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Generous Churches
By: Bill Easum

One of my favorite sayings I coined sometime ago is ďOur standard of living shouldnít determine our standard of giving; rather, our standard of giving should determine our standard of living.Ē

In tough economic times like these, that saying can really be a bear to follow. Many of us are feeling the pinch in one way or another, and if the country continues going the way it is, the pinch may get worse.

However, the landscape is loaded with churches whose outreach this past year have far exceeded anything they have done in the past.

I think all of this is wonderful and should happen. Still, the outpouring saddens me. I know; you think Iíve lost my last marble. Let me tell you why Iím saddened by the recent generosity.

I truly believe that a personís spiritual condition and destination is far more serious than whether or not they have water to drink or food to eat. I know that makes me an evangelical in some eyes. I think it makes me a Christian in Godís eyes, so I donít worry about the label.

So, hereís why Iím saddened. Put a picture of a starving child on the TV and money pours in (as it should). But put a vision up of people dying without Jesus and the same amount of money does not come forth.

Recently, I talked with a pastor who told me of his recent attempt to raise money to tell the story of Jesus in his city. He cast a vision at a board meeting of the thousands who passed by their church every day who had no relationship with Jesus or about their eternal destiny. He then asked his church to give to an offering to launch a media blitz to tell his city about Jesus. He showed pictures of the least, the last, and the lost. He pleaded for an increase in the church budget for evangelism events. He was turned down that night, but the board voted to send money to some denominational social mission.

Iím convinced the truly generous church is the one that allows its giving to both social and evangelical needs to determine the rest of its budget. Iím tired of the do-gooders who separate social justice from evangelism under the guise of Christianity. Iím fed up with those who downplay the centrality of Jesus and oneís eternal destiny.

Evangelism and social justice have to go hand-in-hand to be considered a Christian act. Social justice without evangelism is a great thing to do, but anyone can do that, even the Rotarians. So we should give to the social justice projects, but we should also passionately give to the proclamation of the Good News beyond our church.

So, here is a formula that will help many churches to be more faithful, fruitful and Christian: Whatever amount you give to missions, give that same amount to evangelism efforts.  This way, you are ensuring you are not truncating the Gospel.

Two examples of churches that do this effectively are Cinncy Vineyard and the Healing Place.

Steve Sjogrenís vision for an outward focused church included how to share Godís love in tangible ways. How could he share Godís kindness with an entire city? In 1985, they held our first free car wash. And in the years to come, they experimented with all kinds of ideas, from gift wrapping, to handing out Cokes, to scrubbing toilets. All for free. All to show Godís love in practical, powerful ways.

I first worked with Cinny Vineyard in the transfer of pastor from Steve Sjogren to David Workman. While there, I experienced their generosity in several ways.  I got to participate in their Servant Evangelism program. Can you see me cleaning toilets and picking up cigarette butts on the exit ramp of a busy freeway? Well, that was my assignment that morning, along with about 100 other people. You can find Cinny Vineyard online at www.cincyvineyard.com.

The healing place, www.healingplacechurch.org/staff.php, is a more recent. Dino and his wife DeLynn started Healing Place Church in 1993 with the single focus of being a healing place for a hurting world. Starting with just 12, it has now grown to over 7,200 people gathering every weekend in 18 services in 10 locations from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Maputo, Mozambique.

For several years, Healing Place Church has been listed as one of America's Top 25 Most Innovative Churches. That innovative drive is expressed in a passion to serve the poor and hurting, wherever they are, and whatever it takes. Every week, hundreds of volunteers serve in outreaches, including cooking hot breakfasts for the homeless, helping ex-prisoners re-enter society, caring for AIDS orphans, giving roses to ladies working at local strip clubs, and reaching the poor through free medical and dental clinics and many other outreaches. Anyone that knows Dino knows their efforts combine the cold cup of water with the Good News of Jesus.

Folks, when the day comes that most churches can raise as much money for evangelism as for social needs, Iíll know the Kingdom is close to arriving on earth.

Hereís one more thing on money. For over a year, I have been pleading with churches that have a variable mortgage rate to get a fixed on even if it cost them 2 more percentage points. Those that didnít are now seeing their interest rates up almost 2 percent and going higher. In next couple of years, we will have double-digit interest. So, if you have a variable note, please convert it to a fixed note. If you have a five-year balloon at a low rate, you would do well to convert it to a fixed load. 

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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