How are simple/organic churches financing mission?

Dollar bills
Our friend, Steve Lyzenga of did his doctoral dissertation on releasing resources (both financial and personnel) towards completing the Great Commission. He compared how resources are used within a traditional church set up and house/simple/organic churches. I had the honor of being on his doctoral board, and so was closely involved in the whole process. His results (not large enough to be statistically significant, but giving some idea of what is going on) were very revealing.

Here's a couple of the interesting results:

Of those surveyed, 51.6%  of those involved in organic/simple church gave 11%-25% of their income to charity, and 7.5% gave greater than 25%.  In other words, almost 60% of people are giving more than a tithe. (The typical American Christian gives less than 3%.)

The money spent on the internal administration of simple/organic churches is very low:  59.1% of the participant's house/simple church spent less than 1% of their total annual proceeds on internal needs, and 15.1%  spent 2%-5%. In other words, more than 70% say their simple church spends less than 5% on administration costs. (The typical institutional church spends 85% of all church activity and funds directly toward the internal operations of the congregation, such as staff salaries, building payments, utility and operating expenses.)

People in simple/organic churches are giving more, but their churches are spending less on internal needs, so more money is made available for Kingdom purposes. Their money goes towards benevolence and missions.

One of the verses that motivates Christians to mission is Matthew 24:14. Jesus tells his disciples, "And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come." They believe that Jesus will return when every nation or people group has heard the Gospel.

 The New Testament Greek word for “nations,” comes from the Greek word ethne. A "nation" or “people group” is a group of individuals who share common ethnic, linguistic, or cultural traits. It's the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding due to culture, language, or geography. When there is no representation of the body of Christ within that people group, they are known as "an unreached people group (UPG)."

According to the Joshua Project, of the 16,690 people groups in the world, 6,955 are still considered to be unreached, totalling approaching 3 billion people. The majority of these are in the 10/40 window.

So how are simple/organic churches doing when it comes to UPGs? Fifty percent of the participants surveyed by Steve give 5% of their total annual giving to UPGs. (Compare this to the typical annual giving of 0.07% to UPGs by the typical evangelical Christian.)

What are the best ways to use the money that is being given?




An outstanding example of the impact of a network of house churches

Back in the early 90's, Jim Mellon was on the eldership team of a megachurch with a $1 million a year budget. One Christmas, their church didn't have the funds to help a member's family where both husband and wife had lost their jobs.  As he and his wife, Cathy, discussed it, they realized that church shouldn't be this way, that there should be resources available to help any members of the body in need (Acts 2:45, Acts 4:34-35).

As they searched the Scriptures, looking to see what the Bible had to say about church and finance, they came across the concept of church meeting in homes, and because of the financial implications, began a network of house churches.

From the start, finances played a big part in what they did. They now give to needs in their city, such as the local soup kitchen as well as to Christian ministries, and benevolence to people within the body has been a foundational principle too. They are known by their mayor and city council because of their faithfulness in giving. Their people not only give financially, they also involve on the ground in the places they help. They support church planting in India and Haiti and send mission teams out to these places.

After a while, they found that they were sometimes in the position of the megachurch–that in any given month they might run out of money before their financial obligations had been fulfilled, so they changed their pattern of giving. Instead of giving a set amount to a ministry, say $200, they now give a percentage, so they never run out of funds and there is always money available for benevolence.

They decided from the start that any leadership should be bi-vocational and to this day, only have very part time paid administrative help. 

This network of simple/organic churches is profoundly effective with their finances.

Since their inception, they have given more than $1.2 million away to missions and benevolence.

Should a house/simple/organic church register as a 501c3?

Dollar bills
"I think that God wants my wife and I to start up a network of house churches in a small town in northern South Australia. I am keen that these groups don't become inward looking, but give money (and time, energy, and prayer) away to needs within the local community and further afield. I'm of Baptist and Anglican background, and am keen to continue to be part of the wider "legacy church" if possible…  I'd be very interested if you could write something about how small informal organic churches can organise their finances to be transparent and above reproach, available to outside audit if requested. Also, the measures that would be appropriate to ensure accountability of the people with authority to access the money"

This comment by John Bethell to one of my previous posts echoes a question we are often asked. What should a house church do in terms of the practical side of finances? Should they take on a charitable status?

The way this is handled varies from country to country. For example, the situation regarding tax benefits in the UK was very different from that here in the USA. I'm sure Australia would be different still.

As always, when the Bible doesn't have anything specific regarding our situation, the answer is to listen to Jesus and respond to what he says. But here are a few pointers, more specific to this country:

  • Some people say that a church doesn't have to have 501c3 (charitable) status in order to gain the tax benefits. This is something of a gray area legally.
  • If you give to a 501c3 charity, there are tax benefits.
  • Groups who do not wish to go this route can give through other churches. For example, our simple churches at one stage gave via another network of churches who did have 501c3 status, with a separate account under their financial structure. This might help in John's quest to continue an involvement with the legacy church.
  • Another option is to use the financial umbrella of an organization such as the American Evangelistic Association.
  • The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is an accreditation agency that sets standards of financial accountability.
  • Financial transparency is essential if we are to be above reproach.

Some groups do not want the government to have any kind of access to their finances. These groups choose not to take the tax benefits involved in having a charitable status.

As always, the Lord will lead us clearly. It might also be good to take professional accounting advice.

Any thoughts?