American churches going bankrupt!

Yesterday, a friend sent me a revealing article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning churches who are going bankrupt because they can no longer afford to pay their building mortgages.

Evidently, they built larger facilities or expanded existing facilities because their attendance was rising—and taking on debt wasn't a concern with the anticipated growth. Then the recession hit and people lost jobs, young professionals moved home to stay rent-free at their parent's homes elsewhere, or people just stopped giving, fearful of what might happen in the future in an uncertain global recession.

I must say this recession has been brutal on the church in general and non-profits like TOUCH in particular. Had TOUCH not been debt-free with rainy day savings in the bank (as well as my wife and I personally) you would not be reading this blog post! I'd be back in sales at some company and Etna would be an accountant at an oil company again.

This long-term financial crisis is reminding the Western church and especially the pastors of those churches a great lesson that cannot be easily dismissed: THE CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE, NOT THE BUILDING.

Many of the same pastors who screamed this loud and long from the pulpit are the same ones who are calling the bank and telling them they can no longer make mortgage payments. Think what you like, but in my mind, the church really was about the building and everything that went on inside it weekend after weekend.

I'd love to see the recession drag on for just a few more years, as crazy as that sounds. It just might kill off the rest of the attractional church building and building-centric program based thinking in America and force the pastoral leadership in this country to think differently about the church.

Will churches close their doors in the next year or two because of the recession? You bet. Read the Wall Street Journal article and you'll see that more churches are going bankrupt today than ever before. But it doesn't mean the members of the church aren't meeting elsewhere and becoming the church, not showing up to a building to do the same old time religious thing each week.

BTW, while ministries like TOUCH are closing their doors, you don't have to worry—like Joseph, the board members of TOUCH were wise to store up excess cash years ago to weather this drought. We'll be around for many, many years to serve you and your church as the best source for consulting, training, and resources for cell groups and holistic small group ministry.


Anonymous said...

hear, hear, cell churches are the way to go...

it's long overdue...

Randall Neighbour said...

Cell churches can fall into the trap of building-itis as well... the difference though is that cell-based churches have far more tithing members than program based churches. But they should still not build buildings on credit in my opinion.

Unknown said...

I, for one, am happy that TOUCH will be around for awhile. Glad you have been wise in your stewardship! BTW, looking forward to Scott Boren's new book when it comes out.

G said...

Well if a Church goes bankrupt that doesn't speak to well about the God that they worship. If their God created the world the way they say he did, then why cant their God pull them through economic turmoil?
Just a question. not a bashing.

Randall Neighbour said...

Glen, I don't think a church going bankrupt has much of anything to say about the God they worship. He's constant and worthy of worship no matter how well or poorly they spend the tithes and offerings given to the church's leadership.

What you must grasp here is free will. God gives man the free will to serve him properly or squander what he's given them. Of course, like any good parent, if a child squanders what's been given, more is not given repeatedly without some gentle correction, right?

Bankruptcy for churches who wasted their money on elaborate or extensive buildings when it wasn't necessary are simply receiving the natural result from their poorly planned actions.

As an interesting side note, I don't think God punishes people nearly as often as we think he does. Most of our "punishment" is self-inflicted wounds, which he allows to show us that obedience to God has rewards and is not restrictive in nature, but protective.