Thursday, August 30, 2007

A follow-up about church (Justin)

As you saw in the previous post, many of the churches here are big and nice. The pictures didn't do it justice, if I had to compare it to a church I'd compare it to First Baptist in whatever small town you might live in Kentucky (it looked very much like the one in Princeton). Very nice stage, expensive modern sound system, security system, baptismal, nice pews and carpet. This in a country where the average salary is $180 month, unemployment might be 10-20%, and most people in the church are quite old and live on small government pensions.
So, how can the poorest country in Europe afford such nice churches?

I posed this question to Ghena after church. We had a great conversation and I got to hear some of his vision for Invest-Credit and how it relates to building the Church.

Joni alluded to the answer when she mentioned the Americans that were here. The churches of Eastern Europe are almost completely dependent on Western donations. The entire Baptist Union of countries like Moldova spend a great deal of resources raising funds. "Our congregation can't afford to pay us a salary," the pastors say. The suffer from the same free-riding effects that big American churches do, where 90% of the people just sit in a pew and don't do or give anything. Those that do give don't have much income.

There are several different tangents where I can go with this. For now, I'll just ask a question:
What are the effects of getting your funding from an outside source who doesn't speak your language or even see what you do except for maybe 10 days out of the year?

Well, in my previous experiences in Russia I learned a few answers to this question:
1. Resources of leadership are devoted to raising funds rather than to the Great Commission.
2. Lack of accountability to the local church means pastors don't care as much about the needs of the church.
3. Lack of true accountability to the distant and rarely-seen donor means that the money might be spent in ways the donor didn't approve of (an invitation for corruption).
4. Like the churches we saw, the Western money goes to things that the Western donor understands: sound systems, paved parking lots, and church decorations. If you judge a church solely by how it looks (which is how the local Orthodox do it), then these are very healthy churches.

So, I talked to Ghena about these things and he agrees that dependency on outside sources is what keeps many churches from growing. He says that only a few "charismatic" (Pentecostal) churches here are completely self-sufficient. They're healthy and reproducing quickly.

Ghena's vision for Invest-Credit is to help Christians create jobs and earn money that they can then tithe to their churches. As the income base of the church grows, the church can become much less dependent on the West. Pastors can again become accountable to their congregation, and devote their time and energy to pastoring rather than fund-raising.

So, that's what we're learning about here. My current question for all you mission-minded folks is: How can microfinance help foster a church planting movement?


Jessica said...

You mention in answer #4 that Western money tends to go to that which Western churches understand. Do you know of specific needs the Eastern church has that those of us in the West could help finance? Simply, what should our money be going towards?

TaylorW said...

you are awesome Tapp...

JTapp said...

short-answer to the good question (writing this from an internet club where the left mouse button is broken):
the americans we saw last Sunday were training pastors to do pastoral counseling. That's more time and resource-intensive, but I think that's good. It encourages the pastors to open their doors to the wider community of sinners (which is a big deal).
I would tend to say anything like that, that helps them engage in discipleship and evangelistic and mission activity (and reproducing rather than simply growing-- moving away from being a "mule church") and rather than simply improving their building and making their worship style more Western.

JTapp said...

Follow-up example: i attended a church in the U.S. that gave thousands of dollars to buy windows for a church. Thousands more dollars went to better light fixtures, remodeling the offices of the pastors, etc. The locals said "we can't reach out unless and until our building looks nice." There's absolutely no Biblical basis for that, although that mindset is prevalent in American churches.