Faith and Spreadsheets

budgetI’ve been noticing something.

A mainline church either moves out of its current location or closes.  Soon there after, an evangelical church or an immigrant church buys up the property.

Here’s the interesting thing: the mainline churches moves out because the community is no longer sustainable or the building is too much for a shrinking congregation.  Long story short, the mainline community is low on finances.

But the evangelical community or the group of immigrants that want to start a church are not swimming in money either.  Most of these folk are working class.  But somehow they are able to purchase the building.

So what gives here?  How is it that groups that aren’t rich can buy property while another group can’t find the money to maintain it?

My theory is that one group looks at the spreadsheet and believes God can make this possible.  The other looks at the spreadsheet and concludes that nothing can be done except close and sell the building.  One believes in faith; the other doesn’t.

I don’t think that somehow money just appears when evangelicals pray.  What I do believe happens is that they believe God is with them and will do a mighty work.  So, they ask people to give, host bake sales and other events to raise the money and lo and behold the money has been raised.

One of the salient features of progressive Christianity is an emphasis on reason.  Now reason is something one needs, even in religion.  The problem is that progressive Christians seem to only use reason.  The de-emphasizing of the afterlife, the explaination of miracles, the resistance to the idea of atonement tend to have the effect of seeing church as nothing more than an NGO with really nice robes.

I’ve said it before: imagination is an important aspect of faith.  You have to believe that there is more to life than what we see.  You have to see the wardrobe as more than a wardrobe; you have to see it as a portal to something fantastic.

Mainline churches aren’t declining because of their stance on homosexuality; no, they are declining because somehow we stopped having a holy imagination.  We stopped thinking the wardrobe was more than a wardrobe.

For mainline churches to flourish, we have to be willing to have faith.  We have to see the little we have as more than what we see.  God seemed to do a lot with very little.

But of course to believe God can do a lot with little, you have to believe God can do this.

Church finances are more than numbers on a spreadsheet.  Mainline churches need to believe that those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

It’s time for mainline churches to start having a holy imagination again.

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About Dennis

Dennis is the Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, MN. He is the husband to a wonderful man named Daniel, staff to two cats, lover of cars, the Detroit Tigers and all things Star Trek.

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