If you haven’t heard, Crystal Cathedral is bankrupt.
That’s the big glass church in California where good old Robert Schuller still teeters and totters around while some junior Schuller runs things. They also put on The Hour of Power television show. And now they’re broke.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a church filing for bankruptcy. I’m sure it’s happened, but not to a church this big. In a time when my neighborhood is littered with empty Blockbusters and Circuit City stores (the last one was built just six months before the company went down in flames) and other refuse and rubbish, and lots of churches are struggling with flagging tithes and shrinking budgets, this is ripe for commentary.
Why the Crystal Cathedral is Bankrupt and Yours May Be Next
Happy Meal Marketing
Have you ever watched The Hour of Power? I have. It’s got everything you expect: music, prayer, a “sermon,” by some standards. It’s a complete church service…if church were on the Home Shopping Network. Seriously, half the show is dedicated to begging the audience (presumably averaging in their mid to late 110s) to buy a bunch of worthless trinkets and other Christian crap. Every week, it’s some new “finely crafted” piece of clutter with a Bible verse stamped on it, meant to “inspire” someone whose life must be pretty depressing if a cheap inanimate object “inspires” them. I’d be more inspired to give if the prize was an open mouthed kiss from Dr Schuller, rather than some of this junk.
Business strategy: Christian crap costs $0.02 to make in overseas factory. Octogenarian “donates” $20.00 for said crap. Church makes huge profits. Schuller personally chest bumps the month’s biggest benefactor.
This strategy worked for a long time, but it’s now not enough to keep them afloat. Why?
Because I can go down to my local Christian crap store anytime I want to buy something tacky for a white elephant party.
Because financial strategies that target 90 year olds are not very sustainable.
I call this whole thing “Happy Meal marketing.” The problem with Happy Meal marketing is that kids eventually don’t care about worthless chunks of plastic. They grow up, or in the Crystal Cathedral’s case, they die, and the kids have to decide who gets to feel guilty for throwing away Grandma’s collection of Jesus junk.
No Good Reason
If a church can’t give a dang good reason why people should support them, other than getting a new toy, then the church may not be worth supporting.
If you love your church and your pastor, you’re going to give money to support it, right? If you believe in the church’s mission, and what it’s doing in the world, you’re going to be excited to support it. If you think Harry Potter Part 27 is going to rock really hard, you’re going to plunk down $8.00 at the theater. If it’s got Ben Stiller or Robin Williams, you’ll RedBox it. People think PBS is worth something, because they keep giving money to it. When people think something is valuable or important, it is its own reward, and they don’t need to be bribed with a shiny toy to help pay for it.
Look at your church. Is it valuable? If you would be more inclined to give money to your church if you were bribed with a snow globe, your church may not be that valuable.
Tithe and Spend!
What motivated a lot of Americans to vote yesterday? Government spending. People don’t like the government spending more than it has.
Look at the Crystal Cathedral. Not only are they supporting a massive building, but a bunch of Shullers who don’t even work there! (They recently all took a 50% pay cut. Who are these people, the Bluth family?) They’ve been spending a lot more than they have for a long time. Their bankruptcy filing is long in coming.
As for the rest of us, most churches spend 80% of their budget on themselves because they’re enslaved to their building. That’s even more absurd when you think about all the ugly churches out there. I’m tired of churches being enslaved in debt to ugly, cheap looking buildings. Most people wouldn’t live in a cinder block dorm room, but they’re cool with the church looking like one. Many churches do not reflect the affluency of the members. So church people are too cheap to build an attractive church, but they’ll happily pay double the money for a cheap looking building by being in debt for 30 years.
The rest of that 80% goes to support the pastors. Pastors, if you’re dang good at your job and you’ve got people eating out of your hand on Sunday, you should tell them you are going to quit unless the budget expands so the church is only using 50% of its money on itself. Then, put it in the church’s rules. If the church uses more than 50% on itself, the budget is not balanced, and the church has to sell the building, because the members are too cheap to need a building, or the building was too opulent in the first place.
I bring this up because a church spending 80% of its income is pretty close to capacity. If the people hit hard times and cut back on tithes, and the church has no breathing room in the budget, things can go south awfully fast. If a church lives well below its means, (without buying an ugly building) it can’t go wrong.
What do you think? How far in debt should churches go? How much money should churches be spending outside their walls? Is it just me, or are there a lot of cheap looking church buildings?