The church had its roots back several decades. Three of its nine founding members were my grandmother and both her first and second husband as she widowed at a young age. Both men did much of the construction of the first wood framed church structure. My grandfather took a whole summer off of work to head up the project. The church, located in a small town in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, still has a thriving congregation today. Its parking lot has lots of cars each Sunday testifying to its effectiveness and fruitfulness.
In the middle of its growth, a number of years ago, the church decided to add on a multi-purpose structure that would be big enough for a small gymnasium and could house church banquets. My grandmother had been remarried for many years by then. My step grandfather had a huge part in both the erection of the second sanctuary and this new addition.
Once the decision was made to put on the addition, fundraising began to raise the monies needed to construct this new building. At first, as is generally the case, typical quiet reminders were given to the parishioners. However as the project progressed, the need was rapidly exceeding the giving, the reminders for the need to give from the pulpit began to be a little more intense.
There was a man in that church who had gone through a lot of suffering in his life. He had been raised in a family of tenant farmers, who never owned a home or a car. The family was given a flat amount of money every week for a salary. Much of what they lived on was extras from the farm. They were given a house to live in that had a cook stove for heat and a hanging pull chain light bulb in some of the rooms. In the wintertime they would wake up with dustings of snow on the top of their bed quilts because the snow had blown through the cracks in the window casings. The first one of the four children up in the morning was responsible to start the kindling fire in the cook stove, which would start to warm the first floor for breakfast.
Due to the harsh living conditions he experienced as a boy, he developed strep throat. Because of financial limitations and limited health care, the strep later developed into rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart, causing him to miss almost a year of school. Fortunately, his teachers sent schoolwork home to help him progress in his learning. Later in life, the rheumatic fever returned, and he had to miss several months of work. His wife had to get a job to support the family. He was a very loving man with a sensitive heart. Having been raised in a family of hard workers, this time period when he was unable to work to support his own family was very traumatic for him.
This man and his family attended the above-mentioned Bradford County Pennsylvania church during this new construction project. Week after week while he was off work, he became more and more saddened that his family could not do more to help with the costs of the addition.
One Sunday morning the pastor of that church decided that he needed to do something to further motivate the church to give. He decided that a little tongue and cheek humor might stir some giving, so with a chuckle in his voice he said, “Next Sunday morning we are going to have the deacons stand at the door with their deer rifles and anyone who does not drop an offering for the new building in the basket will not be allowed in!” That was all it took for that former tenant farmer, joke or no joke, it struck a deathblow deep in his heart. He decided that his family would no longer be attending that church.
That man was my father. A silly and unwise statement by an elder who should have known better, but didn’t, caused the church to lose a family whose ancestors had generational roots within that denomination. We soon after found a church home in a neighboring community of a different denomination and fortunately the fit could have not been more perfect for my father.
Martin Luther, the famous Roman Catholic priest and Doctor of Theology who led the Protestant Reformation from 1517-1648, condemned non scriptural fundraising by the church. The “selling of indulgences” was featured more predominately than any other offense in the well-known ninety-five theses that he nailed to the door of the church at Wittenberg. Although my father’s story hits close to home, I believe that the church in America, in its attempt to increase peoples’ giving, has gone way down the slippery slope of manipulative marketing. In my opinion the excessive pressuring and coercion of congregants had become worse following the financial downturns of the COVID pandemic, discrediting the cause of Christ!
Anyone who is involved in regular witnessing to the public around them will tell you that the number one argument against going to church that you will repeatedly hear is “All the church wants is your money!” As much as we know that is not true and as much as those of us who are mature in our faith have learned the value and fruitfulness of giving and tithing, we must realize that the unbelievers around us do not have the slightest understanding of those concepts!
We must be extremely careful not to turn off people to our churches by our fundraising efforts. I assure you the world is very familiar with hyped up marketing strategies and has no respect for them. We can justify what we do all we want to in the name of Christ, but perhaps we should heed the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:13b Allow me to paraphrase it this way; “Let’s not ever do anything
(financially), that could cause a weaker brother to stumble!”
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.