While I confess I have never been directly involved in a church that specifically defines itself as emerging, I am certainly very familiar and well-read on the movement. I find it humorous that some insist this movement is dead; this suggests that we have not moved too far from our modern predecessors. Everyone knows that things die off the McDonalds menu every once in awhile so that they can sell us another meat patty between two buns by another name.
What concerns me more than the who’s and what’s of the emerging church is how these emerging congregations intend to finance themselves and whether their resistance to everything modern will change as their demands for cash increases. I am curious whether these congregations and their leaders are prepared to forgo many of the modern church amenities in order to remain true to their original vision. I have three observations of the emerging church that cause me concern.
The emerging church is younger. Granted, there is certainly a mix of gray in most emerging congregations; however, for the most part, these congregations are not empty-nesters, they have not paid off their mortgages, and they have yet to reach their peak earning years. If the emerging gen-X’ers tithe, which I strongly doubt, they are not making as much as their boomer parents from which to tithe with.
One of the truths that non-fundraising types miss is that both church and para-church organizations typically receive eighty-percent of their funds from twenty-percent of their constituency. And, as many pastors know all to well, the lucky twenty-percent are often among the oldest people in the pews. Another bad assumption is that higher incomes translate into more generous givers when in fact high incomes really just translate into more expensive lifestyles.
A concept that seems to be overshawdowing the emerging church is that of being missional. The missional church encourages outsiders to become a part of community first, and then believe. This means the last thing new church-goers are expected to do is give financially. Rick Meigs says of the missional church.
Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but many churches today have inadvertently changed the “go and be” command to a “come and see” appeal. We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.
Unfortunately, these entertainment venues with their buildings, programs, and staff made for a great case for support. Without all these things, we have to convince our congregations to give for different reasons; and while these reasons may be more consistent with Scripture, they are not what church-goers are accustomed to giving towards.
When I was a kid, we passed the plate, brought it forward with a song, and then counted it in a back room so the total could be posted before everyone went to McDonald’s with their bulletins. In today’s churches, emerging and otherwise, the offering has all but disappeared from the worship service. Rather than ensure that our methods are consistent with Biblical instruction, Willow Creek convinced us to be so seeker-sensitive that we point to a box in the back with a sign that insists For Members Only.
One tradition the emerging church does not appear to have abandoned is our fear of talking about money. Instead of confronting consumerism, greed, and the accumulation of wealth, many pastors, both young and old, will remain silent on the subject of money and possessions. It occurs to me that leaders in the emerging church might have the greatest opportunity to break this habit and inspire a new generation of generous givers.
In closing, I believe the church must be intentional when it comes to money and possessions. Whether emerging or traditional, we cannot hide uncomfortable subjects in the closet while expecting our people to become a people not unlike those that came before us. We must approach giving as an act of worship recognized as essential and as present in the service as everything else. And, finally, we must be pro-active, willing to assist those who struggle in this area and able to encourage those who want to do better. As Paul instructed the Corinthians, as we strive towards greater faith, speech, and knowledge we must also see to it that we strive towards excellence in giving.
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Jason leads the fund-raising, marketing, and recruitment efforts at Logos Academy; an inter-cultural, Gospel-centered, community school located in York City, Pennsylvania. Jason and his family are active members of the City Church community. In addition to his full-time ministry, Jason routinely speaks to groups about Christian stewardship, generous giving, and effective ministry advancement. You can learn more at The Generous Life.