People spend money on what they value and time on what they value.
That’s not rocket science, but its something for those of us who lead churches to consider. When offerings are down or attendances are down people are making a statement as to what they value.
When offerings are down people are saying ‘I see it as better value to put my money into XYZ’, whether that’s a holiday, a new car, some renovations, private school fees or even other mission organisations… Where we apportion our money is always a value judgement.
Then when numbers are down on Sundays this communicates that people are saying there is more value in me doing XYZ than going to church. So it may be that people feel their valuable time is better spent at the beach, lazing in bed, hanging out with a partner because the rest of the week is so busy, or perhaps taking off for the weekend. But as with money, how we use our time is always a statement of value.
As church leaders we would like people to place high value on contributing to the needs of the community financially, and being part of the community on a Sunday, but what do we do when this is not happening, when funds are low and attendances are down?
I don’t think we berate people. I don’t think we stick it up people and tell them to pull their finger out. That won’t work.
Because it doesn’t change their perception of value.
It just pisses them off and puts them in an awkward place, where they now feel bad, obliged and either forced to conform or in a place where they now worry that they are being frowned upon. Its not a good place to work from.
If telling people to shape up to expectations isn’t the solution then what is?…
Somehow we need to shift their perception of value. It may be that they have got lost in the haze of selfism, narcissism and consumerism that is our society today and they can only see value in what makes them feel better immediately. Following Jesus will be seen as poor ‘value’ for money and time spent. It may be that they need some more intentional discipleship (read ‘teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded’). Possibly in the process of that we will discover that the life Jesus calls us to is inspiring enough to open my wallet for, or that being part of the Christian community is so important and valuable that we will sacrifice other things for that.
The dominant narrative of our culture is a self centred one and it grates against the ‘self denying’ message of discipleship. Our role as leaders is to call people to the compelling and inspiring message of Jesus, to challenge cultural norms and to tell a different story that is more attractive than the one we hear around us.
Is that possible?
If the gospel is really true, if the kingdom of God is our hope and our dream and if we can grasp that reality then I believe we have a story that trumps any overseas holiday, any new car or purely self indulgent fantasy. Reality is its hard to keep the gospel of the kingdom front and central in our imaginations and read junk mail or watch TV… The truth of the biblical message is constantly supplanted with other more immediate sources of hope.
But if its just about coming to church, singing songs, hearing sermons and giving money then I understand why we are pushing uphill. The role of the leader is to help people see the ‘value’ in the kingdom of God – to communicate the message of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom in such a way that to trade it for a thermomix or a sleep in on a Sunday would be the dumbest thing ever.
I just made that sound easy…