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What has occurred that has led to our nation’s churches blindness to the lost world around us – in America?

Our churches have large annual budget set aside for foreign missions, through donations and tithes, and these very same churches have minuscule budgets for home missions - for our poor, indigent and homeless here in America.

And on top of that, we give religious organizations, in which the churches in America are the largest recipients, tax exempt status and other stimuli to encourage their missions which ironically should be to help the poor and destitute by biblical standards, not to build new and improved skyscrapers in the sky.

This directly impacts the faith based community and social service organizations since they rely solely on support and contributions from the religious and/or Church community to sustain their programs and services. This at a time when active and new church members in attendance are dwindling in numbers, despite the efforts of Church evangelisms or missions.

But even from a secular perspective, it’s a problem because the social benefits of religion are stronger further down the socioeconomic ladder, and these benefits are delivered through community, practice, and belonging.

 I am a member of a church here in Birmingham, one of the largest with Inreach and Outreach programs that circumvent the nation and the globe, but our members are divided and split on the one issue that plagues the religious community: we, as the congregation, want a higher percentage of our personal contributions to be committed to provision of programs and services in our community, our state and our nation, with a smaller percentage used for foreign missions.

 So churches that spend or lobby effectively for the poor, but are stratified come Sunday morning, offer less to the common good than if they won a more diverse array of souls by inreach and outreach programs in their communities.
I have nothing against foreign missions in my personal beliefs, but working day in and day out with social injustice as a secular nonprofit - the poor, the indigent, the destitute, the homeless, the mentally ill and homeless veterans – leaves me with a bitter taste when I have more compassionate responses from corporations and businesses to help others in need than I do with or in the religious community sector.

Private charity remains a religious obligation that benefits the giver as well as the recipient. And Churches should generously help disadvantaged people in their congregations and around the world.

But without concrete political support for poor people across our cities and towns and across this great nation, Churches will continue applying Band-Aids to social injustices that they are complicit in perpetuating by larger funds allocated for global missions.

 Our Neighbor to the North:

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz says he created "Jesus the Homeless", in the photo leading into this article above, to remind Christians that Jesus is with everyone, especially those who are marginalized in society – the poor and the homeless.

 Featuring Jesus as a homeless person is a sharp contrast to the images of Christ that Christians are accustomed to seeing: Mary holding the infant Jesus, Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep and Jesus at the last supper.

 Schmalz described his piece as a sermon proclaiming that we should see Jesus when we see the most marginalized people in our community. "That's how Jesus wants to be perceived – when you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, you did that to me (Matthew 25:35-40). Essentially doing with the sculpture what Jesus is doing with his words."

Poverty in America Is Not a State of Mind

A national survey, showed 67 percent of Americans – over half of whom attend church at least once a month – agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “My church already does enough to help the poor in my community.” More than half (56 percent) said their church spends more money on itself than on the community.

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed in a new poll last month say their churches are doing enough to help the poor despite the latest United States Census Bureau statistics showing consistent year-to-year increases in the numbers of Americans living in poverty. Current data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals the national poverty level has increased from 21.5 percent in 2001 to 48.9 percent in 2015, or 63 million Americans.

This, combined with poverty indicators such as rising food stamp usage, unemployment in private as well as government sectors, homelessness and increase in homeless veterans, points to increased demand for a complacent church to do more to help the poor.
In the United States, one in seven people live in poverty. Over 50 million people lack health insurance, one in every six. Some 44 million receive food stamps of which 40 percent live in households with at least one worker.

One in four adults must try to get a job despite having history of an arrest or conviction. More than one in five children lives in poverty and concentrated poverty now overlays racial segregation in America’s biggest cities, where many children of color are trapped in generational poverty and where their schools are unable to eradicate achievement gaps. These are not good times for tens of millions of Americans.

 "These results, when combined with current census and economic data, expose a discrepancy between Christians who believe they are doing enough and the reality that Christians are just scratching the surface in our communities," said Steve Haas, vice president for church relations at World Vision. "

Startling Statistics about Christian Giving

 So much for “Give and it shall be given to you.”

What do Churches owe the poor? Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Surely comfortable churchgoers must do more than say, “Be more like me.”

Giving by Class: The two groups in the United States that give the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the rich (those making more than $100,000 per year). Middle-class Americans (those making between $40,000 and $100,000 per year) are the smallest percentage givers.

Few Support the Church: Only one-third to one-half of U.S. church members financially support their churches.

Religious Donations: More than $60 billion a year is donated to religious nonprofit organizations. The vast bulk of that sum-more than $40 billion annually-goes directly to churches, almost all of it from individuals.

Giving Not a Priority: Christians worldwide had personal income totaling more than $16 trillion in 2007 but gave only 2 percent, or $370 billion, to Christian causes.

Then and Now: Giving by North American churchgoers was higher during the Great Depression (3.3 percent of per capita income in 1933) than it was after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity (2.5 percent in 2004).

Income versus Net Worth: Ninety-six percent of evangelical giving is given out of income, and only 4 percent is given out of net worth. (Ron Blue & Co.)

Enormous Prosperity: At the turn of the 21st century, the United States was home to 276 billionaires, over 2,500 households with a net worth exceeding $100 million, 350,000 individuals with a net worth of $10 million, and 5 million millionaires.

High Wealth, Small Population: Americans own approximately 40 percent of the world's wealth but comprise only 2.5 percent of the world's population.

Incomes Up, Giving Down: Incomes have gone up nine to 10 times in the last 20 years while giving has gone down about 50 percent.
I would suggest that Inreach and staff salaries dominate most church budgets. But there is a HUGE “however”: Inreach as allocated in too many churches leaves almost no money for benevolences given to church members. In fact, benevolences monies, whether for Inreach or Outreach, are often the smallest pool of cash in the church budget.

As much as we talk about being others-centric in the American Church, our church budgets don’t reflect this. We really are too self-centered. For many churches, the Great Commission is thwarted by building and physical plant maintenance costs. When a church allocates little money for outsiders, it grows into itself and withers.

If you are a church leader, consider a different way of budgeting that better reflects the Kingdom of God. If it means not erecting a $10 million building so you can use those funds to finance the education of single moms in your community instead, then cancel the groundbreaking ceremony. If it means a Sunday School teacher who has been out of work gets to keep his house because you set aside monies for this kind of help, then go for it.

We live in disconcerting times. If we don’t adjust the way the Church spends money, we won’t be the first choice when lost people come looking for answers. The Church will look like any other worldly, tightfisted corporate entity, and no one is running to Megabiz Inc. for salvation.

So, if you dare, take a hard look at your church’s budget at the next business meeting and perhaps start a conversation with others about budget priorities. 

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