Although many church leaders blame the economic downturn for a decrease in giving among churchgoers, an Orange County, Calif., pastor says the church's general cash-flow shift has been years in the making-and actually is a good thing.
Ken Eastburn, pastor of The Well house church network in the greater Los Angeles area, believes the recent surge of churches facing foreclosures, staff reductions and ministry cutbacks is partly due to a change in Christians' giving habits.
"Christians haven't stopped giving, but they are reprioritizing. And they want churches to do the same," Eastburn says, pointing to a recent Barna study that found church giving has been on the decline for years. With more than 85 percent of the average church's income going to pay for building costs, salaries and various internal operations, Eastburn believes "Christians are opting to give to nonprofits that are turning this model upside down, using the majority of their income for direct ministry, not overhead."
In 2005 The Well was a conventional Southern Baptist church that, under Eastburn's leadership, decided to take a leap of faith by selling its building and begin meeting in homes throughout Orange County.
"Shedding our building helped get our priorities in order," Eastburn says of the move, which he describes now as "the best thing ever to happen to our congregation. ... We have gotten back to the basics, equipping disciples and sharing the love of God. Instead of meeting in a church, we are becoming the church-the living, breathing body of Christ."Although Eastburn acknowledges that meeting in houses may not be for every congregation, he says the current economic difficulties can at least challenge pastors to both re-evaluate their primary mission and reconsider their priorities. "As devastating as it can be to lose staff and cut programs, this is a time for churches to get back to their primary purpose-making disciples. Many churches have gotten so bloated with buildings, staff and programs that they have lost sight of that. ... It's definitely scary for a church to be facing foreclosure. But we want to encourage churches in that situation with a message that sounds crazy but is solidly biblical: Come on out-the water's fine." [christiannewswire.com, 4/30/09 - 5/19/09]
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