With all the emphasis on church growth and attendance numbers, I am sure that someone has considered this before: Why don’t we just pay people to go to church?
“With all the emphasis on church growth and attendance numbers, I am sure that someone has considered this before: Why don’t we just pay people to go to church?”
It’s simple – offer people $20, $50, or $100 a Sunday to come to church. $10,000 and you could have a thousand-member church overnight. Mega-church here we come!
Obviously, I’m not the first pastor to think of this so let’s examine the reasons we don’t do this (reasons why I hope you’re not doing this).
1) It gives people the wrong motivation to come. They aren’t coming to learn, worship, serve, or give – they are coming to receive, profit, and do their time.
2) It gives people the wrong view of the gospel. Didn’t Jesus tell people to count the cost of discipleship rather than telling them to count on the profits that come from following?
3) It harms the people who do want to come. How would you feel if you came to worship and the guy next to you kept asking, “When’s this over?” and “What’s the time?” How would you feel if you came to learn and as the pastor began preaching, the whole crowd around you pulled out their iPhones and iPads and started playing games?
4) It gives the pastor a false sense of his influence, impact, and following. Bigger isn’t always better (just ask your friend who failed a summer diet). Your ego might feel better having a big crowd, but ultimately you are attracting a crowd that cares more about the coffee and doughnuts than they do about the gospel.
5) It is a waste of the church's resources. If I need to explain,stop reading here because you’re not going to like me at all as I’m about to turn the tables.
Here is where I am going:
As a missionary I am shocked at how many short-term missions teams pay the nationals to attend their conferences, trainings, and seminars.
Not only do they pay for the conference, food, lodging, and gifts (Bibles, books, etc.), but many of the conferences in East Africa, as part of the registration, now pay for the transport of the pastor to and from their conferences.
Now imagine if we do this in the US. Catalyst, Desiring God National Conference, Gospel Coalition, and every other conference dropped its conference fee, paid for your hotel, meals, and gifts at the bookstore and then reimbursed your plane ticket or fuel. Pastors would become professional conference attendees and the churches would suffer without their leaders.
This is exactly what I see happening in Uganda and hear from other missionaries in surrounding countries. Pastors are turning into professional conference attendees and the church is hurting.
The argument against this is as follows: “The church in the West is rich, and the church in Africa is poor; why can’t we help them?”
Should We Pay a Pastor to Attend Training?
Here is why I (as a missionary) would discourage you not to:
1) Africans are relational. They want to meet you, ask about your family, share about their family, and get an individual picture with you. This doesn't happen for them in a crowd of thousands. This type of experience might be satisfying for our western individualistic culture but for a relational society it leaves the crowds feeling empty. Ultimately, the only national the STM teams connect with are their drivers—who are also there just to be paid!
2) As leaders go, so goes the church. If the leaders are only motivated to learn, study and worship because they are getting paid, they will produce the same type of churches. Sadly, church growth in Africa has become "whoever gives out the most, wins!" This means that churches are growing because they sponsor children, provide free medical care, and pass out free clothes and Bibles, not because the gospel is preached, discipleship is taking place, and the body is functioning according to the gifts. This pulls many people away from Bible-teaching churches and into prosperity gospel churches simply because the prosperity church has money.
3) It harms the ministries that last longer than a STM trip! Passing out things for free while receiving high-fives, hugs, smiles, cheers, testimonies and praise for a week or two is an amazing rush which motivates tens of thousands of STM teams to come to Uganda and surrounding East African countries every year. It's a rush that has become a yearly "must-do" for churches around the US. Then when the money runs out everyone feels great because it is time to board the plane. But for the churches that meet every Sunday, Child Development centers that open every day and Bible Colleges that meet year round there just aren't enough resources to pass out free gifts and provide transport every day – so when the visitors leave so do the crowds. This forces many ministries to host teams year round which leads to the same types of visitors, the same messages, and the same activities year after year, which Africans fully show appreciation for because it's their job: they are getting paid!
4) What would you do? Ultimately as a pastor in the US you don't go to every conference. You pick conference(s) based on what you can afford and when you pay for that conference you know that your elders, deacons committee or whoever else paid for the conference are counting on you to use that time to get what you need most to satisfy your soul and prepare you to lead your church. Treat your brothers in Africa the same way – let them come because it is what they need most not because you are picking up the tab!
At our university we host 5–8 conferences a year and charge anywhere from $5–$50 per participant, and it works. The pastors that need it come and those who don't are free to stay and faithfully serve in their churches. Our conferences are well attended and I have never heard from anyone that wanted to attend and couldn't because of the money. We've yet to have 10,000 attendees but then again we never had to pay anyone to come.
There is a cost to discipleship—let's make sure we aren't changing the gospel call by making everything free!