Congregational Wealth: More Than Money

We are approaching the season of congregational meetings—a time when churches elect their officers, review finances, adopt budgets, listen to reports, and ask for the support of members for existing and future projects. As congregational leaders prepare for their big meeting, it might be well to reference this post that dates to 2008.

Reference: How to Design A Sustainable Institution by Gregory Jones


Sustaining the Church as an institution—now that’s a topic on many church leaders’ minds! The answers may be right above our lips.


Recognize these words?

Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – ourselves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love.

The words are familiar to Christians who use liturgies. They are repeated weekly, in many traditions.


So why do congregations often feel they are valued only by their offering plates? And when they grow light—their savings. And when these disappear—their land and buildings.


St. Lawrence

Lawrence before Valerianus, detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico, c. 1447-1450, Pinacoteca Vaticana

The wealth of the congregation is sitting in the pew. We need only return to the life of St. Lawrence to remind us. Back in the 3rd century, St. Lawrence was ordered to turn over the wealth of the Church to Roman authorities. He was given three days — (three days more than our denomination gave our congregation!). He gathered the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”


L. Gregory Jones’ 2008 article builds on St. Lawrence’s thinking.



Jones does not ignore financing—the stewardship of giving—but he adds five other valuable forms of capital.



Jones describes this as preserving wisdom and cultivating new ideas.


Both the clergy and laity have a great deal to contribute to the Intellectual Capital Bank.


The congregation knows things about their membership and neighborhoods that take years for a pastor to learn. They also bring a wealth of modern experience and skills to the ancient institution of Church. Clergy are steeped in tradition and the concentrated study of Scripture. They bring ideas nurtured among others with similar training—and their own life experience, as well.


Bring the two together and we’d have one amazing bank of knowledge. But the Church is not good at bringing the two together! We give far more weight to the wisdom and experience of clergy.



As a business person, I know my most valuable employees, contacts, and vendors are those with the widest networks. That’s a quality I look for first when I hire. I can train anyone to do the work. I need people who can connect—in the office, with my clients, and in the neighborhoods I serve.


I’ve found this to be true in church work, too. There are members of the Church—often very quiet members—who know everyone and join all sorts of groups, causes, and clubs. What a wealth!


The worlds of most clergy tend to focus on church networking.


Again, bring the two together and WOW!


But churches often have no way to bring the two together.



Jones describes this as providing opportunities for growth and problem-solving.


This happens in church life but there may be untapped potential. If only we could find a way to capitalize on the other forms of capital.


Churches tend to choose a group concentration—a food pantry or outstanding music offerings, for example. Sometimes these grow from the vision of a pastor. Sometimes they grow from congregation experience. The challenge is to keep up with the new norm—changing demographics. This means there are steadily breaking waves of new talent and needs that may change ministry in ways that challenge existing leadership and membership. Viable congregations must find ways to recognize and address both—quickly.


All of these come together in a fourth form of capital:



Human Capital ties all together. It recognizes that the people of the Church ARE the true treasures. The challenge to the Church is opening up its traditions to allow these hidden investments to grow.


Here’s a cartoon that illustrates a Church approach to recognizing human capital:













As long as we view our memberships in pre-determined roles, we minimize our potential.

People are just more complicated than we recognize—and far more valuable.