Tithes and offerings are the standard model for financing a church’s ministry. Sure, a congregation may rent its sanctuary for weddings and funerals or its fellowship hall for community events, but the revenue generated by these rentals is tiny fraction of its income. In the coming years, argue Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li, that tiny fraction will need to grow. That growth is, as the book’s title puts it, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics.
DeYmaz is founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, cofounder of the Mosaix Global network, and a leader in the multiethnic church movement. Li is senior pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas. Their church’s budget derives 70 percent of its income from tithes and offering and 30 percent from other sources, including a non-profit charity that receives state and local grants and a for-profit business that rents out a portion of the church’s facilities to businesses.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why the authors think tithes and offerings need to be supplemented. I was raised as a pastor’s kid in what became a megachurch. I worked in several megachurches as a staff pastor. All three churches generated income through the standard model.
Only when I became the senior pastor of a small congregation did I begin to understand the need to cultivate additional revenue streams. We had declined significantly in attendance over the years, but we had the largest evangelical church auditorium in the city. During my years there, we rented our facilities to a much larger congregation without a building, then later to a smaller one in the same predicament. We needed that revenue to pay for much needed, but long deferred improvements to our physical plant.
I mention my personal experience because I was initially skeptical of the book’s proposal until I realized that what I had done out of necessity was something the authors were recommending as sound financial sense. In the coming years, DeYmaz and Li point out, tithes and offerings simply may not be enough to sustain a church’s ministries. The middle class is under increasing financial stress, people are increasingly giving to charitable causes other than religious ones, younger generations give differently than older ones, and the American populace is growing older and more diverse, all of which trends put downward pressure on the amount of money available to churches.
In response to these trends, DeYmaz and Li enumerate seven “directives” to prepare American churches for the future:
- Free your mind.
- Stop begging for money.
- Create multiple streams of income.
- Leverage church assets.
- Become a benevolent owner.
- Monetize existing services.
- Start new businesses.
The authors have implemented all of these directives at Mosaic Church with some success, as well as a few false starts along the way. Lest you think their advice is coming from a suburban megachurch, you need to know that Mosaic is a mid-size church with approximately 600 in weekly attendance. It was intentionally planted in a multiethnic, economically depressed part of Little Rock, Arkansas. It repurposed an old K-Mart with the idea of providing space for the congregation but also space for start-up businesses. In other words, the church is ministering to both the soul and the body of its community, to its spiritual and economic needs.
I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure that I buy the book’s argument 100 percent. I’m worried that its funding model may drag pastors into businesses for which they have no training or expertise. There are tax implications to churches owning for-profit businesses and receiving government grants for its separate non-profit charities. And the tension between religious liberty on the one hand and employment nondiscrimination and public accommodation laws on the other raise several caution flags in my mind.
DeYmaz and Li are mindful of these worries too and address them in the book. They recommend that your church not do anything without first performing due diligence with regard to the tax and legal implications of its decisions. I second that recommendation. Before you do anything, consult a knowledgeable attorney and accountant.
Still, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics is a worthwhile read, eye-opening in its description of trends and thought-provoking in its recommended responses to those trends. Like me, you may not agree with everything the book says, but it will help your church get ahead of the curve, financially speaking. Of course, the standard model of tithes and offerings must always be the main source of your church’s income. God’s people must support God’s work faithfully. But as economic trends continue to put downward pressure on voluntary giving, good and faithful stewardship requires that we invest our talents with an eye toward a profitable return.
Mark DeYmaz with Harry Li, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings Are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).
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