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Christianity: Tweaking A Seriously Failing ROI

Barna does it again, as reported on Next-Wave (HT:TSK). I’m just going to pick up on one theme here, there’s a lot more in the report. Basically, as of 2002, the church in the USA including both Catholic and Protestant flavours, has gathered up and spent one trillion dollars on domestic ministry. Hang on, let’s line up the zeros to get the image… $1,000,000,000 (USD). We don’t know what the dollar figure would be for Canada or other Western countries, but I have to expect the trend is the same.

What Barna does with this number is to add in some other data from his exhaustive supply of it, and observe that despite this investment, “…there has been no measurable increase in one of the expressed purposes of the church: to lead people to Christ and have them commit their lives to Him.” Despite that warning-esque observation of a pitiful return on investment, in 2005 he is able to observe, “Nothing is more numbing to the Church than the fact that it is mired in a rut of unfathomable depths. The various creative approaches attempted over the course of this decade have drawn much attention but produced little, if any, transformational impact.”

So here’s a question, how should the church respond? Is it a simple matter or not? Should the methodology be changed, tweaked, or should we kill the idea and reinvent it… create a new business plan? In corporate terminology, is this an Enron or a Worldcom with a class-action suit in the wings? Well, probably not… but should the money be given back? Hold on, maybe it’ll be easier to just change the mission statement to reflect something that the church has managed to accomplish in the past 20 years and has a hope of continuing. Let’s see now, what would that be…. and how “corporate” would it sound?

Now, on the less cynical side, what if the church’s mission statement were to feed the hungry, care for the poor, pray for the sick, and visit those in prison. Two things, off the top of my head. Firstly, our accomplishments may be no better, so the ROI would still suck. Secondly, at least it would be something over which we could exercise some degree of control, either we do or we don’t get engaged with it… and it would be outward-focused. As defined by Barna, the church’s mission is basically to make more Christians, and thereby, to grow. I’m not so sure we have as much control over who gets saved as this mission statement may imply.

So all of this of course leads to two interrelated sets of questions: (1) Is Barna’s general statement of the church’s purpose accurate? If not, what is? How has the church done against that measure? (2) What should the church’s general mission statement be for the future? What can that be expected to cost?

Oh, what is the wary investor in churches to do….?

8 Responses to “Christianity: Tweaking A Seriously Failing ROI”

  1. Scribe Development Says:

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  2. Brother Maynard Says:

    Gee, it looked like enough zeros when I glanced sideways at it, but you’re right, I should have kept typing.

    This is staggering though. $1Trillion could sponsor 80,000,000 indiginous pastors and 130,000,000 children for ten years. Depends whose statistics you look at I suppose, but I saw one saying that .02% of church giving goes to the “unchurched.” I would venture to guess that giving for aid or care for the poor would be lower still. Which is, of course, appalling, if getting more comfortable pews and a larger parking space behind the east wing are so much more immediate concerns.

    Was it Christopher Lasch who said, “Let’s be honest — we tithe to ourselves.” Too true, whoever said it.

  3. Bob Says:

    Speaking of bad math. 1% of a trillion dollars is 10 billion. Not 1 billion.

  4. Katie Says:

    We have so little practical experience with our math in the billions and triions. :)

  5. Katie Says:

    trillions

    Sorry about the typo. It was in the right side “typing in faith” zone.

  6. » Blog Archive » Money and Church Missions Says:

    [...] Brother Maynard at Subversive Influence has written a wonderful post discussing the dollars north american churches spend. Can you believe one trillion? All of it on ourselves for programs, materials, etc. In his post he discusses this inlight of mission statements. Observing that most churches include in their statement a discussion of making converts he boldly questions what effect we have had in accomplishing this, and if all this money is spent then was it worth it? Suppose using this money for the poor, the downcast, the hungry, anyone with less then what we have. Oh wow could the church ever make an impact on this world. One trillion dollars is alot of buying power… imagine if the churches were as Brother Maynard suggested to change mission statements to focus on feeding the hungry and praying for the sick… just imagine… [...]

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