Friday, October 01, 2004

Structuring for Growth II

When I think of the Seventh-day Adventist theology of tithe use, I am near ecstatic! The tithe is to go for the work of the ministry! For paying pastors to be out in the world winning people to Christ and telling them God's end time message for a dying world! Not to be used for any other purpose! Hallelujah!

But when I think of the Seventh-day Adventist practice of tithe use, I am nearer tears. Instead of the tithe going for the work of the ministry, it goes for administration, office supplies, toilet paper, campmeetings, the union paper, secretaries, computers, summer camps, schools, and keeping tiny churches open in dying towns.

In this online article, there is a discussion (about a third of the way down the page) about pastoral staffing formulas and ratios. Lyle Schaller writes that a church should have one FTE for every 100 people in church attendance. I believe we could water that down a little (just to make it more palatable to the conference brethren), and say 1 pastor for every 150 in attendance. The argument Gary McIntosh makes is that you must staff ahead of growth, not behind it. What this means is that we need to add a second pastor as soon as a church reaches 150, if we ever expect it to reach 300.

Personally, I know of several churches that fit this formula perfectly. One has a full time pastor. No matter how many people they baptize and how beautiful the church building is, they cannot hold more than about 160 people. They've tried for years. I believe they need another pastor on staff.

I know of another church that has hovered right around 280 in attendance for decades. They have had only two pastors for decades. They baptize and baptize and never grow. I believe they need another pastor on staff.

In the next part of that same online article, it talks about church income and staffing. It claims that 50% - 60% of the church's total receipts should be used for staffing (now remember, this is for churches that want to grow instead of stagnating). If half of my church's total 2003 receipts were used for staffing my local church, I could have 2 pastors (yes, I did include all of the benefits and retirement package)! Two pastors! Imagine the impact I could have with two pastors on staff.

Actually, the conference will tell you, it costs over $200,000 per pastor. What??!!! My paycheck is not that big (and I'm not campaigning for my paycheck to get any bigger). Oh, right. I remember now. My tithe is going to pay for conference secretaries and conference copiers and 4 layers of administration and urinal deodorizers and evangelistic series that only baptize 4 people.

You want it to cost less per pastor? Hire more pastors. Pastors only cost $60,000 per year. Adding a few more of those will actually decrease the average overhead. (I'll do the math, if you force me to.)

Plus, adding more pastors in areas where there is actually growth potential will bring in new members. And with new members comes new money. And with new money... You could hire more pastors!

The problem? You see, it takes a step of faith to hire ahead of growth. It takes an attitude of innovation to do things in a way we've never done them before. It takes humility to realize that we can learn from other successful churches and denominations. It takes a real concern for the lost to put our money where our mouths have been for the last 160 years.

And Jesus is right; the people of this world are more shrewd than we are. And the gentiles have more faith than we do. Businesses would never hire behind growth. They have more faith in markets and staffing formulas than we have in God.

I don't (yet) believe that we need to step outside the Adventist structure to do this. But I do believe that things will have to change dramatically at the conference level. And it's the conference level that can make these staffing decisions. After all, according to the church manual, the conference is the storehouse.