Times are tough all over. Even churches are feeling the heat, as high unemployment and uncertain prospects have resulted in budgets being cut. Just the other day, I was talking with a friend of mine who is an administrator at the First Baptist Church of Freloadia, Tennessee.
Me: So, Steve, how are things at the church?
Steve: Not good, in fact, things are pretty awful. Attendance is up, but giving is way down, so we have had to make some tough decisions.
Me: Like what? You didn’t get let go did you??
Steve: No, no, nothing like that. But as the Administrative Pastor, they all expect me to come up with new and improved procedures to increase efficiency. And, I’ve done just that, but so far, we’ve gotten some rather angry feedback.
ME: Oh dear. What did you do?
Steve: Well, it’s mostly little things, the same sort of things that any business would do in lean years. You know, stuff like charging for weddings, and funerals.
Me: Wait…you charge for funerals? Isn’t that sorta insensitive, you know, adding insult to injury?
Steve: Not at all, it’s a service we provide. Money doesn’t grow on trees around here, Doug.
Me: Ok, what else?
Steve: Ok, we have started to charge people for taking communion. Those little crackers have gone through the roof lately, and I don’t need to tell you how expensive grape juice has gotten. We charge one dollar for the blood of Christ and 50 cents for his body. But you can get a special family rate that brings the cost down significantly for a family of four. We call it the “4-Pack”.
Me: Wow…that’s certainly innovative.
Steve: And of course, we’re charging a dollar to park in the church parking lot, which is a twofer since it encourages our people to park off site so there’s more room for visitors, plus, it’s become quite a cash cow, you might even call it a “sacred cow”! Haha!
Me: Steve, I don’t know about this, it just doesn’t sound right.
Steve: Look Doug. This is Twenty First Century thinking. The days of free church membership are over. Besides, people who truly love Jesus won’t mind pay toilets and coin operated water fountains.
Me: Are you freaking kidding me? You guys installed pay toilets?
Steve: Sure! Of course we only charge 25 cents if you’re handicapped. But, the one that everybody has pitched the biggest fit about is our plan to sell tickets for the children’s choir concert. Even though we created a roped off “platinum member” section for the parents of the kids, you would have thought we had killed somebody the way the grandparents yelled and screamed over that one. But Doug, we are serious about these new austerity plans. Matter of fact, from now on, if you want the best seats for any church service, you have to be a tither.
Me: But, how do you know if someone tithes?
Steve: oh, we know. There are ways, we have, er..methods. The chairman of our finance committee used to work for the NSA. We even came up with a new slogan, “At First Baptist, You have to Pay to Pray.”
Me: And the people aren’t happy with these changes, I take it?
Steve: You know how people are Doug. Everybody hates change. But eventually, they’ll get used to it. It’s actually making people think twice before demanding services from the church. I’ll tell you one thing, that prayer list that the Pastor always reads on Wednesday night sure has gotten shorter since we started charging a prayer request prioritizing fee. All of a sudden old Mrs. Fitzgerald’s bunions have miraculously been healed since she had to fork over 5 bucks to get on the list.
Me: I don’t know what to say Steve. What you’re describing doesn’t sound much like a church. It sounds more like a…”
Steve:…a Silicon Valley start up? Exactly! I’m not a Pastor anymore Doug, I’m an entrepreneur for Christ.