Two weeks ago we shared in The Weekly some of the financial challenges we are facing at Mars Hill Church. While our church has been financially healthy for many years, we are now facing the most serious budget challenge in our history. Church budgeting is really a simple process in one respect: we are able to provide the level of staff and ministry programs that those who attend our church provide the resources for. In other words, it is ultimately our people, not our leaders, who determine how much “church” we are able to provide.
This announcement probably doesn’t help the leaders. This comes across as a rebuke to the people who are left in the pews. The “we-they” divide is clear. We (church leaders) can’t provide church if they (the non-leaders) don’t give more money. The implication of this notice is the layoffs are the fault of the people in the pews. This statement demonstrates no recognition of the reasons why fewer people are attending, or why the giving is down. The leaders here take no responsibility for providing the people in the pews with reasons to question what is going on among those who “provide” church (NYTs bestseller fiasco, secrecy surrounding finances, Global Fund, formal charges from current and former pastors, etc.).
The last sentence in the paragraph above completely glosses over the fact that the leaders decide how to spend the money they get from the people. The people have no input and very little knowledge.
Let’s review: the members of Mars Hill Church are not members for the purposes of participating in governance or helping to determine (or even knowing) how resources are spent. They are members for giving, volunteering, and obeying the leaders. Until just recently, the members were not allowed to see the bylaws, they are not able to know specifics about how their gifts are spent, and they are not allowed to know how much the senior leadership is compensated. Lack of knowledge and input might make people wonder if they are getting the church they have been paying for, to use the Mars Hill Church leader’s way of thinking.
The two largest expense items in almost any organization’s budget are facilities and personnel costs. Sadly, we now find ourselves in a situation where we cannot sustain our current staffing levels across the Mars Hill network of churches and must move forward with further reduction of paid staff. This will, unfortunately, also result in a decrease in the number of ministry programs we are able to provide beyond our weekly church services.
The notice expresses sorrow over the layoffs but insists the church must live within “economic reality.” There is another reality that I think the leaders must face. Beating the remaining sheep might have worked in the old days of Mars Hill but today is a new day and I suspect the sheep are tired of it.
UPDATE: Several hours after the original statement was posted, the following paragraph appeared on the Mars Hill website:
This update was published earlier in an effort to communicate this news to the Mars Hill community in a timely way. However, in our effort to communicate efficiently we were, perhaps, less clear than we intended to be. While it is true that the generous giving of our members funds the various ministries of Mars Hill Church, the original post below failed to acknowledge that the reason for much of the decrease in attendance and giving falls to us, the leadership of Mars Hill. We shoulder the responsibility for our past sins and mistakes—which has caused many to leave. As we continue to repent, learn, and grow in this season, we also bear the responsibility to lead differently as we move forward—for God’s glory and the good of his church.
Well, that’s better, but can it be trusted? Clearly, each reader will have to decide what this is about and what shouldering the responsibility would look like.