Healthy churches are supported through the ongoing voluntary gifts of all members’ time and money, not through endowments and rich uncles. That isn’t meant to be a slight against large donors to churches. But the wealth of a minority is less of a measure of a healthy church than the number of average, local folks who give their “widow’s mite” year in and year out. We, as a church, need to break free from endowments and get on with acting like a church, not a university.

If a church is “working”, then its local members are actively engaged in it with their hearts and lives. The financial model of a healthy church is essentially hand-to-mouth, cash flow based, because it is a constant running reflection of the dedication and commitment of its members on the local level. And actually, this doesn’t require too much scale. So long as a congregation doesn’t get tied up in real estate, buildings, major debt, etc., a typical church can be totally self-sufficient at a fairly small size.

Schools, on the other hand, require enormous resources. The typical finanical model of a school depends on endowments and on big generous contributions from alumni 20 years after they graduate.

The General Church is a weird bird. It is a church, but because it was born out of the Academy Movement, it is structured like a school.

If I could wave a magic wand for the GC right now, I would magically transfer every last dollar of its endowment into programs that are run by and for local congregations. Then I would double the Academy’s endowment so that it can expand the college, clone the high school in multiple locations (since boarding schools are on the way out), and (most importantly) give the Theological School everything it could ever wish for. Then with my “third wish” I wouldirrevocably divide all ANC stuff from all GC stuff so the Academy schools can be schools and the Church societies can be churches.

Oh, and with my fourth wish (if I get one) I’d separately endow some of our elementary schools while simultaneously giving them separate boards from their host congregations’ boards.

That’s my business dude slash priest slash strategic analyst take on things, at any rate.

And on volunteers: they need to be listened to. AND praised. But listened to, first. The people who give their time are on the front lines of the work of the church, and often know better than anyone else what needs to happen and how it can happen. I’m all for decentralizing decision making, and listening to volunteers is a major part of doing that.

I’m babbling a bit this morning. But this is the kickoff weekend of our church’s world-wide capital campaign, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what stewardship means. Somehow we got off track in our organization, a long time ago, I’m afraid. Church shouldn’t be something you attend the way you attend a benefit concert. Church is something you DO. **YOU** are the church, not we dudes in stoles.

The Writings talk about how a person more and more “becomes the church”. But somehow we’ve let it fall into something passive. Most people don’t give their time or money to the church, I think in part because it goes on without them anyway. It’s great that in the past we’ve benefitted from the generous donations of a handful–both a handful of financial donors and also of people volunteering their time. But I think it’s time to put an end to so many being served by the same old few. I don’t want to guilt trip people, here. Rather, I pray that a broader base of people this year give “giving”–both of time and of money–a try this year, and test the Lord (as he invites us to), and see how it changes not just the church, and not just the *world* (which it will), but also **themselves**.

A lot of the people reading these ramblings already know how rewarding it is to contribute back to the community we call our local church. I just wish that group experiencing this was a larger percentage of the people showing up on Sunday.

End blither. 🙂

[This is a much-expanded post, based on some thoughts I had in response to some great comments on my FaceBook page.]