I have talked with several pastors over the years who, in an attempt to jump-start revitalization or church health efforts, have considered leading their churches into significant debt. Their thinking was that if they could get over that initial facility hurdle that growth and health would take place. There are several flaws with this mindset that should be considered.
Debt is the Opposite of Health.
Ironically, what many churches use in an attempt to pursue health is, in fact, the opposite of health. For the reasons listed below, there is nothing healthy about church debt. Thankfully, I have never led a church into accumulating debt, and while there may be a rare situation where it is genuinely needed, churches should avoid it at all cost.
It Places Your Trust in the Wrong Place.
If your church relies on debt as the key to church health, growth, and revitalization, your hope, trust, and confidence are in the wrong areas. There is nothing wrong with building plans, expansion strategies, or land purchases. However, if those are pursued (by way of significant debt) to secure the future, there’s a trust problem.
It Jeopardizes your Future.
Churches that go into significant debt are hoping that nothing will jeopardize their ability to make the required payments in the future. As has been said many times, ‘Hope is not a strategy.’
Churches with significant debt are one pandemic, one economic crisis, one war, one legal battle, or one major church issue away from having to close their doors. Debt jeopardizes a church’s future; it does not secure it.
There is often a thin line between faith and stupidity. And while some may call a church going into significant debt faith, I think it falls into the latter category.
It Limits Missional Ministry.
I recently talked with a church that was presented with a time-sensitive gospel-focused ministry opportunity. However, due to their significant debt, and the monthly payments associated with it, they could not participate. I know of churches that need to add additional staff but can’t because of their debt.
Ironically, many churches that go into debt to further and advance their ministry actually end up limiting it. The truth is that debt distracts churches from their mission.
It Creates Unneeded Stress.
While the project that required the debt may generate some excitement on the front end, it usually creates stress on the back end. Instead of focusing on biblical ministry, pastors often end up stressed about finances. There are enough stresses in ministry without adding the stress of financial debt to the list.
It’s Poor Stewardship.
Debt comes with interest. What would cost $500,000 if paid for with cash now costs $860,000 (at 4% interest). What additional missional ministry could a church take part in with an additional $360,000? The bottom line is that debt typically causes the church to be poor stewards of its resources.
This is not written to judge or condemn any church with significant debt. It is, however, an encouragement to avoid it moving forward.
I believe God will honor the effort to avoid debt. When you avoid debt, your church will experience more health, have more ministry opportunities, avoid unneeded stress, and help secure your church’s future.