Mixing money and church can get weird. With an emphasis on can.
In my time as a pastor, I’ve seen both extremes — financial management done very badly, and also very well. From my observations, it tends to come down to a combination of healthy attitudes, good communication, and effective systems. As we get the ball rolling on Toowoomba Vineyard Church, we want to do these well. So this blog is a bit of an ‘ask me anything’ Q&A on the topic of money and giving. We know you probably weren’t afraid to ask, but we are keen to be both proactive and transparent so that money doesn’t get weird.
Why is giving to church necessary at all?
In the Old Testament, the Jewish Temple was financed using a tithing system. In the New Testament, we have evidence that the early church also collected offerings to help finance the operation (have a look at Acts 2:44-45, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and Philippians 4:15-18 if you’re curious). The bottom line is, for any organisation to flourish, it needs finances, and where there are finances, they need to be managed in a way that is honest and equitable.
It’s conceivable that a church could operate using a different funding model. Many churches do use alternative revenue streams. Some examples would be leasing their facilities, fundraisers, selling merchandise, or charging for services (e.g. counselling). However, to my mind these would be supplementary — rather, the giving/tithing model seems to be the most biblical (see above), and align best with the Christian value of generosity (more on this shortly).
How much are you supposed to give? Is it 10% (i.e. a ‘tithe’)?
Let’s do the short answer, then expand on it…
You don’t have to give 10% to Toowoomba Vineyard Church. You can give as much or as little as you like. For some people, 10% is way too much. For others, it’s too little.
It might surprise you to hear me say that, since tithing is usually described as a ‘biblical’ model. It certainly is, but I’d describe it as a precedent rather than a requirement. In other words, the biblical example (mainly from the Old Testament, see Leviticus 27:30 and Deuteronomy 14:22-29) is giving 10%, but there’s no explicit command to tithe in the New Testament.
Importantly, Jesus does affirm tithing in Matthew 23:23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
However, it’s important to recognise that the conversation isn’t actually about tithing, but about justice. If you’re want to be pedantic, note that it’s 10% of their spices. Please don’t bring 10% of your spices to church.
On the other hand, we find dozens of references to generosity in the New Testament. I would argue that the ‘New Testament version’ of tithing is learning to live generously as an overflow of your life with God.
This comes around to what I said at the beginning of this question — there’s no number for how much you are supposed to give. If you’re not sure, 10% might be a good starting place. Otherwise, take time to seek God on how he’s asking you to be generous with your finances towards church. If you don’t know how to do that, ask someone who looks like they might know!
As a quick aside, this is why we usually talk about ‘giving’, but we do sometimes use ‘tithing’ as a disambiguation when we’re talking about regular contributions.
Speaking of which — I’d suggest that how often you give is as important as how much. Consistent tithing makes it much easier for the church to plan and budget than if it’s sporadic. One practice could be to give a certain ‘baseline’ amount, then give extra gifts as you feel led.
How will my giving be spent?
At the time of writing, our expenditure is very low. Most of the money Toowoomba Vineyard Church is spending is on equipment to help put on Sundays — chairs, music gear, and things like that. However, as the church grows, our expenditure will probably look like that of most Australian churches.
The major line item on a church budget is usually going to be staff wages. Church is in the business of doing the work of the kingdom. One of the best way to facilitate that work is to employ staff, whose role is to equip the church (the people) to do the stuff.
The other two big line items are then ministry and operational costs. Ministry costs are the budget for specific ministry activities — think youth, outreach, courses, and so on. Operational costs refer to things like insurance, facility rental, office supplies, and software subscriptions.
Finally, our practice at our previous church was to give 10% of tithing income away. 5% of this is to support Vineyard Churches Australia, and the other 5% is charitable giving as need arises. Our plan is to keep up this habit because we believe the church’s finances should reflect the value of generosity we talked about above.
Can I request that my giving be spent in a certain way?
Theoretically yes, but my experience suggests this is usually unhelpful for both parties.
The most helpful way to contribute is through regular giving, into the general account, so funds can be used to cover budgeted costs.
If you have a heart for a particular ministry area, it’s better to approach the church and ask if there’s a specific need that you could fill with a gift. This means your gift can be put to best use.
I don’t want to give in money, can I give in other ways?
This question usually comes up when someone prefers to give their time, rather than their money.
The healthiest way to be a member of a church is usually to do both. The key question to ask is why you have that preference. There may well be some good reason, in which case, that’s fine. However, in my experience there’s usually some kind of misunderstanding involved. If you’re in this position, I’d encourage you to have a conversation with us.
The other context for this is sometimes when people want to gift specific goods or items.
As a general rule, we can’t accept goodwill donations because we’re not equipped to distribute them. There are plenty of charities that take items and we’d encourage you to take them there.
If its a specific item for church (let’s say you want to give a new mic to the worship ministry), it’s better to ask what the current needs are.
What about other charitable giving?
Go for it! There’s no expectation you should give only to church.
Why do we talk about giving every Sunday?
It’s because we don’t want money to be weird. Keeping the conversation open is the best way to do that. It also means that newcomers won’t feel pressured to give if they don’t want to.
Do you track my/our giving?
It’s not our practice to track individual giving at Toowoomba Vineyard Church.
When we manage church finances, we tend to look at numbers on the whole, rather than individual gifts. We’ll usually look at tithing trends in terms of ‘giving units’ rather than looking at individual givers.
We don’t want to treat people differently because of how much they give.
What if I can’t afford to give?
First, if you’re in a genuinely difficult financial position, we’d encourage you to get help. Don’t struggle alone! We can’t give you advice on your finances, but we can help you find someone who can help.
If it’s more a case of only earning a small amount, and not feeling that you can give a meaningful contribution, that’s a bit different. If you haven’t picked it up, giving is a heart question more than a numbers question. There is tremendous value (to you personally, as well as to the church) in giving from your little. Have a read of Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 16:1-13.
I want to give a gift to the pastors, rather than to the church. Can I do that?
Our preference is that your generosity would be directed to the church. It’s one of our great passions and giving to the church makes our hearts happy!
However, we understand you might want to bless us or other staff members in the future. To avoid ‘buying favour’ (such an ugly term, but an unfortunate reality) we have a policy that gifts to staff over a certain value are logged by the board. Not because it’s wrong, or you’re in trouble, but because it keeps everything above board (if you’ll forgive the pun).
How is Toowoomba Vineyard Church’s money managed? Who is responsible?
At the time of writing, we’re officially a ministry of Northridge Vineyard Church in Sydney. They hold our insurance, bank accounts, and their board is our governance.
Given the fast initial growth of Toowoomba Vineyard Church, we’re in the process of incorporating, so we can self-govern. When this happens, we’ll have a board of directors who are responsible for sound fiduciary (such a good word) management.