Once upon a time, there was a church that didn't need money. It happened like this:
A group of men gathered under the old oak tree that sheltered the little church. One of them, Earl, spat on the ground and then offered his judgment: "I'm tired of the preacher preaching on money all the time. That's all he talks about! Seems to me like he ought to talk about the Bible a little more and money a little less."
"That's right," said Calvin. "Why, he just preached on tithing when was it? Back in November? I reckon if he didn't live so high on the hog, running the air conditioner in the parsonage all the time, he wouldn't be so money hungry."
"Now fellows, it takes money to run a church. A church is like a business you know," said Doyle. "What we've got to do is figure out a way to cut expenses."
"Why don't we start with the preacher?" asked Ray. "We cut his salary, and we could save - what do we pay him? Twenty-five thousand? Man, that's pretty good wages for only working two hours a week!" Every man laughed at that tired joke.
"Who'll we get to preach?" inquired Doyle.
"Who says we need a sermon? We could just gather up on Sunday, sing a few songs, make the announcements, have someone read a devotion and have a closing prayer. We'd get out early for a change. Might even beat the Methodists to the Cracker Barrel," said Earl.
"You know, we could cut out Sunday night church, too. It's nothing but a bunch of old women and kids that come anyway. You know what the light bill must be for Sunday nights? I'll bet you it costs 100 bucks to run them big overhead lights in the sanctuary. All we're doing is making the electric coop rich." All the men nodded at Calvin's wisdom about the high cost of running the lights.
"You know I bet we could cut out a lot of things," said Ray. "Why do we keep sending money to missionaries. Everybody in the world can watch TV now. There ain't no need to send somebody over there. If folks want to find out about Jesus, all they have to do is watch TV. And we don't need to send the kids to camp. If parents today would take a belt to their hind ends like I did with my young'uns, they wouldn't need no camp. Let the parents teach 'em at home. That's what my Daddy always said."
"During Vacation Bible School, all I heard was the women gripe and complain," offered Calvin. We could cancel that and save a bunch of money."
Silent Fred had been listening the whole time, but he finally spoke up: "We ought to stop buying those Sunday School books. I've been telling people for years all we need is the Bible. If we stopped buying all those fancy video courses, we could save enough to fix that leak in the roof."
The talk went on for another hour or so, and the men laid out their plan: Fire the preacher, cut out Sunday night church, cut out ministries to children and youth, stop sending money to missionaries and stop buying church studies. The way those men figured, the church could operate on about 20% of the current budget.
Over the objections of some folks (especially the preacher), they put their plan into action. At first, it seemed like everything was the same, except for no Sunday night church. Attendance was down a little bit, but the bank account was growing. It didn't take them long to cut out the devotional reading on Sunday, but everyone seemed happy that church was only lasting 30 minutes. A couple of families with young children left, but the men figured they didn't give much anyway.
Then, a couple more families left. The men couldn't understand why. Calvin went to talk to one of them and was told the church felt like it was dying. He reported this to his friends under the oak tree and they all agreed that specific family was a bad influence anyway.
In about a year, the church was down to Earl and his wife, Calvin and his wife, Ray (whose wife quit coming to church with him and went to a church in town) and Fred (he had never married). Doyle and his family had stopped attending; they weren't going anywhere. The men still talked under the old oak tree, but they assured themselves that everything was fine; the church had all the money it needed.
One year later, a realtor hammered down a sign in front of the church: For Sale. Zoned commercial.
If a church doesn't want to do ministry, it doesn't need money at all.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor at Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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