In his book, The Second Coming of the Church, Christian sociologist George Barna discovered five basic ways that church leaders in America judge the success of their ministry. They are as follows: congregational size, size of church facilities, scope of the ministry, budget size, and pastoral credibility. Out of these five, pastoral credibility is the most valid concern they care about.*
Most Christians are under the false impression that the more members we have in church, the stronger our ministry will be. Although it is good to try to reach as many people as possible with the gospel, focusing on numbers brings about pitfalls. One such pitfall is compromising certain Christian doctrines in order to make the gospel more palatable to those who will not accept unadulterated truth. For instance, most churches have a bent toward ecumenism, which is the belief that doctrines don’t matter as long as someone says they believe in Jesus. As a result, many Christians accept Catholicism as being Christian when it’s doctrines are clearly antichrist (i.e. worshipping and praying to Mary as co-redeemer with Christ, Mary’s immaculate conception, transsubstantiation of wine and bread during eucharist, the pope as vicar of Christ, etc.). Such beliefs as those the Catholics hold to should be rejected as a false gospel, according to Galatians 1:6-9. Nevertheless, it is rare to find a preacher/pastor who will speak out against it out of fear of driving people away. If Jesus was so concerned about the number of followers he had, why didn’t he try to persuade many of his disciples to stay who deserted his ministry in John 6:60-66?
As far as church facilities are concerned, just having a place to worship is not good enough anymore. “Successful” churches need a campus for constant expansion of the ministry. This explains why the book The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkerson (“Lord, increase my territory”) was so popular years ago. The sanctuary has to be huge just in case God sends an “overflow of souls.” Of course, all of these “needs” incur more expenses, so the church leaders have no choice but to misquote scripture in order to persuade us to give more and more.
The scope of the ministry must broaden (or so we think) to cater to every individual’s particular need, no matter how rare. So we have to have a singles ministry, marriage ministry, old folks ministry, young folks ministry, etc., etc. Instead of us all fellowshipping together regularly to try to understand each other, we divide into our ministry cliques. I don’t ever recall Christ telling Peter to head a marriage ministry since he was married or John to head a singles ministry because he was single. Furthermore, Paul commanded Titus to encourage older men and women to teach the younger men and women how to conduct themselves, which required the different generations to mingle (Titus 2:1-8).
A church’s budget size, according to modern day believers, means God is or is not blessing us. The larger the budget, the greater God’s blessing. To us, more dollars means the ministry has a greater impact. We think it shows spiritual commitment, vision, and sacrifice. If that’s true, does that mean God has blessed the Mormons, Watch Tower Society, and Islam? They have lots of money which they use to spread their ungodly messages.
What do all of these measurements of success have to do with tithing? These are some of the reasons why religious leaders are so bent on trying to get people to cough up tithes and offerings. Most of the funds are used for facilities and programs as opposed to taking care of the fatherless, the poor, missionaries, and the widows like they did in the first century church (Acts 6:1; 4:34,35: 11:28-30; Philippians 4:15,16). Jesus clearly stated to the Samaritan woman in John 4 that worshipping God is not centered on any particular place but on worshipping Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24). The most High does not dwell in temples (church buildings) made with hands (Acts 7:48; 17:24). So huge, extravagant buildings are luxuries, not necessities. We, the believers, are the only temples the Lord desires. It’s not wrong for us to want to have a building in which to worship, but our desire should be to keep things simple so the bulk of the funds can go directly to minister to people’s everyday needs.
It is no secret that Christians in America live in a covetous society. Unfortunately, this covetousness influences the church’s mentality. We would do well to “[t]ake heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15) Neither does a church’s survival. Many pastors and their congregations are caught up in making a name for themselves as if to impress God. Tithing is the tool they use to get money needed to pay for that recognition so they can obtain the previously mentioned measurements of success. However, I also acknowledge that there are pastors giving the tithe speech because they don’t know any better. After all, they were taught that it’s the proper and godly thing to do, so they went along with it.
*George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church, (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998), pp. 45-46.
(©2007, Harry A. Gaylord)