Thursday, April 09, 2009

A million here, a million there...pretty soon you are talking real money!

In the times of rapid economic expansion and easy credit that we are paying for now, many people and businesses overextended themselves with debt. Unfortunately, that also holds true for many churches, including quite a few megachurches and other larger congregations that find themselves in foreclosure or with half-finished building projects. I read an article about church foreclosures recently and the numbers being thrown about were disturbing. I work in banking and financial services, so talking about millions or billions of dollars doesn’t faze me, but even still I found the topic of this article disturbing. Here are some quotes from the article Boom-years borrowing hits churches (even the title is distasteful).

In 2006, construction began on the congregation's (Metropolitan Baptist Church) dream complex in Largo, Md. - a $30 million campus with a 3,000-seat church, an education center and an 1,100-car parking lot.

Seabreeze (Church in Huntington, Calif.) spent about $12 million on a new complex that was completed in 2007. But a drop in donations, partly due to a rift between the pastor and some church members, forced the church to renegotiate for an interest-only mortgage. Stoffel said Seabreeze hasn't missed a payment, yet the mortgage is far from the church's only debt. The church also owes $1.2 million - due this year - on bonds that helped finance the project, and must repay a $200,000 loan that a couple took out on their house to help Seabreeze cover its costs.

The 3,500-member Pentecostal church (New Life Anointed Ministries International) near Washington needs a couple million dollars to finish its new $19 million complex. Construction stopped last spring when New Life's lender said it would make no new loans to the church, Reeves said…"We now have children who don't have classrooms to get into, adults who have to go to an overflow room," Reeves said.

Millions of dollars to build churches, likely to replace existing buildings, that are sitting empty for the majority of the week? Even if your local body could afford to service that debt, is it wise to spend eight figures on a building? Using a simple calculator, a $1 million loan at 6% interest over 30 years is a monthly payment of about $6000 or over the course of a year about $1400 a week. If an average family gives $50/Sunday (which I think is high), you need 28 families to give every week without fail just to service a note of $1,000,000. Tell me that doesn’t have an impact on preaching and ministry to know that before you pay your pastor or support missionary #1 or pay the light bill or anything else, you need (given a family size of 4) 100 people to come every week just to pay the mortgage note. Little wonder churches have turned to the business world to find marketing and leadership strategies. Servicing millions in debt is a full time job!

How far we have come from a simple gathering of our Lord and His disciples in a borrowed room to today and million dollar gleaming edifices. Is this progress?

(I have a couple other posts about this issue of churches and building debt here and here)

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