This experiment began several years ago when I received a brochure in the mail advertising silver bullion coins as an investment vehicle. The “hook” was, “We will sell you two silver eagles for the price of one, if you agree to read our special report on silver.” When I saw this, I thought, “I could give one of these coins to a friend who was having money problems as a touch point for her prayers.” I sent her a coin and a notebook with instructions. Every day we prayed that the Lord would grant her wisdom in the area of finance. Every day she made an entry in her notebook.
The initial experiment was extremely successful. At the end of six months, her attitude towards money was radically different. She began to systematically eliminate her consumer debt. She changed some behaviors that were sabotaging her financial situation. Then towards the end of the six month experiment, she was able to move into her own home for the first time in her life.
Finally, when the participants are ready, they will give their coin with a blank notebook to a friend or a family member who is ready to change their relationship with money. In this way, friendship and blessings will keep flowing forward forever, even into eternity.
One of the simplest models for a budget suggests that a family divides all the money that comes into the household into three pots. Before spending the first penny, 10% goes into savings and 10% goes into giving to charity. Then the theory goes that if you consistently live on 80% of your take home pay, chances are pretty good that you are going to be OK.
What if churches operated under this simple rule? Many churches teach the tithe, that their members donate 10% of their income to their home church, but how many churches skim 10% of the take right off the top and give it to the poor, to windows, or to orphans in their congregation, or to other ministries in need of cash? Most churches have an “emergency fund” or two, a benevolent fund for the poor, a building fund for unexpected or large expenses, and a checking account for ongoing bills, but if they were all added up, how many churches would have the money for 3 to 6 months operating expenses sitting in the bank?
I hear a lot of readers thinking, “This is unrealistic,” and you would be correct. Most churches as well as most families spend every penny they get, but wait, it gets worse. The median household income is running about $56,000. A quick Google search didn’t turn up a figure for median household debt, but average household debt is reported in the $130K to $150K range. Curiously, the annual average interest expense for an American family is $6,658. That would be 9% of the average household income.
As a nation, we almost give a tithe of our gross (not net) income to the bank, before budgeting for our living expenses. Things are not quite as bad for churches, since they are classified as non-profit organizations they don’t have to pay taxes before they can buy food. However, many churches, like their members are paying the bank before God.
As for the emergency fund, 62% of Americans report having less than $1,000 and 30% of Americans report a zero balance in their savings account. 21% don’t even have a savings account. How many churches would issue a similar report?
OK, let’s be realistic. What is possible for your family? What is possible for your church? Could you commit to giving 1% of your take home pay to charity or 1% more if you are giving less than 10%? Could you commit to saving 1% of your income or 1% more if you are saving less than 10%? If you or your church can’t answer yes to both those questions, you are in trouble. It is time to take a hard look at your life. Try to understand what got you into this condition and what it would take to break even. Generally, we know the answer, but honestly and courageously dealing with the consequences of our bad decisions, in any area of our lives, isn’t a pleasant experience.
Imagine a church with a budget of $10,000 a week with $1,000,000 in the bank. What could be done with that kind of money? A scholarship fund for poor students? Monthly checks for faithful members who are windows or single moms? What could a check for $100,000 do for medical missionary operating in a third world country?
What if churches in America and their members, actually believed our God when he stated in Deuteronomy Chapter 28 that debt was a part of the curse and that the ability to lend money was a blessing?