Investing Found Money

I had a great consultation last week with a pastor who had an interesting dilemma, one that many wish they were in.  The church was about to receive a significant bequest from a member and he was looking for some guidance before meeting with the family to discuss its best use in ministry.

I, of course, opened the conversation by suggesting his church invest it.  He thought I meant with the Foundation, and maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.

We discussed paying off the mortgage, establishing an endowment, getting new furniture and wallpaper in the lounge, a new programmable sign for the front yard, hiring a hip young person to lead the youth, all of the usual suspects.

I asked him a simple question:  “Why hasn’t your church grown more?”  He was taken aback.  I’m pretty sure he thought I had changed subjects and was giving him a hard time.  But I wasn’t.

We talked about how that money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, could best help the church grow.  You know, that whole making and maturing disciples thing.

Was the mortgage keeping the church from offering programming that would help it grow?  Was the Reagan-era decorating in the church turning off families younger than the couch?  Would a new youth director help?

I love it when churches invest in the Foundation.  Our returns are strong, our socially responsible investing is second to none, and it helps my budget.  But sometimes churches need to invest in themselves.

I didn’t intend for our lunch last week to end with a solution.  That decision needs to be made by a widely-cast net of church leaders coming from different places within the ministry of the church.

A decision like this needs to be made from a basic concept, what Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin call “So That.”  “We will spend this money on X So That….”  And the So That shouldn’t be So That the endowment should grow or the Finance Committee’s job will be easier.  It should be So That families are welcomed, disciples are made, kingdom work is done, the community is loved.

I’m all for churches investing in their futures, and I love it when they do it with the Foundation.  But our Balanced Fund isn’t always the right place to invest for the future.

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