Sunday, April 23

What does each baptized convert cost?

Bringing people into the Kingdom not only costs time, energy, sacrifice, disappointments, and committment, but MONEY. I know that there is no way to put a price on someone's soul, but taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth does take money. It did so in the Book of Acts and certainly is true today.

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
-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
...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!

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...

$1,551,466!!!

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!

4 comments:

RMc said...

Wow. Scary.

David Rogers said...

In the interest of our responsibility to be good stewards with the resources, gifts, and talents God entrusts us with, this is very important and disturbing information.

Having said that, here are few additional observations...

The figure of $1,551,466 seems incredible to me. I would be interested to know a little more about what calculations were used to arrive at this figure.

Also, although I think we are responsible to be good stewards with all that God entrusts us, we can get on very shaky ground when we try to measure God's work with a calculator. I'm sure the amount of resources per baptized convert poured into reaching Muslims is a good bit higher than that poured into reaching Latin Americans. Does this mean we should cut down our spending for reaching Muslims? Sometimes, I think, God does not use neat ledger-line economics.

In any case, I agree with you that this information is very interesting, and that we should not just bury our heads in the sand, as if it were not so. One day, God will hold us accountable for our investment and use of the resources he entrusts to us.

GuyMuse said...

David,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. "Megashifts" by James Rutz (where this info comes from) does a good job documenting the many astounding statements and stories he reports going on around the world. It is an amazing book. I too am stretched to believe the high figure, but since he only footnotes where the information comes from, I guess one would have to get hold of the original source by Barrett and Johnson and read their conclusions in their work "World Christian Trends".

In fairness to Rutz, his point is to show that instead of appropriating the vast American Institutional Church resources into winning the world, the majority have been invested back into ourselves. We spend "God's money" on ourselves and all the machinery that accompanies today's institutionalized church. When the value of all the church buildings, ministries, salaries, Christian media, maintenance, tithes/offerings, etc. are brought into the equation (as I suspect they are), it shouldn't surprise anyone that each of our baptisms cost as much as the authors claim.

Granted, reaching Muslims will cost more than Latin Americans, but certainly not as much as it costs to win a North American due to our choices as North American Christians. To me, all of this says more about our values of convenience, education, comfort, lifestyle, and expectations than it does about our overall committment to reaching a lost world for Christ.

What I conclude from all this is simply the fact that planting new 'simple' house-style churches is the best all-around way to win people to Christ and fulfill the Great Commission. It isn't through established work with all the overhead, but through new work that the biggest impact is being made upon worldwide lostness.

jpu said...

great post Guy, absolute dollars are a little misleading. %annual salary of convert might be an interesting and more useful statistic.
God is good
jpu