How a New Approach to Funding Can Lead to Long-Term Ministry Sustainability
Local church pastors across the board are beginning to recognize that tithes and offerings alone are no longer enough to provide for the needs of their ministries, enable them to pursue opportunities or sustain long-term impact. Growing financial burdens on the middle class, documented decline in religious contributions, shifting generational attitudes toward giving and changing demographics are having a negative impact on budgets.
Given the possibility that states or counties may someday tax church property, and that churches may someday lose federal tax-exempt status altogether, the time to pivot is now. Our entire understanding of sustainability must change. What’s needed is disruptive innovation in church economics.
For churches not to only survive but thrive in the future, leaders today must understand why, what and how they can leverage assets, bless communities, empower entrepreneurs and create multiple streams of income to effectively fund ministry, mission and vision.
One such disruptive leader is Greg Wigfield, who in 1999 planted Destiny Church, in Leesburg, Virginia. Here he shares his ideas, with the future and financial sustainability in mind.
It was not my plan to become a pastor. I first became a businessman who later embraced a call to plant a church in the area where I live and work—in the wealthiest county in the nation, just outside of Washington, D.C. As of this writing, I’m in my 12th year of pastoral ministry at Destiny Church while still owning and leading multiple businesses. Given the success of my companies, I’ve never had to receive a paycheck from Destiny, and the church benefits from this arrangement.
After many years of experiencing God’s blessing in business and ministry, however, I shoulder a deep concern for the future of the local church in America. Evangelical ineffectiveness coupled with severe financial decline is becoming a real problem, though many pastors fail to recognize the coming crisis. John Dickerson, writing in The Great Evangelical Recession, suggests that over the next 15 years, the American church will lose approximately 70% of its income from people 65 and older who are dying at a rate of 1,000 people per day. In addition, given that 70 to 90% of church income is allocated for staff and building expenses, millennials are choosing to direct their financial giving and volunteer support to causes with better return on investment (ROI).
Over the past couple of years, the business side of my brain has collided with my heart for reaching people with the gospel. I now realize that present approaches to church funding are ineffective. For instance, our church is housed in temporary facilities. Nevertheless, our rent and related expenses exceed $25,000 per month. That’s not sustainable, and why (through one of my companies) I decided to purchase land, develop a piece of historic property and move our church out of rented facilities.
Once completed, the $20,000,000 campus will include:
• Destiny School of the Arts, which is already operating on the property.
• An event venue to house concerts, weddings, a community theater, as well as family-friendly musicals and plays.
• For-profit businesses including a café, a restaurant, a landscaping company and a cleaning service.
• A corporate retreat center, as well as Destiny Church.
Ultimately, our goal is to net $25,000 a month from the development in order to negate what the church is currently paying in rent and related expenses. In time, we hope to generate even more income from the development to cover the cost of church staff.
Imagine a church with this kind of ROI. Imagine your church pursuing such a course for similar reasons, no matter the scale. I believe these things can and should be accomplished. More than that, I believe this shift will better position us to engage our communities to change the number of people willing to give Christ and his church a try. Failure to make such a shift will have devastating consequences for local churches in the future, spiritually, practically and financially.