Learning to Count the Cost Before Saying “Yes” | By Don Corder
When making a plan, pastors and church staff members need to consider ALL aspects of proposed church projects.
A friend of mine has a T-shirt that says, “I was going to change the world, but then something shiny flew by.” Shiny things fly past us every day, distracting even the wisest of us from time to time.
FIRST count the cost.
A national evangelistic organization was thrilled when a donor gave them a bus. It meant that the evangelist and the musicians would save tens of thousands of dollars they would have spent on airline tickets each month as they traveled the country, preaching the gospel.
The evangelist knew little about road tours, and he didn’t think about the costs of having personnel endlessly on the road, the cost to their families, or the length of time he’d be out of the office. He didn’t calculate the cost to administrate the thousands of people who partnered with the ministry while he was ministering to hundreds in a small town.
The staff spent an entire year working on a schedule that would allow the evangelistic team to drive seamlessly from one city to the next as they toured the country. On the day of the much-anticipated inaugural trip, everyone from the ministry gathered around the bus to watch it roll out of the parking lot. Before the bus even reached the freeway, someone knocked the curtain rod off the window. No one knew how to fix it, so the team just laughed as they waved at other travelers on the road. Their cheery mood was unfazed. “We’ve lost our privacy,” they said, “but, hey, we still have a bus!”
At their first citywide meeting, one of the musicians received a call from home. His daughter had fallen and cracked her head open. He booked a ticket on the next flight out, and the other musicians made up for his absence. This was followed by three stops in other cities with effective ministry events, although the crowd sizes were not as large as they had anticipated. The budget shortfall would have to be made up in future cities. When they hit Florida, someone from the ministry office called the evangelist and asked if the team was going to be safe from the hurricane.
“What hurricane?” everybody wanted to know.
The hosts of their next several scheduled events ended up canceling in light of the forecasted storm. The team was far from home, and their next citywide meeting was over a week away. They were stuck. Then the hurricane changed its path, jeopardizing the entire Gulf region. The team steered the bus toward home, racing to outrun the storm. They opted to fly to the remaining cities on their tour, traveling home between each event. I was able to help them sell the bus, which is what they should have done immediately upon receiving it.
Discern between biblical mandates and “great” opportunities.
Church leaders must become experts at managing opportunity. It’s critical to know what you know, as well as what you don’t know. It’s equally important to understand the costs incurred as a result of the things you don’t know.
A friend of mine was eager to surprise his wife with the gift of a kitten he’d gotten for free from some neighborhood kids. This man knew nothing about cats and what the proper care of them entailed — vaccinations, deworming, neutering, and the like. A kitten from the local rescue shelter, which would have handled all those necessities, would have cost him $40. Yet he and his wife spent more than $400 on their “free” kitten.
Again, you must become an expert at managing opportunities. Someone on your staff may insist on the importance of recycling, for example. The question is, who is going to manage the church’s recycling efforts? Sure, it may be important. But so are children. Are you going to divert resources that ought to be spent toward the children’s ministry just so your church can maintain a recycling program? Opportunities need to be weighed and ranked in order of priority.
I did some consulting for an urban church of about 250 where the prominent members were all artsy people. They had proposed to the pastor the idea of converting the old house on the church property into a community center for the arts, as a method of outreach. They had been thrilled to receive a grant toward the project, and they’d quickly started refurbishing the building. They’d been giddy with excitement at the prospect of children learning the fine arts and church members having an opportunity to witness to local kids and their families.
Then, it finally dawned on them that someone would need to be on site to open the doors of the arts center at 8 a.m. every day and to staff the desk all day. It wasn’t long before all the church volunteers were sucked into serving at the arts center. Other church programs suffered, and the staff was overburdened. By the time I came in to help, the arts center still looked great, but it was almost always closed due to a lack of adequate staff. The building created the illusion that they were serving the community, but they were digging a grave the whole time. They didn’t manage their opportunities well.
Learn to manage your church’s (REAL) resources.
Another mismanaged opportunity I witnessed was at a suburban church in the central valley of California. For thirty years, they had partnered with local schools in running a massive summer day camp — really a vacation Bible school in disguise. Each summer, about one thousand children attended, and scores of families joined the church every year as a direct result of the outreach.
One year, a prominent church member who believed in year- round education said, “Let’s have a vocational VBS where we train youngsters with actual skills.” Since most of the church members with the necessary expertise for teaching “actual skills” worked during the day, the staff scheduled the VBS sessions in the evenings. But they soon learned that most parents didn’t want to be out and about at night, not to mention that kids preferred Bible stories to lessons on electrical circuits. And the regular pool of volunteers couldn’t adjust to the time change or the switch in activities. The thirty-year streak of success came to an abrupt end.
It’s crucial to keep the end goal in mind. I once had a friend ask my opinion on premillennialism versus postmillennialism. I responded that my opinion on the matter wasn’t important. He wasn’t pleased with my answer, so I asked him a question: “How does one’s position on this matter help the church in fulfilling the Great Commission? Will settling a theological question between the two of us put more people in heaven?”
Keep the “main thing” the MAIN thing.
Remember, making disciples of all people is the reason the church exists. It’s the “main thing.” And for the church, keeping the main thing as the main thing is the main thing. Yet so much of what the church concerns itself with actually diverts time, talents, and resources away from the mission of proclaiming the gospel to a lost and hurting world.
Scripture says that we move from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7). To do that, we have to recognize opportunities and manage them wisely. There are many good things a church can do; but, sometimes, the church spends time and effort on things that make its members feel good but have no heavenly value. And while these things may have a positive impact on people’s earthly lives, if the church is not helping people prepare for the next life, it has failed to keep the main thing as the main thing.
Remember that no gift is truly “free,” and that not all good things are worth pursuing.
Learn more about Don Corder and The Provisum Group. This article is an excerpt from Don Corder’s book, Minding His Business.