Review: Rich Church Poor Church

October 7th, 2012

In Rich Church Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry, J. Clif Christopher affirms: “Jesus has died and been resurrected. The Holy Spirit has been sent to be among us. Martyrs by the thousands have died to bring us to where we are today. The church is the living body of Christ in the world and we are part of it. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. There is no excuse to be poor anymore.” (p. 8)

And yet, he goes on to paint a sobering picture of where we are: giving to religion in America has dropped from 60% of charitable gifts to 35%. United Methodists give an average of 1% of their income to the church. Baby boomers are giving about 15% less than their parents at the same age. Financially healthy churches totaled 31% of all churches in 2000 but only 14% by 2010.

Where is your congregation in this portrait? How do we live faithfully and creatively in this Rich Church Poor Church tension? Mostly likely you have some learning and growing to do. In fact, perhaps nothing strikes greater dread in a pastor’s heart than budget calculations and the annual giving campaign. Clif Christopher understands and offers a framework and tools for growing into a healthier place. His premise is that what we are called to do and to be as the church is far too important not to do it well.

Are you in a rich church or a poor church? Don’t answer too quickly. A rich church, Christopher contends, focuses on mission rather than survival, compelling communication rather than fact communication, debt principal rather than debt payments, asking versus not asking, humility rather than arrogance, high expectations rather than low expectations, knowing the facts on your donors rather than guessing, being transformational in talk rather than obligatory, and pastors taking the lead. Each chapter concludes with a set a questions useful to the pastor as well as to Finance Committees and other church leaders.

Christopher’s main point is that people give to the mission of the institution. Note—the mission of the institution, not to the institution per se. This is perhaps the most impactful generational shift. People want to hear a compelling story of what the church is doing in people’s lives and in the world. They want to hear what difference their giving makes. They relate to changed lives. It follows, then, that communication must be compelling and inspiring, rather than fact-based. It must be story based, rather than a list of statistics and numbers.

Secondly, Christopher asserts that people give out of regard for staff leadership. People give to people. They seek a sense of confidence in their leaders. This is why, Christopher maintains, pastors should invest time in their donors, those who are blessed financially to share those blessings with the church.

And thirdly, people need a sense of confidence in the institution. People want to see a church that is a good steward of the resources entrusted to it. People do not want to see waste nor an organization that constantly seems to be short of funds. Rather than hiding a surplus, church leaders should be inspired to share good news and how the resources of the church are being used to change lives. This inspires generous giving.

The Rich Church, Christopher says, constantly holds out a vision that is grand and bold about what God is doing and going to do. So the first bit of homework for every pastor and church leader is to reflect on how they would answer someone who asks “why should I give to this church.” Take that to heart. Ponder it. Find tools and directions in Rich Church Poor Church. Then tell. Ask. Teach. Dream. Be thankful. Say thank you. Be transformed. And expect the Holy Spirit to do great things.


Read an excerpt from Rich Church Poor Church on Ministry Matters.

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