“Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms. Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.” (Eph. 6:10-12, NLT)
An Open Letter
The issues that empty tomb, inc.’s research highlights – – declines in church member giving and membership – – are underscored by other research about religion in the U.S. from Pew, Gallup, and the University of Chicago General Social Survey.
For us, the question is not just what is happening but what can/should be done to revitalize the church.
As one solution, we have an effort to “prime the pump” and help increase mission spending through congregations. A special donation offer for this work expires on 11/30/2015. That’s why we need your help.
Here’s an executive summary in 7 points. A longer overview is below.
- There is a six-decade-old affluence in the U.S. that church leaders have neither conceptualized nor engaged at a level commensurate with the resulting potential of church mission giving.
- The church has been absorbed with what is de facto maintenance-level mission rather than at-scale mission as a result.
- At the maintenance level, para-congregational and congregational activities are locked into a status quo as the church declines.
- Between para-congregations and congregations, the intervention has to take place in the congregations, which are the base of the church.
- Decades of work by empty tomb have led to the discovery of its project, Mission Match®, with initial results showing: a) an approach acceptable to congregations; and b) an increase of 36% in spending on global mission as a percent of total congregational spending in a small set of congregations.
- The first year of a seven-year plan to provide the money offered to congregations through Mission Match needs 453 more Christians to sign on to empty tomb’s Mission Match Discipleship Tree® and donate $48 each, which will each be matched by $48 each from a $21,744 donation balance in an escrow account that will revert to the donor if not used by 11/30/2015. This is where we need immediate help. If you want to participate, return the Invite Me! email at <http://www.emptytomb.org/dtree.html>, and please help us spread the word.
- A seven-year plan is designed to raise $12-24 billion a year in additional mission giving through congregations as of the seventh and succeeding years, with a person expressing interest in possibly providing a second year increased escrow sign-on incentive donation. We’re waiting to explore that possibility depending on how this first year works.
As I wrote above, there are more details below my signature. My request is for you to consider ways to help us spread the word about this $48 opportunity for 453 more sign-ons that ends 11/30/2015, if you are interested in these goals and the approach we are taking. There is a summary of the project itself on the Web at: <http://www.emptytomb.org/dtree.html>.
Thank you for reading this far as we pray and step out in faith, pursuing ways to do God’s will. My husband and coworker, John, sends his regards, and I remain,
Believing God for great things (Eph. 3:20-21),
Executive Vice President
empty tomb, inc.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Detailed Overview on empty tomb’s Mission Match and Discipleship Tree
Below is a more detailed overview of: 1) some of the concepts we are exploring, and also, 2) a practical idea we are working on. You might be able to help us spread the word on point 2) below, if you think it’s a good idea.
1) Concept. The church in the U.S. has tried a variety of church growth strategies, and other ideas to revitalize church members. We think one basic reality has been missed, and as a consequence, all the other approaches have been focused on surface issues that don’t have the strength to reverse the negative trends. Sometimes a surface idea works for a while. But its shallow roots show up after some years. And meanwhile, the body of Christ as a whole is weakening.
The key concept we think has been missed among church leaders is that discipleship for church members in the U.S. needs to engage the Matt. 6:24 spiritual choice between God and Money.
The idea of “God or Money” has been discussed superficially so often that the conversation is over before it starts. But the key reality, of how basic this issue is in this culture, has been missed.
Jesus, with his “God or Money” statement, may, in part, have been looking forward to this time when Christians in the U.S. are richer than many rulers used to be, trying to point the way when the foreseen future turned into reality. But church leaders have ignored the past 60 years of never-before-experienced affluence – – their ideas rooted in “uncorrected obsolescence” (Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1958 assessment of economics in general; applied here specifically to church leaders ignoring member potential giving).
The danger is that church leaders believe they are taking on the issue of God or Money when they bring out Matt. 6:24 for the annual stewardship sermon. However, the understanding of Money is limited to what is de facto maintenance-level fundraising. And Money, according to Jesus, is a spiritual entity, capable of being a master.
That narrow understanding of Money in the context of maintenance-level fundraising and paying the bills has produced weakening congregations. There is currently a status quo dynamic between para-congregational groups and congregations. But it is in the congregation that people learn their values, grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and develop a worldview. If congregations are weakening, the trends will be evident in philanthropy in general, including in para-congregational groups. To strengthen congregations’ commitment to global missions is to strengthen the entire Gospel enterprise.
With the church not providing a Christian worldview regarding money – – we term it a “positive agenda for affluence” – – church members are getting their worldview from business, including advertising, which has no trouble understanding just how much money is floating around, offering many creative strategies for encouraging people to spend more on products designed to enhance themselves (“You deserve a break today”; “Have it your way”; etc.). In this worldview, Money is the master (the goal being to have “more”) and God’s values are an interruption, or even resented (how popular is Stewardship Sunday?).
While business marketers and advertisers have done well and succeeded in their job, the church is sitting in the stands, not even in the game on the field, regarding making the kingdom of God a priority evidenced by at-scale global word and deed missions. The enemy, if one must be identified, is lukewarmness in the church.
2) Practical idea. We have offered these concepts in The State of Church Giving series, in articles and presentations. We spent some time contacting national denominational offices, and other church leaders nationally, hoping to encourage action to counter these forces. Although we trust God that our efforts are not in vain, we have not found a positive change in the numbers we track, and surveys from Pew, Gallup, and the U. of Chicago General Social Survey, have been reflecting a disaffiliation from the church.
So we have worked for many years to develop a practical idea to strengthen congregations, with all the positive overflow that will result. The idea needs to point congregations to their primary purpose, which is in counterpoint to a live-for-self-with-your-money culture. That purpose will focus on what we call the Three Greats: The Great Commission, Mt. 28:18-20; The Great Commandments, Mark 12:29-31, Love God and love neighbor; and The Great Prayer, John 17:20-23, our oneness pointing to the fact that the Father sent Jesus.
Global missions deal with all these Three Greats. So the task is to increase global missions spending in congregations as a percent of total spending. The method is to encourage increased giving for global missions by those affiliated with the congregation. A goal is that, as the churches are more vital in obedience to Jesus in this age of affluence, church members will continue to value and support the broad array of worthy congregational and denominational activities funded through the unified budget.
Previous iterations of practical ideas taught us a lot about congregational dynamics. We also learned that we needed to simplify any approach and speak to congregations in terms that address their realities.
Our conclusion: Give congregations money to do more missions, especially global missions. We call the plan empty tomb’s Mission Match project.
The money offered to congregations is raised through empty tomb’s Mission Match Discipleship Tree. That system involves individual Christians who sign on to the Discipleship Tree and donate $48 a year to be pooled with donations from other concerned Christians. Of the combined money, including from the escrow account, 85% is then the source of the money offered to congregations. These donors can be described as Ephesians 6 warriors, who take on the spiritual struggle with Money. As a result, congregations are encouraged to see money as a tool, and use more of it to pursue God’s agenda of missions.
We need help spreading the word. Right now, we have a donation that’s in escrow. We can withdraw $48 to match each $48 donation from up to 500 new people who sign on to the Mission Match Discipleship Tree. The special offer ends 11/30/2015, when unused money reverts from the escrow account to the donor.
People interested in Mission Match and the Discipleship Tree can find a summary at <http://www.emptytomb.org/dtree.html>.
Although we may understand the spiritual dynamics, we are apparently horrible marketers. As of today, since the beginning of the year (!), 47 of the 500 new people have signed on and donated. That leaves 453 more, or $21,744 that could help challenge congregations to increase global missions spending that won’t be available after 11/30/2015. The number of people who can still sign on, donate, and have their $48 donation matched from the escrow account, is being updated regularly, until 11/30/2015, on the lower left section of the empty tomb homepage at <emptytomb.org>.
So if you think this point 2) is a good idea, if you have networks to spread the word about this project, on a very soon basis, would you use them? Or if you have other ideas of other people to contact, or if God leads to some other action on your part to help recruit 453 more people both to sign on and donate $48 before 11/30/2015, we hope you will take that step. It’s frustrating to document the decline when we know God’s heart is in life and growth.
We’ve puzzled why Jesus would “spit out” a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16). Our latest thinking is that lukewarm is like a poison to the vitality of the church. Lukewarm does not represent who Jesus is, and yet has the appearance of still being alive but instead is dead and dying (like the church in Sardis, Rev. 3:1-2).
We hope you will spread the word about the need for 453 more new sign-ons with donations. The results will help us challenge more congregations to increase missions spending, particularly global.
If we succeed, that will be $21,744 more from the escrow account to “prime the pump” of congregations’ mission outreach. And there is an individual who has expressed interest in providing a larger escrowed matching donation next year. We’ll see how this year works. So spreading the word so more people participate could have both immediate and longer-term benefits!
John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, empty tomb, inc., 11/17/2015