The Pearl

Price is Not Cost

When your desire is to win people to Christ, then the primary cost to be concerned with is the cost of the people you don’t win because of the things you choose not to do. In managing ministry business, we need to be mindful that we are talking about a really big God who says the stars and planets are but vapor in His breath. The Church incurs a cost in what we do not do for Him, which in business is known as “opportunity cost.” This is the price of not doing something or doing nothing. This is the true cost of the western Church in the last century.

One pastor friend we tried to help was struggling with that “shall we change?” problem that most churches have grappled with in the past three decades. This particular church had been shrinking for over a decade and the pastor wanted to shed his robes on Sunday morning, disband the choir and stop using the hymnals. He met with his team, who were all in favor of the change. They wanted to meet their contemporary neighborhood with contemporary means.

They talked about it endlessly, and even leaked it to parishioners. Many were thrilled, some grumbled. The pastor assured the grumblers that the change wouldn’t be forced on them, that it would be an option for others. This settled them down. The staff talked more and more about the many ways this change could be implemented. A year went by, but no date was set. No one could come to a decision to make the switch.

In this case, the staff’s lack of decision had nothing to do with what God wanted. They were all in agreement that the change was the right thing to do. Their indecision came right down to not wanting to deal with the hassle of some people being angry. They kept telling themselves they were easing into the change to be wise, but they weren’t wise at all. After all, would Jesus have entered their staff meeting and said, “Please don’t change things. Keep doing what is shrinking My Church.”

The biggest cost most churches will ever pay is “opportunity cost.” There is no immediate physical cost for doing nothing. But the ongoing cost that doing nothing creates is that people don’t come to church, families are not saved, orphans are not cared for, and so forth. When we talk something to death and end up doing nothing, we’re spending “opportunity cost.”

When we compare potential projects, we ask, “What is the cost of this?” “What is the cost of that?” But what we are really asking for are prices. Yet in business terms, the difference between price and cost is that price is what you pay for a thing, and cost is what you give up, don’t get, or give away. It’s like investing. When investing you want to measure return on investment. Price is what you pay. Return is what you get. In the Church, the return is how many people we reach for Christ. In the Church, the cost has to be measured in the resources we allocate (cost) and by how many people we do not reach (opportunity cost) because of our decisions, or lack of decision.

I recently was told “no” by a bank when trying to raise financing for a local church building campaign. The church had been in the community for over 100 years and a customer of the bank for almost 40 years. When I asked the banker “why,” he said, “While the bank appreciates our long business relationship with the church, the loan committee views churches as depreciating assets in a declining industry and they have no appetite for lending to an organization in that environment.”

What the bank was saying is “we look at the church and we see nothing happening.” There was a time when banks fought to do business with the local church for the value the reputation of and relationship with the church brought to the bank. Do you think the Church has come to this point for all it has done over the last forty years or what it has not done?

What about your church? Do you spend more time talking about what people inside the church won’t like or what people outside the church need? Do you spend more time avoiding conflict or changing lives? Do you spend more time talking or doing? Each choice has a cost and each cost has a return. On which does your church focus? “Return on investment” in the Church is best measured in lives changed. Cost should be measured in how many people won’t hear the Gospel and whose lives will not change because of the things we choose not to do.

We cannot simply measure costs in dollars, resources and time. Start looking at the money your church spends as investments in heaven, not the price of goods and services. But most importantly, measure costs in people not going to heaven and the amount of people who won’t hear the Gospel if you do the safe easy thing instead of the scary God thing.

Minding His Business Basic:
The greatest cost most churches will incur is “opportunity cost”—the price of doing the safe, easy thing instead of the scary, God thing or—even worse—doing nothing.

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