How Should Churches Use Their Money?

To follow up on my last post, let me ask the question that Steve asked in his comment: Is this what God wants from his church? That is, does God really want churches giving their money to gas stations so that people can save money on gas?

That's a really good question, and one that I've been wrestling with for the past hour or so (I was already in bed, but had to get my thoughts out in writing). In my last post, I say that it's "awesome" that a church would do something like this. Is it awesome, or should churches spend their money on more significant causes?

So, here's what I'm thinking....

Steve (I hope you don't mind that I'm quoting you, Steve) suggests that "we're playing up to our consumeristic mindset." That may be. Without a doubt, we live in a consumeristic society. I'll admit it--when I see cheap gas, I pull over and fill up!

But what on the one hand may seem like "playing up" might on the the other hand be a contextualization of the gospel.

I know, I know... I can hear a bunch of you already saying that this isn't quite the same thing as contextualization. Point taken.

But how does the church get people's attention in our culture? More specifically, how do we get the attention (I'm talking about positive attention) of suburban, middle-to-upper class people who think they don't really need anything? Well, heck... Do we even need to get their attention?!

Believe me, I'm sure there are billions of people who could be better served by $1500 than those in West Chester, Ohio. But can we say that this is something that God would not have us do?

We could also say that a church should never spend money decorating its worship space. Is it wrong to spend $1500 on a beautiful, decorative cross to enhance one's worship experience?

Y'know, I don't think God is utilitarian when it comes to money. I don't think he looks at money and thinks, "How should we use this to make the most impact on those who need it most?" And here's why I say this.

In John 12, we have the story of Jesus being anointed with perfume by his friend Mary (the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised). She comes into the room, pours perfume on Jesus' feet, and then wipes his feet with her hair.

And this perfume wasn't the cheap stuff. How do we know? It was worth a year's wages! So, let's say it was worth $40,000--that's expensive perfume!

Here's how the conversation goes from this point:
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages."...

"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

Now, I'm not saying that donating money to a gas station is the same as anointing Jesus with perfume. And I'm not saying that Jesus doesn't care about the poor (I don't think that's the point of this passage).

What I'm saying is, Jesus doesn't think about money the same way we do. And I think each church (and each person) is responsible to hear God's leading in how they are being called to use the money God has given them. They may not be using the money the way we think they should, but lucky for them we won't be judging them on the Last Day!

God Gas!

No, I'm not talking about flatulence! I'm talking about plain old gasoline.

Last night I saw a news story on one of the local Cincinnati channels about a gas station where the price was only $2.07 per gallon. I was floored when I saw that because gas prices have been hovering at around $2.45 for the past week or so.

Here's what was so cool about this: the reason the price of gas was so low is because a local church donated $1500 to the gas station so that people in the community could save money! That's awesome! And while people were getting gas, church members were checking people's fluids, washing windows, etc.

What a great way for a church to bless its community--with no strings attached!

Click here to see one of the news stories that aired (you'll have to watch the commercial first; then the story will play). Check out the church's website here and the pastor's blog here.


Wanting Good to Win

In a post titled The Siren Call of Truth and Goodness in 300, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, (hmm... looking for some Google surfers? heh heh...) Jonathan, at The One Ring Blog, makes a great point: films like the ones just mentioned are popular because they satisfy our innate desire for good to triumph over evil.

Check out Jonathan's full post here.


Real Reality

I'm reading a book right now by Chuck Palahniuk called Haunted, a strange story about a bunch of writers who have gone on a retreat, only to find themselves locked in an old theater with no windows, limited food, and no way out.

Sounds kind of disturbing, doesn't it? Well, it is kind of disturbing. But then, Chuck Palahniuk is known for writing on disturbing subject matter--he's best knows for writing the book, Fight Club, on which the movie of the same title is based.

So, why am I reading this book? Because I like disturbing subject matter? Not really.

I'm reading Haunted (aside from the fact that's it's an engaging book) because I believe Chuck Palahniuk is a window into the world of our culture, especially the world of Generation X and younger. A world filled with despair and hopelessness. A world that is desperately searching for meaning beyond itself. A world that wants more to life than just wealth and good looks.

The book itself is made up of short stories "written by" the writers who are stuck in the old theater.

Last night, I read a story called The Nightmare Box, in which a young woman looks into an antique box called a Nightmare Box. The Box itself continously ticks (like a clock), and then at some random point stops ticking. When it stops ticking, the first person to look into the box sees something that drives that person to utter despair.

What is it that people see in the Nightmare Box? What could be that terrible, that awful, that horrifying?

By the end of the story, we learn what the Nightmare Box reveals:

It's something that goes beyond life-after-death. What's in the box is proof that what we call life isn't. Our world is a dream. Infinitely fake. A nightmare.

One look, Rand says, and your life--your preening and struggle and worry--it's all pointless....

All your problems and love affairs.

They're an illusion.

"What you see inside the box," Rand says, "is a glimpse of real reality."

I don't know about you, but I see truth in these words. When we understand "real reality" we discover that all our "preening and struggle and worry--it's all pointless."

But what's "real reality"? If we caught a glimpse of "real reality," would it really lead to despair? Or would it lead to hope?

I'm also reading another book right now, this one by Dallas Willard, called The Divine Conspiracy. In this book, Willard delves into the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount (or, as he calls it, the Discourse on the Hill).

In his chapter on the Beatitudes, Willard challenges the common notion that the Beatitudes are instructions on how to live. When Jesus says "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Jesus isn't instructing us to be "poor in spirit." Jesus isn't saying it's a virtue to be "poor in spirit."

On the contrary, Jesus is saying that the "real reality" is that those who are "poor in spirit," those who are "spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of 'religion'"--theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

Here's how Willard puts it:

Those poor in spirit are called "blessed" by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condtion, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ. (italics Willard's)
See, that's "real reality"! Jesus has brought into the world a new "real reality." A reality in which the kingdom of heaven is here! Among us. With us. In Jesus.

We are living in the midst of the kingdom of heaven because Jesus has brought it near. And all can experience that "real reality" because of the grace of Jesus.

So here's the question: Would the Nightmare Box really lead a person to utter despair?

I don't think so. Not if it revealed the "real reality" that Jesus revealed.



I haven't posted in over a week! Bad Markus!!


Information Overload?

I just saw one of the worst movies ever. The movie is Johnny Mnemonic, with Keanu Reeves in the title role.

The acting was bad. The story was bad. The effects were bad. The futuristic make-up was stupid. And the characters were silly (imagine Dolph Lundgren as a long-haired psycho-priest assasin called Preacher).

But it's always kinda fascinating to watch an older movie about the future. The movie came out in 1995 and is supposed to take place in 2021--which means that right now, in 2007, we're almost halfway there.

In 1995 the internet was still in its infancy--ok, maybe at its toddler stage. But clearly the world was changing dramatically. All of a sudden, you could get information about almost anything, anytime, as long as you were connected to the internet.

With all these changes, there was a growing fear that people would begin to suffer from information overload.

And that's the theme that Johnny Mnemonic picks up. In the movie, which has a film-noir, post-apocalyptic feel, half of the world's population is suffering from a plague called Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (I really have no idea what that means). Halfway through the movie, we discover that you get NAS from...well...from everything--from all the computers...and stuff.

What they're trying to say is "information overload."

And then there's Johnny (Keanu's character). Johnny is an information courier with a chip in his brain that can hold--are you ready for this--a whopping 80 GB of information! Wow! And with a little tweaking he somehow crams 320 GB onto his 80 GB chip. Not really sure how that works. I don't know about you, but I have a feeling that in 2021 we're not even gonna be dealing in gigabytes anymore; we'll be way into (or even beyond) the terrabyte age.

So, anyway... overloading the chip in his brain can be fatal after a few days, and Johnny spends the whole movie trying to get the info out of his head.

So, again, there's the theme of information overload.

Of course, in 2007, we now know that there's really no danger of information overload. I'm not even sure how it would be possible to be overloaded with information. All that can really happen is that, well, you know a lot of stuff.

Instead, what we have is complete freedom of information. It is a different world than it was in 1995, and way different than it was in 1985. But clearly, open access to information is something that we (the human race) have not only adapted to and embraced, but we love it!


Launch Conference, Part 11: Breaking Barriers for On-going Growth

Can you believe it?! This is my last post in my series from the Launch Conference!! It only took me a month and a half!

Drumroll, please.........

Breaking Barriers for On-going Growth

In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren explains the wrong and right questions to ask in dealing with growth barriers:
  • The Wrong Question: How do I get my church to grow?
  • The Right Question: What is keeping my church from growing?

The Top 3 Growth Barriers Every New Church Will Face

Growth Barrier #1: Space
  • The 70% Rule: When a room is 70% full, it's full!
  • At 80% your church is stangled and it will not grow.
Growth Barrier #2: Self-Development
Growth Barrier #3: Evangelism
  • Keep the focus on evangelism hot!
  • Teach on relational evangelism.
  • Set an example by telling stories of how you've invited people to church.
  • Kick off a new series with a special challenge for people to invite their friends.
  • Hold a prayer walk or servant evangelism outreach.
  • Talk to staff and volunteers about the importance of reaching friends.
  • Read an evangelism or church-growth book with your staff.
  • Develop training materials that will help your members invite their friends to church and share their faith.
  • Ask someone who has experienced life change to share his or her testimony.

Overcoming Spiritual Barriers to Growth

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." --John 15:5

Abiding Area #1: God's Word
  • Spend time in God's Word every day
Abiding Area #2: Prayer

Abiding Area #3: Fasting

And that's it!! Hope these notes were helpful. Certainly, they were at times controversial--and even I don't agree with everything. But I think you can always learn something, even when you don't agree 100%.


Launch Conference, Part 10B: Building Systems for On-going Growth

Ok... Part two of this section of my notes from the Launch Conference:

4. Baptism

Be able to answer these questions:
  • How do we make sure people understand the meaning and significance of baptism?
  • How do we capture our first baptism on video or with photography? How do we get the video or photos out to the entire church in the coming weeks?
  • How do we capture the stories and testimonies of those being baptized? How do we maximize these as celebrations of what God is doing in our church family?
  • How do we signify the event for those being baptized? Do we give them certificates? Framed personal photos? Group pictures?
  • How do we promote the next baptism at our first baptism?

5. Recordkeeping and Databases
  • Contact information on everyone who attends (name, address, phone numbers, e-mail address, spouse and kids' names)
  • Weekly Sunday attendance broken down by adults and children
  • Weekly offering amount
  • Number of volunteers on Sunday
  • Number of volunteers during the week

6. Basic Accounting
  • Offering collection, counting, and deposit
  • Check writing
  • Reimbursement processes
  • Salaries/paychecks
  • Regular reports (bank account, budget, etc.)

7. Corporate/Legal Structure
  • What's the minimum structure you must have 'by law'?

8. Leadership Development System
  • My personal plan (e.g., conferences, books, podcasts)
  • My plan for staff (e.g., read books together, DVDs)
  • My plan for volunteers (create a culture where there is an abundance of leaders)

These 8 systems are crucial! Everything else can wait 8-18 months! (including membership class and small groups)


Breathe Deep the Breath of God

First I want to give a quick shout out to Johnny and Jonathan, a couple of church planters in Independence, Kentucky. I had coffee with them at (where else?) Starbucks yesterday and had some great conversation with them. Check out their church, Fellowship of Mercy, here.

Anyway, I've been thinking about the whole "stretchychurch" concept lately. Turns out there are more than one way in which a church can be stretchy. It can be stretchy in that it is open to trying new forms of worship.

It can also be stretchy in that it welcomes all kinds of people. It recognizes that everyone is in need of the Savior. And it opens its doors to all of them.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of a really great song back in the 90's by a band called The Lost Dogs. The song is called "Breathe Deep (the Breath of God)."

As you read these lyrics, you might be asking, "So are they saying that all these things are good?" Of course not. They're saying that all of these people need to "breathe deep the breath of God."

Everyone--everyone!--needs to "breathe deep the breath of God."

I'm including a YouTube video. The video itself is actually terrible in terms of quality (don't even bother watching the video), but this is an easy way to include the song right here. The lyrics are below the video.

"Breathe Deep (the Breath of God)"
music and lyrics by Terry Taylor

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and jurys
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, Breathe deep the Breath of God


Launch Conference, Part 10A: Building Systems for On-going Growth

I think I'm gonna have to divide this next section up into two bite-size chunks. So... this is the first chunk....

A church system is simply a strategic process that:


Just as the skeletal system provides a framework for our bodies, initial church systems provide structure for a new church. When it comes to establishing healthy systems, you have an advantage in launching from scratch--you get to build the systems without being tied to any traditional ways of doing things.

Eight First Year Systems

1. The Sunday Service
  • Load In/Load Out System - setting up and tearing down Sunday morning equipment, etc.
  • Service Evaluation System - What was wrong? What was missing? What was confusing?
  • Sunday Staff/Volunteer System
  • Worship Planning/Preaching Calendar System - just keep "launching" with new series (to break a growth barrier); launch in February, at Easter, in September, at Advent, etc.

2. Evangelism and Assimilation 101

Be able to answer these questions:
  • How does someone explore or express a decision to follow Christ at our church?
  • What do we say, share or give to a person who is making a first-time decision to follow Christ?
  • How can we help the new Christian get plugged into our church?
  • How do we move someone from first-time guest to full-time member?
  • How do we know who is a first-time guest each Sunday? How do we collect his or her contact information?
  • Are we making our service easy for a first timer to attend? Does that person know where to enter, check in his or her kids, find the restroom, and so on?
  • How are we following up on first-time guests?

3. Website
  • Most church planters spend too much time on the website
  • Spend less time on the website and more time in the community
That said, here are some tips...

Do include:
  • Where your church meets
  • What time you meet
  • Directions to the church's location
  • What to expect at the service (how long, style, dress, etc.)
  • A little bit about you and any staff
  • A short history of the church
Don't include:
  • Too many pictures of the lead pastor
  • Too many pictures of the lead pastor's spouse
  • Music of any kind (you'll get people in trouble if they look at your website at work!)
  • "Under Construction" signs--just leave the area out until it's ready
  • Anything that takes a long time to load on a slower connection
  • Insider language that only seminary grads understand
  • Your personal blog
  • Anything poorly written or of poor quality
  • Outdated content
  • Links to your favorite sites


A Christian, an Atheist, and a Freebie

First, I promise I'll finish the Launch Conference posts real soon. I feel bad that it's taken so long, but I promise it'll be done soon.

Now then... Last year I read a book called A.K.A. Lost by Jim Henderson, a book that questions the way evangelism has typically been done in the past 50 or so years. Jim Henderson also organized the Revolution Conference last fall that D.G. and I attended.

Aaron Klinefelter just informed me about a new book by Jim Henderson and Matt Caspar called Jim and Caspar Go to Church. The tag-line hints at the book's premise: A believer, an atheist, an unlikely friendship...

Here's the basic idea...

Jim Henderson is a Christian. Matt Caspar is an atheist. And together they visit 10 churches, including Willow Creek, Saddleback, The Potter's House, and other smaller churches. Then they offer their thoughts.

Sounds like a really interesting book to me!!

Here's the freebie.... Follow this link and you can read the first chapter of the book!