Church Money Gimmicks (2022) – Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word gimmick as “an attention-grabbing device or feature, usually superficial, designed to promote the success of a product or campaign; some clever little device or ruse.”
Churches use money gimmicks all the time.
I do not like her. Not just because they are “gimmicks,” but because they belittle biblical stewardship.
The heart of biblical stewardship is not complicated.
There are three main truths:
- God owns everything.
- Since God owns everything, He has all rights as the owner and we act solely in the area of managerial responsibility. So the question isn’t, ‘God, what am I going to do with it my money?” but “God, what are you going to do with me? Your Money?”
- Every spending decision is a spiritual decision. God cannot be excluded from any transaction.
When it comes to giving, the Bible teaches about tithing and offerings. A tithe is 10% of everything we earn and is given to God through the local church of which we are a part. Offers are those gifts that are given in addition to this tithe in connection with special events, projects or commemorations.
The Bible is also full of wisdom about cutting debt, saving for the future, and working hard with our God-given time and talents to maximize income.
The Bible also provides basic principles of application, such as the 10-10-80 principle, where the most sensible management of our funds is to give 10% to God through the local church, 10% to savings, and then the remaining 80% to Life.
Those new to the Christian faith may have difficulty adjusting to the 10-10-80 principle, so my pastoral advice is to always start where you are. When you come unto Christ and have financial realities that conflict with those plans, you should begin with a mixture of realism and faith. Start by giving and/or saving 1% (although even that can be a sacrifice), then 5%, and work your way to percentages that both fully honor God and serve your life optimally.
God cares more about our heart and intent than a legalistic percentage. The amount does matter, but only because it reflects a true barometer of our lives. That’s why 10% is far too little for many of us.
(Legalism goes both ways).
This is the essence of the biblical stewardship of our finances.
So where do church money “gimmicks” fit in?
But that hasn’t stopped leaders from using them as shortcuts to true discipleship. Here are four of the most common I’ve seen:
Reimbursement of tithing
Many churches give in to the “tithing back” ruse when somehow God fails to provide for someone’s needs after paying tithing. In other words, the line reads, “Tithe, and if God doesn’t meet your needs with the 90% of what’s left, we give back what you gave.”
I understand. There is a promise in Malachi that giving will never exceed offer. Using this trick, the church sprawls out and says they have so much confidence in God’s provision that they will “insure” your tithe. But that’s not discipleship.
Either you trust God or you don’t. Period.
Also, the blessings of tithing are so varied that it is a ridiculous reduction in God’s promise to reduce it to just income. The value is generosity, not a return on your investment.
gifts of money
Some churches place money envelopes under the auditorium seats. Then, after a lecture on giving, they tell those present to reach under their seats and (surprise!) find an envelope containing cash…say, from $20 to $500.
Then the challenge: you are to take this money and invest it for the benefit of the kingdom. Use it for a bake sale or to start a for-profit website. Do something with that money that could generate a return. Sure, you can keep it and use it for yourself, but if you trust God with it, you’ll find that you’ll be able to be served—and minister to others—at the same time.
I agree with the principle, but the means to teach it?
You can’t trust God now, but we’re going to give you “free” money to trust – which requires no trust at all – to see if he’s trustworthy?
Again, this does not create disciples.
Entrepreneurs and Kickbacks
If I could get a nickel for every time someone wanted to promote their business through the church and give the church a kickback in revenue in the process, I’d be retired in Palm Beach.
Of course, they don’t put it so bluntly. It’s spiritualized.
They spell out everything related to serving the church and its needs. Your profit is irrelevant if not irrelevant.
The truth is that many companies actually train their people to run church “networks” for profit. They bathe their business in “Christian Eating” to gain access to trusted communities and hopefully open wallets.
The church is not called to be so “in” business. God designed it to be funded by the changed hearts of his people and their giving.
This one will ruffle a few feathers because church fundraisers are so common. Especially in youth groups.
But again, it does not teach stewardship. It’s just gimmick type.
When you take this path, you begin the path of “certain” offers. That is, a gift given for one thing and one thing only.
“I want to give this money for…”
… my favorite service.
… my favorite employee.
… my favorite project.
… my favorite mission organization.
The church I pastor does not accept “specific” offerings – in fact, we reject them. (The exceptions would be capital campaigns and Meck’s annual gift to Christ at Christmas, which we have imposed on ourselves.)
It’s just not healthy.
It’s certainly not healthy for the church that just can’t run on certain offerings. (Think anyone would want to use their funds to pay the utility bills?) But beyond that, it can be a subtle sign of distrust, refusing to follow lead, or just playing well with others in the sandbox.
Trust the leadership of the Church or not.
Give or leave the budget.
But choosing and choosing where your money is spent is separate from God’s calling you to be part of a church, trusting God with that church, and trusting the leadership that prayerfully fills that church in light of your ordained role directs.
Financial accountability is important—Meck members vote to approve the church’s annual budget, and we have an outside accounting firm conduct an annual audit. So ask for accountability all day, but using specific offerings to try to direct things, force things, or enable your agenda is not the hallmark of a sane parishioner, let alone a sane congregation.
After all, nothing about money and the Church should be gimmicky.
James Emery White
This blog was originally published in 2016. The Church & Culture team thought you would enjoy reading it again. We encourage pastors and church leaders to check out the Finance news category on Church & Culture for James Emery White’s previous series on giving.
About the author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former associate professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is available now from Amazon or your favorite bookseller. Visit churchandculture.org to get a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog. follow dr White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.