Church Bankrupcy: Learning From Our Mistakes

If you hadn’t read the headlines, one of America’s “mega-churches” is filing for bankrupcy.  (Click here for story).

Normally I try to avoid commenting negatively on current events/authors/books/etc. because it can create divisions that might not be necessary, instigate battles that really aren’t worth fighting, and divert our attention off of the centrality of Christ and the gospel.  But, when I read this I felt led to make a post.  However, I do want to clarify that this post is NOT a rant against megachurches or a critique of the Crystal Cathedral’s theological soundness (Trust me, there is already plenty of that material out there!)  Instead, what I intend to do is look at their situation and see if there are any lessons that Christians and churches can learn from.  I found several things:

1. “Faithful with a few things…” (Matt. 25:21)  The first reaction to this article is something like:  “43 MILLION IN DEBT!?!  Are you kidding me?”  I will be the first to admit, the number is astounding but I think we aren’t being honest with ourselves.  The church had 10,000 members.  What if we downsized the number by one decimal place?  What if it was a church with 4.3 million in debt and had around a 1,000 members.  Then, all of the sudden we have a situation not too unlike many churches in America.  It’s only because the numbers are so high that the debt seems shocking.  But in reality, they have done what many churches across the land have done.  (That’s $4,300 debt/member for those of you who want to compare apples to apples in your own orchard.)  Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT trying to argue that the 43 million is no big deal.  Quite the contrary.  I hope the craziness of the Crystal Cathedral’s debt causes all of those thousand something churches with a few million in debt to reconsider their situation.  There really is no difference between the two in my mind.  Jesus said who is faithful with little, will be entrusted with much.  Let’s make sure that we look to ourselves before casting any stones.  Let’s strive to create a church 100% in debt to the Lord not a to a lender.  (Check out my post on whether or not churches should borrow money here.)

2. “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.” (John 2:16)  When you read the article, there is outstanding debt to vendors, advertisers to live animal rental (I didn’t know such a thing existed!).  There are lawyers, repayment plans, and a coalition of vendors.  When you read all of these things it makes it sound a whole lot more like a business than a church.  Again, easy to cast the stone without looking to ourselves.  I think this is one of the biggest cultural shifts in the American church over the past 20 years.  Churches are tempted to become a business packaging a product for consumption than a church offering the gospel.  Again, I am NOT trying to bash the Crystal Cathedral.  I just think when you look at the complexity of its operation, it appears to resemble a business more than a church.  Christ strongly condemned the men who turned the temple into a market.  I fear He has similar feelings towards some of the things going on in churches today.  I pray that Christians in America would begin, like Christ, to purge such tendencies from our churches.  This is no small matter.  Think about the intensity with which Jesus took to this task.  Pray for purity in our churches.

3. “He who gathers in the summer is a son who acts wisely.” (Prov. 10:5)  A pastor is quoted saying that the church couldn’t cut expenses fast enough when contributions decreased.  Many churches lack financial margin.  A church, no matter how big or small, must be able to weather storms and survive droughts.  In a way this ties back into point number one regarding leveraging, but I think all churches can step back and think about how they would fair if contributions dropped by 30% (as they did for the Crystal Cathedral). 

All in all, it is easy to cast the stone at the Crystal Cathedral without looking at ourselves.  I think they made mistakes similar to many churches across America, albeit on a much larger scale.  Let’s take what we can from this event and learn from it.

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