How to Start a Lay Church, Principle XI: Tithe… But Not to the Lay Church!

When I share the .W lay church model with folks, I find that consistently one of the biggest attractions is that we expect members to tithe, right from the get-go. That’s not your typical church recruitment draw, but our tithe is not your typical tithe.

Let me explain.

As Generous Church notes, 97% of the money donated to churches is spent on those who give it. That’s neither good nor biblical, and we Christians should be publicly spanked for that.

Rather than taking an offering each Sunday, the lay church prepares to make our offering once a month, on the last Sunday of each month. A month’s preparation has a way of keeping the offering from being a tip for services rendered (literally).

And money is only one part of a member’s offering. In addition, we offer to the Lord each of the songs and each of the Scriptures we learned that month. (You’ll recall from Principle IV that in the lay church we learn–really learn–one song and one Scripture each week, introducing them in the meeting and then having each member practice them nightly in family worship.) We invite each member to offer a Scripture from memory or to lead us in one of the songs we learned. We encourage members to choose the Scripture or song which they found particular challenging or insightful during the month. They precede their offering with a short offering prayer, which helps them–and us–to remember that it is indeed an offering.

But money’s a big part of the offering, too, of that have no doubt. It’s just not money going mainly to the church.

That’s because while each member is expected to offer a tithe, only 30 percent of that tithe is given to the church. (Of that, a third goes to the .W church, a third goes to the Four Corners Conference of the Evangelical Church–our denomination’s regional conference of which we’re a part—or the Evangelical Church Missions program, in the case of our Korean congregation. The final third goes to the Evangelical Church denomination).

But 70 percent of each member’s tithe is consecrated at the altar…and then immediately received back again by each member, to be disbursed personally by that member as the church’s minister within his or her own sphere of influence.

Individuals then use that portion of the tithe to carry out whatever the Work of Mercy is that we’re doing that month. If the Work of Mercy is sharing your bread with the poor, they use the 70% to share their bread with the poor. If it’s healing and comforting, they use the 70% to heal and comfort.

Sometimes members give a portion of the money to an organization that ministers in that particular Work of Mercy, but the focus is really on encouraging the members to undertake ministry directly, in conjunction with that disbursement of funds.

That’s partially facilitated by the field trip that accompanies Offering Sunday each month. If the Work of Mercy for the month is evangelism, the church takes a field trip to do evangelism. If we’re giving away books or tracts or grocery gift cards to the poor–whatever is disbursed, that can come out of a member’s tithe.

Also in the Offering Sunday, each giver shares how they disbursed their 70% over the previous month. We borrow from the US Army something called an “AAR”—After Action Review. We ask each “giving unit” (might be one person or it might be a family—definitely include your kids in the giving decisions and the direct ministry; where else will they learn?) to answer the four questions below as they share about how they distributed their offering from this past month in relation to the Work of Mercy on which we focused:

  • Step 1: What was the intent?
  • Step 2: What happened? Why? What are the implications?
  • Step 3: What lessons did we learn?
  • Step 4: Now what? How can our giving continue in that Work of Mercy in the future?

Note that lay church members don’t get a tax deduction for the 70% they give, since it never goes into the church’s bank account. There’s something healthy and challenging about that—no earthly reward for giving except, well, giving well! And since most lay churches need not incorporate at all anyway, since what with the money flowing through them being pretty modest, maybe none of the tithe will be tax deductible. There’s a biblical ring about that, somehow.

In the lay church, the tithing message to potential congregation members is up front and clear:

Of course this Jesus discipleship stuff is going to involve a radical change in the way you spend your money.

But you can trust us to guide you in it well, since we’re not the beneficiaries.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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6 Responses to How to Start a Lay Church, Principle XI: Tithe… But Not to the Lay Church!

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