One of the greatest advantages of this method is that it requires no budget. It can be completely free. As the churches take offerings, 100 percent of the money can go to the poor and to missions.
From surveys I have studied, it costs on average approximately $1,000 per person annually to attend a church in America.8 That is, if you divide a church’s annual budget (say $100,000) by the number of members (say 100), it comes to $1,000 per person. Depending on location, that number goes up or down. I recently tried to help a church where it cost closer to $3,000 per person to attend. Do the math for my family of nine!
I recognize that I grew up poor, so I have a habit of always trying to find the least expensive way of doing things. I know I can go to extremes, but even a less frugal person must have a hard time reconciling one hundred million Chinese being the Church for free while our American system costs $1,000 a head.
This is not solely about waste; it’s also about sustainability. With each economic downturn, churches shut their doors, never to reopen. With one change to the US tax code, many churches would instantly fold. It doesn’t seem wise to champion only one structure of church that requires a strong economy or specific tax incentives. If a widespread loss of wealth could eliminate our current church expressions overnight, what does that say about our model?
Let’s not forget that as you read this, there are heart-breaking things happening throughout our world. Families are desperately seeking clean water for survival, people are starving, kids are enslaved and being raped. These are tragedies the Church can significantly reduce if we were willing to worship more simply. The financial consideration is a major one. The goal is not saving money just to save money but to literally save lives.
NOWHERE TO HIDE
Another major advantage to the smaller gathering style is that it encourages people who would get lost in the background of a bigger church to come to the forefront. When people see there are no professionals, they are more likely to step up and use the gifts they have. It promotes greater levels of investment and contribution from those present if there isn’t a church staff paid to do it for them.
Also, in a gathering of thousands of people, it would be impossible for that congregation to know one another intimately and overwhelming to try. The smaller setting naturally lends itself to greater intimacy. It also makes it possible for everyone to be discipled and for members to hold one another accountable, pray for one another by name, and live like family during the week.
What would be a headache to attempt in the traditional model is natural in this kind of environment.
Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2018).
I have just completed a nine-session Bible study based on Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book. Sessions include:
- Chapter 1: The Departure
- Chapter 2: Sacred
- Chapter 3: The Order
- Chapter 4: The Gang
- Chapter 5: Servants
- Chapter 6: Good Shepherds
- Chapter 7: Crucified
- Chapter 8: Unleashed
- Chapter 9: Church Again