Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflections on the Levy to Purchase Land for New Churches

On Wednesday night our diocesan Synod decided to impose a Levy (a tax for a specific purpose) on every parish in the diocese of 2.24% of Gross Operating Receipts in order to provide $2 million per year to fund the purchase of land in new growth or 'greenfields' areas of the diocese. (Another article from the decision is on the Sydneyanglicans website.) The money will be given to the Mission Property Committee to purchase land for new churches when it becomes available. While I agree that we should be seeking to buy (at least some) land in these areas, I think the levy was the wrong thing to do for a number of reasons:

1.  A Levy is a blunt Instrument. Although we might say that it is fair because each church pays an equal percentage, it cannot take into account the different situation of each parish – the fledgling versus the established; those that have significant incomes from rentals or trusts versus those that have large debts; those that have good numbers of relatively wealthy members versus those that have a large percentage of unemployed or working poor. There is currently NO provision to exempt or to help those churches that will struggle to pay the levy. While 2.24% might not seem like much it will represent at least $2,000 in the smallest churches and obviously much more in larger churches. All this is extra money that has to be put in the plate!

2.  It will hurt the smallest churches.  There were a number of comments from very small churches - some of which struggle to pay their ministers already (one admitted to only paying their minister 65% of the recommended / minimum stipend) that this could be the last nail in their coffin. Whether a small church is shrinking or growing, if they are struggling to pay their bills already, this will be a cruel blow. It is worth remembering Paul's words in the context of the appeal to the Corinthians for support for the churches of Palestine: 'Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.' (2 Cor 8:13)

3. It will have a negative impact on churches trying to grow. Almost every church has to increase its budget a few percent (perhaps 4 to 5%) every year to cover cost increases (salaries, power bills etc.) Churches that are seeking to grow are often seeking to increase their budget more - especially when they are creating new paid ministry positions or have some other special project. This can often mean an increase of 10% or more from year to year. The extra 2.24% on top of this will make it that much more difficult to reach budget (ie. pay staff) and has (anecdotally) already led some churches not to seek to grow their staff and in some instances not to replace staff that are leaving.

4.  Has the MPC considered alternative models for church planting and land purchases? The MPC did present some examples of what has been achieved, but they seemed to present a simple model of one church per suburb, with a large (350 seat) auditorium and associated spaces. + one residence. The question is whether this is a realistic or even an appropriate model. Should we aim for a few smaller and a few larger churches? Or space the church buildings out more and aim to plant smaller congregations in school halls in between? Or just build a school which will have a community church? Or a retirement village? The models they use will determine the amount of money they need. We at least need the MPC and others to do the research and consider alternatives.

5.  Taxing Churches to support an external ministry vision is un-Biblical. A key passage here is 2 Corinthians 9:7 'Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.' While Paul is trying to urge the Corinthians to give he also emphasises that it should not be under compulsion. Christianity is a religion of grace! Leaders ought to lay the vision and the need before the people and allow them to give out of a generous heart. I wonder if the apostles ever thought of getting Matthew or Zaccheus to use their skills as tax collectors to collect the offertories of the early church? What we ought to have is an appeal done properly with the full support and zeal of our diocesan leadership!

6.  We Need More Money than Can be Raised by this Levy.  We actually need to raise more than $2 million dollars per year to fund not only the purchase of land, but to support church planters, re-vitalise existing ministries, build new church buildings and much more. We haven't yet addressed the fact that our losses in the GFC mean we are now spending at least $2 million per year spread around the diocese (through the regional councils) LESS than we were five years ago!  I think we ought to aim for $5 million per year - and I think that is more likely to be raised through properly coordinated appeals than through levies.

And a late addition:

7.  It Puts Property Before People.   The levy is all about prioritising the purchase of land in new areas. Although we have recently lost much of the money that was being applied to growing ministries (through regional councils etc), our first response at raising new funding is not being applied to people but to property. I for one think it is a bad look!

I would love your feedback - anything here I've got wrong / misunderstood / overstated?

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