My friend Ed, over at Attention Span, just finished posting “Big Church-Little Church Blues, Part 2.” Part 1 was quite good. So is this one. Especially the comments from Mike, yet another friend of mine who does the River Church blog. Both Ed and Mike are small-church pastors, which makes Mike’s comments, in my book, pretty courageous.
Ed raises some stewardship issues, when he compares the cost of reaching people in America (especially suburbia) with, say, Honduras. How do we justify spending so much to reach only a few people in the States, when the same amount could reach hundreds–maybe thousands–of people in Honduras? It’s a good point.
But let’s extrapolate that point. Are you impressed that I used “extrapolate”? It’s a fancy word, and I think it sounds cool. But it’s also useful in this context.
If it’s about stewardship, then let’s stop trying to evangelize in Muslim countries. The costs and risks are great, and the “return on investment” has been historically minimal. It’s just not fertile ground for evangelism. That money would be better spent in Africa, Latin America, or the former Soviet states, where converts can be gained at a much better cost-per-convert. And Europe, from what I hear, is tough. In fact, if you’re going to spend evangelistic money in a Western country, it would probably be better spent in the States. People just aren’t as receptive in Europe. Wouldn’t God be pleased if we used His money to gain the most converts-per-dollar? It’s just good stewardship.
The thing is, nonChristians are nonChristians no matter where they live, and we have a responsibility to go after them with the Gospel. If it’s less expensive in one place than it is in another–so what? Converts are converts. They’ll all be asked the same questions by St. Peter.
So, while my church may be spending less money-per-convert than a church in my city’s suburbs, I view it as a matter of context. Do what’s necessary to reach the people around you.
That said…I walked into a church on my end of town–the rich suburbs–and was totally turned off by the extravagance. This, mind you, is a very good church (not of my denomination). It’s reaching people for Christ, building disciples, giving energy and resources to inner city work, doing good stuff in general. But I walked into the entryway and told my wife, “I feel like I’m going to the opera.” My heart says it’s wasteful, unnecessary, a matter of the believers pampering themselves. And I do believe there is some of that. Having come from a large suburban church, I recall how easy it is to spend money. But there are issues of context, of reaching the type of people around you, that come into play. And those issues make me far less judgmental than the cynic in me yearns to be.