I was among a group of businessmen this morning, taking on the conversation about the economy. One of the guys in the group of 13 asked, “How much church debt is represented in this room?” And as each of these men, who are heavily involved in their churches and also very generous givers, tallied up the amount, it exceeded 55 million dollars.
Let me say that one more time. In a group of 13 businessmen, they are attending churches that have in excess of 55 million dollars in debt. Does anyone but me see this as precarious?
In the interest of full disclosure, let me also say that I have built buildings, raised money, and yes, I have led the church to incur debt. It has been my position in the past (though that is in a state of flux at the moment) that debt to build a building that appreciates and increases in value, and allows you to reach more people could be considered an investment.
That argument aside, let me say to all the young pastors and church planters out there meeting in schools, theaters, rented facilities, lodges, bars, don’t be so quick to think that if you had a really cool building financed at 9% by the local bank for thirty years, all of a sudden the answer to your problems would have arrived.
In the movie, Field of Dreams, the famous saying has worked its way into our cultural mindset. And it goes this way, “Build it and they will come.”
Trust me, as a guy who’s been at this for awhile. Buildings only matter to pastors, staff, and those of us who feel like we need buildings to validate our worth.
I’ll be quick to say, that I’m not sure all church debt is bad. I know many godly men who have built beautiful facilities and I don’t question their judgment for one second. But I will say, I do firmly believe that what has been normative in the past will be the exception in the future.
Should we have big buildings? Absolutely. Football does, baseball does, and those are trivial matters when you think about the eternal issues we deal with in the American church. But should we go into so much debt that we are in bondage to institutions that have no interest in our success other than us paying our loan payment?
Before you build think about how to raise the money to build, because the people have it. Maybe I need to cast a more compelling vision. Maybe, dare I say, I need to be more creative. Bottom line, I can save you a lot of grief and misery. At the end of the day a facility is wonderful. But it is a tool, not a trophy. It doesn’t validate your ministry. It doesn’t make you more spiritual. What we should be measuring rather than the square footage of our buildings and the size and sophistication of our staffs, and the budgets allotted to our video equipment, is life change.
Are people’s lives being radically changed by the good news of Jesus Christ? Are marriages being put back together? Are fathers falling in love with their wives with a deep passion equal to that which Christ loved His church? Have we raised enough kids who we are training to be adults to step into society and lead the way to a better place for us all?
If right now you are thinking about building, and you’ve called one of those fund-raising companies, think about it. Push pause. Hey, call me. Email me. I’d be willing to share my experience.