Episode 55: “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics” featuring Mark DeYmaz

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Episode 55: “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics” featuring Mark DeYmaz

 
 
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Can tithes and offerings continue to fund a ministry that propels your church toward a vital future? In this episode, Mark DeYmaz asserts that churches need to create multiple streams of income by leveraging the value of their people, money, and buildings to bless the community and advance the gospel.

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Transcript

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Can tithes and offerings continue to fund a ministry that propels your church toward a vital future? In this episode, Mark DeYmaz asserts that churches need to create multiple streams of income by leveraging the value of their people, money, and buildings to bless the community and advance the gospel.

Ann Michel: Hi, I’m Ann Michel. I’m the associate director of the Lewis Center of Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and I’m editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. I’m pleased today to be the host of this episode of Leading Ideas Talks. I’m talking today with Mark DeYmaz founding pastor of Mosaic Church in central Arkansas, a thriving multiethnic congregation. I know Mark from his past work in the area of multiethnic ministry. But his most recent book is on church finance and it’s provocatively titled “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics.” And that’s the subject for our conversation today. So welcome Mark. Thanks for being with us.

Mark DeYmaz: You bet. Great to be with you.

Ann Michel: Can you begin by explaining for our listeners what you mean by a “coming revolution in church economics?” Because those are strong words.

Mark DeYmaz: The title “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics” is really a reflection of the need that pastors and local churches have to get away from relying simply on tithes and offerings to fund the work in the future and moving away to a model whereby they create multiple streams of income. The church essentially is an economic system, if you think about it. Put a business hat on for a moment. Churches provide a number of goods and services to people, right? Like we provide good worship or children’s programs. We preach the Word. We baptize. We bury someone when they pass. We show up at the hospital. We organize meals for you when you give birth. And if you think about it as a business model — which I know it’s not a business but there is a business element — a church is providing goods and service to people and the way that is paid for is traditionally through tithes and offerings — at least in our lifetime, through tithes and offerings. But the problem is, and what is going to happen in the future is, due to stagnant and declining budgets and attendance, due to the fact that Millennials, people born after 1964, do not see money or think about money and particularly giving the way people born before 1964 think about it. Due to demographic shifts that are happening around us, increasing diversity in our country, increasing wealth gaps, the increasing burden on the middle class. Today middle-class wealth is at the lowest it’s been since 1947. There is a variety of factors, including the potential for counties taxing your property as they do in Pennsylvania and/or the government taking away the tax-exempt status for local churches. There are so many factors that are already in play and/or that loom in the future that we as pastors and ministry leaders have to recognize the need for a disruptive shift in our approach to funding the church. And again, simply put that is creating multiple streams of income. Or to say it another way, how do we as pastors and ministry leaders learn to leverage the assets of a church, which is people, money and buildings, to bless the community, advance the common good and the gospel? All the things we want to do and are doing — but at the same time, by leveraging those assets get some measure of return, if you will, on investment, create sustainable income. Leveraging assets to bless the community but at the same time generating some measure of sustainable or profitable income. In the future, it won’t be just tithes and offerings but it will be other methods of monetization of existing services and/or profitable business venture and enterprise — a combination of things that will fund the church in the future.

Ann Michel: For a number of years we’ve paid a lot of attention to church finances in our work and I’m pretty widely read on the subject of church finances. And we’ve been paying attention to trends such as churches becoming more strategic in leveraging their property whether that’s through rentals or community partnerships or sometimes through real estate redevelopment. We see a lot of churches living in different relation to their physical location. Maybe they are going to rent or borrow space rather than own. An increase in bi-vocational pastors — that’s something we are paying a lot of attention to. But some of the things in your book were ideas that went well beyond this. And they were things that honestly, I’d never seen people propose before, like monetizing certain services that the church provides. So, you’ve got a chapter in your book where you talk about instead of giving coffee away maybe we should have a coffee shop and sell breakfast to people. Or the church starting church-owned businesses, or having other businesses within your building, or even developing property for the purpose of business rentals. Or having staff members raise money to support their own salaries or contracting out their services. These were ideas that to me were very, very novel. And I’m really intrigued that you’re pushing the envelope that far.

Mark DeYmaz: Well, it is true. And it’s what we’ve had to do as an urban church plant, a multiethnic, economically diverse church plant in the urban center of Little Rock for now almost 19 years. Early on we recognized a few things. The more people that joined our church, for instance, it cost us money. And when you are attracting diverse people, when you are attracting the urban poor. The traditional model is tithes and offering, but let’s break that down a little bit further. The traditional way we do this and fund a church is essentially attracting people to become the church. In other words, the more people that come the more revenue we receive. And this has led to church growth and church growth principles. And how do you break the 200, and the 500, and the 1,000 barrier? And of course, we want to see souls saved, and the gospel extended and fulfill the Great Commission. I get that. On the other hand, it’s also a funding model, right? So, the more people we can get the more money we get. That is changing. It is changing so fast, Ann, right now due again to demographic shifts, due to the way

Millennials and people born after 1964 see and give money different than those born before 1964. For all these different reasons that model of, if I can say it, “butts in the seats” is going to change because attendance is going down, and for these reasons. So, what is happening right now is that most pastors in America, in my opinion, when it comes to the finances and economics of their church, all they are doing is managing decline. They are not leading into the future. They are simply managing decline. And like the frog in the kettle they don’t even realize it because all we have in the toolbox, if you will, is how do we get more people to come to our church.

Ann Michel: I think what you are saying is one of the reasons why so many church plants fail and also why so many churches that are on the decline curve are put a very the difficult situation where basically if they can’t pay the pastor’s salary and afford their building, they can’t be a church.

Mark DeYmaz: Exactly. And the strategy again, all we have in the moment is how do we get more people to come. And again, I’m not thinking it’s only mercenary. Yes, for the Gospel. But on the business side, how do we get more people to come? Well, here is the problem with that. The problem is, again for some of the reasons I’ve already articulated, if somebody, for instance is 65 years old and they attend your church and that person dies or moves to a different state. In one way or another their giving goes away. How many Millennials will it take to replace that giving? Nobody’s done a study on this. But off the top of my head, every time I talk about it, people say “Maybe ten.” Let’s just say it take 10 Millennials to replace that 65-year-old’s giving. Then you think about it, what is the customer acquisition cost? See, what do I have to spend as a church to attract a Millennial versus what do I have to spend to attract someone who is 65?” You talk to a person who is 65 and say, “Come. We teach the Bible. We’re exegetically sound. We teach the Bible. We love and care on people.” They go, “Hey, that’s good enough for me.” And they’ll show up. But if you say that to a Millennial, they’ll say “What else do you do? What about your social justice side? What about your compassionate work?” And all of those things cost. “How about your children’s programs?” And now I’ve got to buy a laser light show and a smoke machine. I’ve got to wow everybody. And that costs the church money. So right now, we are like hamsters on a wheel. We’re chasing more people, more butts in the seats, if you will. But with that chase comes the expenditure of more money to attract them, and you’ll never catch up. So, the idea we are proposing and what we do here and what many others are beginning to do is disrupting the economic system. Yes, tithes and offerings. But we are also going to have to learn how to learn how to attract local, state, and federal grants, and on top of that how do we actually create or generate profitable and sustainable income through business enterprises. And that again becomes a multi-tiered strategy for funding the church.


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Ann Michel: I don’t know if you are familiar with research that was published just within the last couple of months from the Lake Institute. They came out with this national study of economic practices of congregations. What that research found is that 81% of the revenue that comes into congregations is from contributions. And another 13% is from what I would call pretty traditional sources like fundraisers and endowments. And then about 6% is coming from rental. But some of these other more innovative funding strategies, they’re just not even on the radar screen yet. And I pressed the author of the study David King. In talking with him, I asked him about this. Because as I said, we’re are paying attention to some of these trends and I was expecting to see some evidence in the research that churches are beginning to adopt some of these more innovative practices. And I raise this point not to dispute your point, but just to say that I think you are pointing to a future that is for a lot of congregations way outside of their current practice. A lot of churches are still a really far way away from this. And so, I guess the question is, this really requires a different mindset and it also requires a different set of competencies, and so how do you think that congregations, and denominations, and even theological seminaries can begin to help people think in a different way about church finances?

Mark DeYmaz: And you’re absolutely right, Ann. This is a disruptive model at a time that the economic system of the church has to be disrupted if it is going to be sustainable. Of course the church is going to be around. It’s just how many. And are they merely surviving or in fact thriving in the future? So, we are talking about disruption. And change of course is never easy. In business the pain point for people is switching — switching from what I like and what I’m used to, to something new. And that is why we call this and believe it to be a coming revolution in church economics. If you are a pastor listening to this, you don’t have to understand business. This can sound very overwhelming. You might have said, “Hey, I just signed up to preach the gospel and care for the sick and love, and serve, and disciple.” Here is what I would say to you. “You don’t have to be the person who delivers on these fronts. But you have to understand like the Men of Issachar in the Bible, it says, ‘The men of Issachar understood the times and knew what was right to do.’” We have to be like those people who understand this moment and what is coming and know what is right to do. We have to create a team of teams within our church. If you think about it like a stool — think about a three-legged stool. We need a spiritual team, a social team, and a financial team. And how that works is, the spiritual team is your church — all the things that you do, evangelism, discipleship, baptizing, small groups, children’s ministry. That’s the game of the spiritual church. And it’s led by a senior pastor and it’s funded primarily by tithes and offerings. But then the second leg is your social justice and compassionate work. You create a separate nonprofit that’s led by an executive director in order to solicit local, state, and federal grants, donations from other churches, human resources from other places. And you move your justice and compassionate work out from under the budget of the church on the spiritual side into the social justice side, because you can’t get local, state and federal grants as a church for a program. But if you put it under a nonprofit, you qualify and you can get it. So, this is a smart funding strategy to advance social justice and compassionate work in the local community, but not funded by tithes and offerings. You’ll get way more money than tithes and offerings could ever afford you to advance those goals. And then the last leg is the financial leg, and the head coach, if you will, of that would be a CEO or a CEO type who is going to help you rent that facility, or develop property, help you monetize existing services, help you start brand new businesses, and generate an ROI (return on investment) or a profitable, sustainable income stream on the third leg. So, tithes and offerings on the church. Local, state, and federal grants and other donations on the social leg. And for-profit ROI on the third leg. You combine all that. And each team functions as a separate unit. And it’s overseen of course, by your leadership structure or what have you in your church. The combination of those three teams, if you will, playing effectively is what is not only going to move the church from mere survival to stability, but ultimately to sustainability and effectiveness in the future.

Ann Michel: And I think too, as I was reading your book — and other people who are working in the same way that you are — there’s also a missional piece to it. This isn’t just about economic survival. This is about presenting your church in a different way to the community that has missional implications as well as financial implications. And so, in a lot of the examples you mentioned, you’re really making your church more present to the community whether it’s through partnerships, or retail space, or the way that you are using your building. And that is not something that is separate and apart from the mission of the church. That’s a strategic way of expanding your missional presence as well.

Mark DeYmaz: Yeah. I really appreciate you bringing that up. This isn’t about us sitting back and getting rich, fat and happy, pursuing economics in the way we’re suggesting in a sense to be mercenary. This is about advancing a credible gospel in an increasingly diverse, painfully polarized, and cynical society and being able to sustain our work long-term. If we keep giving everything away for free, we’re not going to be here in ten years. And so, it is about the mission. I believe that “just economics” — I don’t mean “just” economics, I mean “justice,” if you will. Just economics is the most effective strategy for evangelism that we have currently available to us and to use for the 21st Century. In the 20th century it was explanation.

How did people come to Christ? It was explanation. You bring Billy Graham to your city. He clearly communicates the gospel and people get saved. In the 21st century explanation doesn’t cut it. What it is, it’s demonstration. We have to demonstrate redemption. You have to demonstrate the hope of the gospel. And this is exactly why, and I appreciate you bringing up the point, why we’re talking about this …. Matthew 5:16 he didn’t say, “Let them hear your good words.” He said, “Let them see your good works.” Rather than buy land and build buildings, when you repurpose an abandoned Walmart, or Kmart, or ToysRUs, you don’t have to preach redemption. You just redeemed property. And everyone in the community sees it. It leads to job creation, a reduction in crime around the facility, it leads to new taxes being generated for your local community and many other social goods, and that’s what people pay attention to. And that’s what going to attract those who are disenfranchised and cynical about the church when we are creating jobs, and lowering crime, and repurposing abandoned property, and generating tax revenue, that is what gets the attention of the world and gives us the entre then to explain as it where a credible gospel rooted in our good works that they see and ultimately come to recognize the God in us, the Christ in us, and it becomes a compelling witness. This is a matter, not merely as you pointed out of survival or sustainability on the economic side as well as an evangelistic strategy, this is a matter of stewardship. Because in the American church basically stewardship is defined as three things. It’s defined for instance as “We own this building. God gave us this building. And we’ve got to take care of it.” So, we mow the grass. You got a hole in the wall we fix it. You’ve got a pothole in the parking lot, you fill it. Another thing of good stewardship is that we have to report — accurately account for the money we receive. And thirdly, we have to clearly communicate to donors what we receive and where that money is going, how it’s being spent. Those three things essentially define for the American church and the establishment what is good stewardship. But biblically speaking — although I agree with all of three of those and we practice all three of those things for the reasons I said — biblically speaking, exegetically speaking, that’s not what defines good stewardship. It’s the story of the stewards, right? And the master gives them five, two, and one. And one guys says “You gave me five. Here’s your five, I made you your five.” “Here’s your two, I made you two.” One guy sat on his asset. And that person who sat on his asset and buried it is called the wicked, lazy slave. The American church right now is literally sitting on billions, tens of billions, hundreds of billions, some say, of undeveloped assets buried in the ground. Lazy, wicked slave. For instance, a church of 65 people with a $2.5 million dollar endowment in the bank but nobody is being saved, the community isn’t being impacted. But by golly, those 65 people are proud of the fact that they have $2.5 million in the bank. It’s a church that owns 40 acres of land that is just sitting there undeveloped. I could go on and one. It’s buildings all over this country that are used on Sunday mornings, but at no other time during the week. That equates to the burying of assets. And that, by definition of Christ himself in the story, is wicked and lazy. Good stewardship is taking what I have and doubling it, if you will, it’s leveraging it to generate even more and more possibilities with it. That is good stewardship. And to the person who says, “What are you talking about? The church should just preach the gospel and trust God to provide, right?” Well, what do you say to that?” Well I say, if someone says that to me, “Let me ask you a question. “Have you ever been to a doctor? Have you ever signed a loan to buy a house or car that you couldn’t otherwise afford? Have you ever taken prescription medicine that a doctor signed?” I can say, “Where’s your faith? Why don’t you just sit around? Do you get up every day and go to a job and collect the paycheck and work hard to get raises? Why don’t you just sit around your house and read the Bible and pray all day and then check your mailbox for money?” Right? So, it’s about good stewardship and exercising intentional faith. So, this is really rooted, as we talk about in the second chapter of the book, there is a theological mandate that we have to shift our brains — not only for the economics, not only for the just witness, but to be in fact faithful and good stewards. All of this is at the root of what we are suggesting in The Coming Revolution in Church Finances.

Ann Michel: I’m glad you brought up the theological question. I agree very much with your interpretation of stewardship as involving not just maintenance but the responsibly to use something fruitfully for God’s purposes. I guess a couple of other theological thoughts came to my mind. One, so much of the church is thinking out of a scarcity mentality, when they are just kind of counting the beans and hoping they can just pay their bills, and worrying about how they can keep downsizing things, instead of really claiming abundance. The ability to think differently about what possibilities, and assets and resources exist for our church Is a form of abundance thinking. And really claiming what God has provided for us in new ways. But I think there is something that is a little concerning to me on the theological side of this. And you are explicit is saying that the church needs to encourage tithes and offerings, but I think the church has a mission to cultivate giving and generosity in people that isn’t just about paying its bills, it’s about forming people for generosity because God needs us to be generous people. And worry that if the church gets more concerned about making money in the marketplace and less concerned cultivating generosity that we could avoid that calling that we have to help people learn the importance of giving.

Mark DeYmaz: We say, “Yes, tithes and offerings. Yes, generosity” for all the reasons you said. But also “Yes” to what we are talking about church economics. It’s not a displacement of what is, for the reasons you say. It’s adding an additional layer to how we are thinking, right? And the thing is, could people take what we write and what we are doing and promoting and in a sense run with it and all of a sudden they become a big business machine? Yeah, they could do that. People could do that. But here’s the thing, they are already doing that. People are already doing that. People have been leveraging the Bible and God and the church for their own human means, or whatever. Like we didn’t start that. That’s already happening. But the fact that is happening and/or a potential danger, shouldn’t stop the rest of us who would build accountability, who aren’t doing this by ourselves, who are building teams around us, all the other reasons you have accountability built in in order to chaise this dream of justice economics, not just stability but sustainability of our work for the long-term. You’re absolutely right, there is a danger. But by the way we construct the models, by the accountability we build into the system, if you will, then we can keep that mission — just economics a credible witness — at the forefront.

Ann Michel: I think you do a good job in the book of explaining in the book why money isn’t inherently problematic and the church doesn’t need to be afraid of dealing in the economic realm. At the same time, I do think that the church is always at risk — whether it’s operating in the old paradigm of just tithes and offerings or whether it’s operating in this new paradigm, of bringing only a transactional mindset to money. And so, I think this isn’t just a risk if churches start getting more entrepreneurial, I think everybody in the church needs to see whatever forms of economic sustainability and whatever forms of financing that they don’t only look at it through a transactional lens.

You have given us an awful lot to think about in terms of what the future is going to hold. And the one thing we know is that it is going to involve a lot of change. So I want to thank you for helping us to think in new ways about these very provocative and important subjects. Thank you for your tremendous ministry. And thank you for being with us today.

Mark DeYmaz: Well, you bet, Ann. Thanks for much for having me. And if I could give just another word. If you as a pastor or ministry leader in a church are interested in not only understanding what we are talking about — because of course you could read the book, listen to this podcast, and get some idea — but if you are interested in us holding you by the hand and walking you through to actually transition your church to doing this, go to churcheconomics.org and you can read all about and sign up for a brand new five-month church economics accelerator. It’s a program that we have partnered with Ocean in Cincinnati, it’s a high-tech accelerator company. But we literally take you by the hand and for five months we will walk you through a strategy. Essentially the economics accelerator is a mini MBA for pastors. So, you can find about that at churcheconomics.org.

Ann Michel: Thanks so much for sharing that resource. And good luck with that program. And thanks a lot for being with us, Mark.

Announcer:On the next Leading Ideas Talks we speak with Orlando Evans, online pastor at Impact Church in Atlanta, on best practices in building an online worshiping community.

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About Author

Mark DeYmaz founded Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas. He is the co-founder and President of Mosaix, a network of faith leaders working to establish multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches. His most recent book is The Coming Revolution in Church Economics with Harry Li, published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2019. The book is also available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

Ann A. Michel is associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and teaches in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.