the funding model in mid stream. Paying off a debt may not be humanly possible with resources on hand. We can depend on God month to month to pay the mortgage or we can depend on God for a single pay off. Personally, I have tried to keep my debts to a minimum. I paid for my cars from my savings. The only major debt I have incurred after my wife and I got married is a mortgage. It takes dedication and principles to stay debt free.

Communication tools are expensive. If we use them to spread the gospel, how do we pay for them. Do we sell subscriptions to every kind of Internet information service possible? Are click through ads really all that effective at funding quality content? I respect the work of a couple of organizations. One is MIT's Open Courseware project which publishes educational materials from their courses on line for free. The other is Crosswire Bible Society which has produced such things as The SWORD Project. Both this secular institution and volunteer Christian organization use another funding model than the normal one used. I'm not saying I have all the answers. I'm just saying that we need to make decisions about how we set up our finances when we attempt to communicate the gospel message.
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