Filling up empty space

Several years ago I read about a church that used an innovative stewardship and mission technique with its members. The church conducted its usual, annual stewardship campaign and the church leadership but simultaneously gave money away – to church members! While this sounds counterproductive for an organization trying to raise funds, it was a bit of ‘thinking outside the box’ in its approach.

Church leaders wanted to motivate members to engage in mission and service beyond merely making a disconnected contribution to the church. They recognized that most members had no idea what mission was all about or how the church was engaged in mission.  They believed that the experience of doing mission would help members see the reason for giving to mission.

Each member was given $1 and told to come up with a way to use it in mission or service. Some people simply placed their dollar bill in the collection plate the next week. Others gave their dollar to one of the city’s panhandlers. A group of members pooled their dollars and purchased the materials to prepare a meal for a family in need. Innovative ministry was fostered because church leaders were willing to think about and engage the need of people to be involved.  An intended consequence of giving money away was to foster in increase in giving to the church.  Leaders were certain that congregational giving to the church would improved when members could see how the church was engaged in something that was important to them.

Last evening I had a conversation with Andrew Kukla that drifted to what we considered the tongue-in-cheek answer to the church attendance conundrum. We talked about how worship attendance among mainline churches has diminished significantly in the past decade or two (an optimistic time frame). In fact sanctuary seating space is, in real estate terms, a buyer’s market in most churches.

We decided that the solution to increasing worship attendance was to pay people to come to church. The Bible might say that the love of money is the root of all evil, but the receipt of money is certainly a motivation for many. The idea of paying people to come to church sounds ridiculous…right?

I’ve actually been thinking about it since last evening. While I agree that churches cannot pay people to come to worship, the idea that people want to get something out of their experience rings true.

People have been asking this question forever. We are motivated by reward. In fact we are conditioned to expect a reward for certain behavior: a paycheck is the reward for a week’s labor or a bountiful meal is the reward for a good harvest. The same is true for our sense of religious participation. People want to know what is in it for them when/if they participate in church.

I’m not advocating handing out cash at the fellowship hour following worship. I am suggesting that church leaders need to re-establish a connection for being the church among members. I recommend that church boards/sessions identify and plan ways that attendees be given freedom to engage in ministry that is satisfying and engages them in hands-on work. Purchasing a cow or goat for a third world family is a great and worthwhile thing yet there is also a generation of people who want to be engaged in an entrepreneurial mission in the local community. They see their reward in knowing that they do so in the name of the church and with the support of the church.

Sunday or any-other day worship cannot sustain a congregation alone.  They must live and be engaged in meaningful work for the kingdom in their neighborhood.

I hope that the outcome of such thinking and acting will be a decrease in the available real estate space in our sanctuaries. Come on leaders, let’s give them a motivation to be in church each week.


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