The cost of salvation has been on my mind for a while now, and I’m having mixed emotions. I’m not referring to the price that Jesus paid with his shed blood. I’m talking about the dollars that are spent collectively by today’s church.
It’s not that I’m against spending substantial funds to save souls. I heartily embrace a generous approach to reaching the lost. But I wonder if we need to take a fresh look at our methods. Maybe we should critically examine the traditions and routines that we’ve grown comfortable with.
A number of years ago, First Baptist Vienna had a series of meetings to develop a strategic plan. A very capable minister came down from Atlanta and led our effort. The first thing we did was develop a mission statement. I don’t remember what it said, but it sounded pretty good and we were all in one accord. I think we printed it in the bulletin a few times.
A suggestion for a slogan that I do somehow recall was, “Empowering the saved to reach the lost.” That’s a good thought and seems like a reasonable way to examine what we’re doing.
One issue that First Baptist Vienna and other congregations deal with is having a historic sanctuary. The beautiful stained-glass windows create an aura of worship and inspiration. It’s a picture-perfect setting for both quiet reflection and vibrant renewal, but the upkeep of our ancient building is higher than its cathedral ceiling.
First Baptist Vienna baptized 18 people during the past ten years. Based on our total expenditures during that same period, each new convert came at a cost of over $100,000.
Is it worth $100,000 to save a lost soul? Sure it is. But most of those professions came from the children of faithful members, Christian families who would no doubt have been in church somewhere. If we measure our effectiveness by public professions from outside our church family, the individual costs soar astronomically.
Baptisms are only one aspect of ministry. There are many worthwhile efforts such as missions, benevolence programs, and fostering spiritual growth among the members. Without baptisms, however, the proverbial well will eventually run dry.
I read somewhere recently that about 4000 churches close annually in the U.S. I don’t know how accurate those numbers are, but I do know there is excess pew capacity in much of America.
Maybe it’s useless to talk about a problem without suggesting a solution, and I sure don’t have one. I’m writing in hopes it will generate some conversation and ideas. How do we make the best use of our tithes and offerings? What’s the most cost-effective method to share the gospel? What do we do with church facilities when the congregants become too few to support them? Should shrinking congregations merge or perhaps share pastors, staff, and other resources? How do we engage in polite non-threatening discussions?
First Baptist Vienna can probably kick the can down the road another ten years or more. The most inviting solution is to do just that, to let somebody else deal with it. But I don’t believe that’s the right thing, not for our church or the thousands of others who are facing gradual declines in members and, more importantly, in professions of faith.
Many of us are tenaciously clinging to a delivery system that comes at a high cost. That doesn’t mean we should cut back on our giving. It means that we need to find ways to use those gifts that will produce better results. Maybe we’ve focused too much on saving churches and not enough on saving souls. It’s wonderful to invite people to church, but it’s critical to invite people to Christ.
Salvation is free because Jesus paid the price. The cost of sharing that message, however, has grown much faster than the resulting professions of faith. I believe it’s urgent to have some honest discussions about more effective means of sharing the Gospel of Christ. Or we can delay a while longer and let somebody else turn off the lights. The cost of salvation has been on my mind for a while now, and I’m having mixed emotions.