Rich Church, Poor Church

I’m reading a book that Rev. Bill Moorer suggested to me to prepare for our stewardship season this fall. We’ll fill you in on more details about that campaign next month, but first I offer this review of the book written by a pastor whose church I attended in seminary, Rev. Patricia Farris. That church, First UMC of Santa Monica, was situated in the midst of a very wealthy community. Would Rev. Farris describe her church as a “rich church”?  That answer has nothing to do with the economic condition of the church’s members. Read on, and then I have a few comments after her review:


“In Rich Church Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry, J. Clif Christopher affirms: “Jesus has died and been resurrected. The Holy Spirit has been sent to be among us. Martyrs by the thousands have died to bring us to where we are today. The church is the living body of Christ in the world and we are part of it. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. There is no excuse to be poor anymore.” (p. 8)

And yet, he goes on to paint a sobering picture of where we are: giving to religion in America has dropped from 60% of charitable gifts to 35%. United Methodists give an average of 1% of their income to the church. Baby boomers are giving about 15% less than their parents at the same age. Financially healthy churches totaled 31% of all churches in 2000 but only 14% by 2010.

Where is your congregation in this portrait? How do we live faithfully and creatively in this Rich Church Poor Church tension? Mostly likely you have some learning and growing to do. In fact, perhaps nothing strikes greater dread in a pastor’s heart than budget calculations and the annual giving campaign. Clif Christopher understands and offers a framework and tools for growing into a healthier place. His premise is that what we are called to do and to be as the church is far too important not to do it well.

Are you in a rich church or a poor church? Don’t answer too quickly. A rich church, Christopher contends, focuses on mission rather than survival, compelling communication rather than fact communication, debt principal rather than debt payments, asking versus not asking, humility rather than arrogance, high expectations rather than low expectations, knowing the facts on your donors rather than guessing, being transformational in talk rather than obligatory, and pastors taking the lead. Each chapter concludes with a set a questions useful to the pastor as well as to Finance Committees and  other church leaders.

Christopher’s main point is that people give to the mission of the institution. Note—the mission of the institution, not to the institution per se. This is perhaps the most impactful generational shift. People want to hear a compelling story of what the church is doing in people’s lives and in the world. They want to hear what difference their giving makes. They relate to changed lives.

It follows, then, that communication must be compelling and inspiring, rather than fact-based. It must be story based, rather than a list of statistics and numbers.

                  Secondly, Christopher asserts that people give out of regard for staff leadership. People give to people. They seek a sense of confidence in their leaders. This is why, Christopher maintains, pastors should invest time in their donors, those who are blessed financially to share those blessings with the church.

And thirdly, people need a sense of confidence in the institution. People want to see a church that is a good steward of the resources entrusted to it. People do not want to see waste nor an organization that constantly seems to be short of funds. Rather than hiding a surplus, church leaders should be inspired to share good news and how the resources of the church are being used to change lives. This inspires generous giving.

The Rich Church, Christopher says, constantly holds out a vision that is grand and bold about what God is doing and going to do. So the first bit of homework for every pastor and church leader is to reflect on how they would answer someone who asks “why should I give to this church.” Take that to heart. Ponder it. Find tools and directions in Rich Church Poor Church. Then tell. Ask. Teach. Dream. Be thankful. Say thank you. Be transformed. And expect the Holy Spirit to do great things.”


Clif Cristopher was the workshop leader at a financial stewardship seminar I attended in my first year of ministry in Waldron, AR. That workshop, called “Not Your Grandparents’ Offering Plate” dispelled much of the conventional wisdom we probably have about giving and inspiring giving to a church. At our recent Finance Committee, our Treasurer, Karen Manera, wanted to share with the committee some news about the church’s financial status. As we had projected, we are running a deficit this year. Our pledging givers have given $3000 more than we had budgeted them to give at this point. That’s good news. Our unpledged income is around $10,500 short of what we anticipated it would be at this point in the year. As I mentioned, these figures are already projecting a deficit to expenses. We have been finding creative ways to offset utility and maintenance costs, including turning the air conditioning off on 3rd floor throughout the week and even Sundays. Thanks to the kids classes and the Logos class for relocating during the summer months when cooling that floor requires the most energy–that and other thriftiness (including our staff making do with less energy) has meant we’re under budget $6000 in maintenance expenses, and $3000 in utilities. Keep in mind that these expenses for the building provide for ministry and hospitality throughout the week as well. We host Adult Children of Alcoholics twice a week, Boy Scouts once a week, Narcotics Anonymous twice a week, and the Kendall Whittier Food pantry 5-7 days a week. Our building is truly a place of healing and wholeness every day of the week.  We have given around $4000 to conference and district missions and apportionments so far this year, but we hope to pay more like $40,000.


We have the opportunity to erase our deficit thanks to the generous stewardship of a family who has made a matching grant to the church to match all gifts above and beyond what has been pledged to the church or what was given to the church last year by families not making a pledge but what was on giving statements at the end of 2016. I believe we must tell our story more compellingly in order to harvest the riches of time, talent, and gifts that are already within our church. I dedicate our gifts to the unique way that we help build the Kingdom of God each Sunday in worship—but if you’re not there to hear it, or if you’re there but not listening, you might not catch on to that inspiring invitation. We’re making a difference and living into our mission at UUMC—and you can be a part of that, instead of apart from that. Let’s keep improving, church!