I first became a pastor right in the heyday of megachurches. Even though I lived in a county with only 50,000 people, in my teens my parents founded a church that grew to over 5,000 people. Later, I started attending and took leadership positions at a church that grew to over 8,000 people. They were both good churches that did genuinely good evangelism and discipleship work, but they relied on the attractional model of church wherein they said “hey, if we build a slicker presentation, they will come… worked for Kevin Costner right?”
So it was not at all uncommon to see churches spend hundreds of thousands or even millions on their Audio/Visual systems, stages, signage, etc. In some churches, they may have been at the size to necessitate that; however, the spend on the technology in the church office was usually lacking despite the church office technology being a key thing that allows church staff to scale their discipleship impact.
Boomers and the megachurch phenomenon
Now, bear in mind that the megachurch was largely a Boomer church thing. It was great at reaching Boomers (and a few did well with Gen-X). It hasn’t had the same impact on each subsequent generation; however, Boomers have been the main driving force in church leadership until very recently. Post-pandemic, Gen-X and Millennials returned to church, but Boomers by and large have not.
Keep in mind that it was winding down even prior to the pandemic, Carey Nieuwhof writes: “even attractional churches, which made up the majority of growing churches in the last two decades, were finding growth much harder than it used to be.” It’s time to seriously reconsider where the best returns on technology investment can be found.
Even attractional churches, which made up the majority of growing churches in the last two decades, were finding growth much harder than it used to be.Carey Nieuwhof
An example of how attractional spending impacts churches today
Okay, so let’s look at an example of a church budget I encountered. The church is under 500 members, the annual technology budget was around $10,000, but also had a recent $300,000 upgrade to the AV systems for the sanctuary. If we assume 10 years before the next AV upgrade, that would mean the church spent three times more on presentation than they do on equipping the church staff and volunteers to do ministry! Yeah, three times and that’s not even including anything related to the band or licensing! 😱
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a totally common story. I love these churches, they almost always mean well, but for any number of reasons they end up with expenditure that is misguided. You might be wondering, “is the example a growing church?” Nope, the church in the example is in serious decline and won’t make it to 2050 without making massive changes during the next few years.
I used to work for Jim Putman, one of my favorite lines of his is a bit dated now, but he used to always say “I can tell you your priorities by looking at your checkbook.” He’s right, where we spend is a reflection of what we prioritize and we should not prioritize the presentation over equipping church staff and volunteers with the technology resources to make disciples.
I can tell you your priorities by looking at your checkbook.Jim Putman
Church office technology that makes an impact
Over the years, I’ve provided fractional chief information officer services. Generally, the office technology spend for each staff member you have should come out to around $150~250 per month. That should roughly balance out your technology expenditure and provide all the tools and training your team need to make an outsized impact. You might also need to spend $3~50 per month on key volunteer roles as well.
What should you spend on? First, platforms! Platforms are where information lives so Microsoft 365, church management systems, email marketing systems, etc. Second, invest in process automation. Church staff waste crazy amounts of time on simple repetitive tasks. Usually, those tasks hit a breakeven point of around 1-hour saved per month. Imagine team members getting a few extra hours a week to spend on higher value ministry activities!
Third, spend on devices and mobility. Buy business grade computers and networking equipment then replace them on an appropriate lifecycle (almost always three years). Fourth, don’t neglect cybersecurity. Criminals around the world target churches specifically because they know they have money and lax protection of that money compared to businesses.
Finally, train your staff. I can’t even begin to recount the heartbreaking stories I’ve heard of staff confessing they feel inadequate because they are unprepared to do ministry in an increasingly digital world. Many of them wish they could leave their current position for another. In the words of Richard Branson “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.Richard Branson
So, all said and done, it’s time to move increasingly away from spending so much of the budget on the Sunday morning presentation. It’s time to start spending so that church staff can be effective throughout the week. Your strategy over the next few years is going to require you to eventually spend considerably more on technology that nobody sees on Sunday mornings but has a massive impact on staff and their ability to disciple the congregation.