I like to doodle with numbers. So out of curiosity I sat down and was able to come up with a rough calculation of just how much each of our baptized converts cost last year. I figured the monetary value by adding the...
-total yearly support received for our three missionary units...that sum was divided by our baptisms last year. The total cost of each comes out to $375.90. This was a shockingly high figure for me to come to grips with!
-estimate of the total net yearly offerings of 100 house churches
-total yearly income for two national team members families
-operating funds made available to our team through the IMB
If you take out the two biggest $ amount categories which are the support for the three foreign missionary units plus the IMB operating funds, the amount is reduced to $66.45 per baptized convert (maintaining overseas missionaries is expensive!) But then again, the question arises, would there have been more or fewer results without our presence? Only God knows.
However, I was COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY this past week after reading James Rutz's, Megashifts. On page 117 he quotes Barrett and Johnson from their World Christian Trends. Their own calculation for the cost of each U.S. institutional church baptism is...
Can you believe it?
Could this be the difference between seeking to work solely in the power of the Spirit, and instead relying on the power of money for Kingdom work? I know we must be careful to judge and criticize. One cannot compare "apples with oranges" but surely the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something if we would but listen!
Of course, this is what Rutz's Megashifts is trying to point out about the global grassroots megashift where:
"...traditional, top-down [church] systems are turning into gigantic, bottom-up co-ops...The revolution now upon us is a complete paradigm shift...It is going to be a lot bigger than the reformation...It is, at last, the reformation of Structure--not just flattening the pyramid a little, but turning it upside-down so that the true leaders are the servants, lifting up and equipping those they serve..."God is at work to bring in the final harvest and is using every willing, available saint as a priest on the front lines. Rutz calls it the "Third Reformation" or "Giving Back to Jesus His Church."
I can identify with much of what Rutz says because it is something we are living first-hand. Everyday believers like Manuel, Vicente, Marlene, Byron, and scores of others are being used mightily of God to transform their world. If we were to isolate their baptisms from our own totals, their own cost per baptized convert is close to $15 with most of that amount going for transportation to get them to the river for the baptism, a few refreshments, and a Bible for the new convert!
Is it time for America to redefine what "church" is really about? What did Christ intend His Church to be? What is it supposed to look like? Should it really cost $1.55 million for each baptized convert?
The IMB has come out with their own definition of church that embraces a much more simplified defintion of "church." Maybe it is time for the Western Institutional Church at large to catch up with what God is doing in today's world!