Revisiting the 10 Tsunamis: Tax Reform

In 2015, I wrote 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries, which uncovers 10 challenges that will confront ministries across the country. As the founder of the largest church architecture firm, our team is on the forefront of watching them play out.

By reviewing a few of these “Tsunamis,” we’ll help you better understand some challenges you’re probably already facing and offer some “evacuation routes” to consider as you plan for the coming year. This week, we’ll look at the Tsunami of the Economy and Tax Reform.

There are a number of things at play beyond the proposed tax reform that recently passed the Senate. First, in October, a federal court in Wisconsin disallowed pastor’s housing allowances. This may result in an additional burden for the church anywhere from $10,000 – $20,000, or more. In some cases, up to 100% of ministers’ salaries have been designated as a housing allowance…but that option is disappearing before our eyes. This is now up to the circuit court of appeals and perhaps the Supreme Court, but we will likely see this ruling maintained.

What’s more, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Oregon have led the way in reducing and eliminating property tax exemptions for 501(c)3 organizations. This alone could be the death-blow to many churches. At best, it will be difficult for ministries to cover these additional costs through traditional funding sources.

Finally, as we review the proposed tax reform, the biggest item that will impact churches has to do with charitable deductions. These will disappear for the majority of Americans, as they will likely prefer the increased standard deduction. Charities across the board are deeply concerned that this tax reform could have a catastrophic effect on giving. In 2016 alone, Americans donated $282 billion to their favorite causes, churches, and social programs. Experts think charitable giving could take a substantial dip under the new structure of the standard deduction, which could reduce the services and benefits nonprofit organizations provide to communities.

These changes illustrate the need to preemptively plan for how you’re going to fund the ministry God has placed on your heart. One thing is for sure: as ministries around the country face these challenges for the first time, it will take new approaches to be successful.

Relying on your endowment, year-end giving, grants, or even giving through cash/checks is not going to cut it. It’s time to consider a big shift. Also, with only a few weeks left of this year (and perhaps under the current tax plan), it is important to sit down with major and mid-level donors to discuss how to best take advantage of current tax benefits.

As always, please subscribe, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss how BGW or BGW Sustainable Solutions could serve your ministry.


Year-End Update

BGW has been busy in 2016! With 33 construction projects underway, we’re thrilled about completing 10 and continuing to work with the others in the coming year. In between teaching over 1,000 pastors and church leaders at our REAL Church Building seminars, we’ve been dedicated to over 100 active projects and continued to develop new relationships with ministries across the country.

We are working with a great variety of sustainable ministries and are especially excited about a project in Harrisburg, NC called Venture Church. Not only will this church have a permanent home for the first time in their ministry’s life, they will open the door to expanded ministry and financial sustainability in their multi-use complex (including a hotel, event center, and day care center).

As we look forward to 2017, we are excited about our BGW Builder conference in March, where we will welcome our incredible builder partners that extend from coast to coast. In addition to expanding our builder network, we have 15 seminars, 9 national conferences and trade shows, and a workshop for start-up or “stuck” churches planned. Hopefully this means we’ll see you soon!

Besides checking out our seminar schedule to see if we’ll be near you in this coming year, you may be interested in listening to a recent interview Eric Bahme and I had with iWork4Him. Here we offer an overview of what BGW is about and discuss our passion for sustainable ministry.

As we prepare for what we have planned and look forward to how God will surprise, challenge, and use us, we covet your prayers for the BGW family. Our prayer is that God would bless you and your ministry with a renewed commitment to sharing the story of our Savior with the world, newfound compassion to be an integral part of your community, and a rekindled hope for what God has in store for you next.

The REAL Church: Los Angeles

Last week I was on the road, speaking at some of our seminars in Pomona and Mission Viejo, CA and Glendale, AZ. Our REAL Church seminars focus on how to be Relevant to the next generation, Economically sustainable, Adaptable & flexible, and Linked to the community. Check out this link to see if we’re coming your way in the next few months!

It is always exciting to hear about new churches and to catch up with clients from past projects or those in the planning stages. At BGW, we are always innovating in terms of how we can best meet the needs of our clients and serve God in a world that is constantly changing. So whether you are new to us or you’ve known us for 10 years, it’s always good to check in and hear about what we’re currently up to and how we may be able to come alongside you. I always welcome emails and hope to stay in contact with you.

This week, one story that stands out to me is a conversation I had with a missionary to the Los Angeles area who was originally from Africa. His name is Vincent.

Vincent was led by God to minister in the Los Angeles area even though he had no resources, including the ability to sustain his own existence! His wife and children stayed in Africa for 4 years while he obeyed God’s call to minister in the USA.

For 3 years he slept on the floor of an L.A. apartment with 6 other men, whom he did not know, paying $100 per month to be there. The dangers of even being in this area of town were extreme. He did not speak English and he was literally living day to day.

Now, ten years later, he has a home in the area and his wife and children have been reunited with him. He has four ministries in this area which have developed equity of over 2 million dollars in 2 of the properties. And best of all…he has more than 200 people worshiping every Sunday, who had no idea who Christ was prior to this ministry!

Vincent is an incredible example to all of us who really do not understand the struggle and sacrifice of following the call God has put on our hearts. Thank you, Vincent, for your testimony and your work in the Los Angeles area! May God continue to bless you, your family, and your ministry, and may we all follow in your courageous, faithful footsteps.

Night to Shine

There’s not much better than hearing stories about how our ministry partners around the country are becoming embedded in their communities and making a difference.

One of the many reasons we have been recommending sustainable models to ministries is that they offer many more opportunities to be involved in your city and impact your community. This principle came to life last weekend in Ogden, Utah with an event called “Night to Shine.”

Night to Shine

Night to Shine was hosted by the Genesis Project, one of our sustainable ministries that has an event center (Hub 801) and coffee shop (Hub City Coffee). This is an event held worldwide through the Tim Tebow Foundation for people with special needs ages 16 and older. The goal is to offer an unforgettable prom night and to tell each and every person how much God loves them. Last Friday, more than 200 host churches in 48 states and 8 countries hosted a Night to Shine.

Night to Shine 2

At Hub 801, Genesis welcomed 150 guests and 200 family members, with the help of 500 volunteers! If you want to get a sense of the excitement level, check out this great video recap of the night.

Night to Shine made front page news too! Yesterday, the Standard Examiner, one of Utah’s largest newspapers, highlighted this event and Matt Roberts’ (the lead pastor) words to the participants: “The one reason we are here tonight, it’s because we believe each and every one of you are queens and kings. We are blessed and honored to have you as part of our community. God has a plan for each and every one of you. He has a purpose that’s very special.”

I can’t imagine a better message to great each Utahan on Valentine’s Day morning when they opened the newspaper.

The Mountaintop

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Believers church about the 10 Tsunamis. In particular, we talked about the Tsunamis of Generational Transition, the Millennial Generation, and Narcissism. The passage that came to mind was Matthew 17:1-9: the Transfiguration.

This is one of many stories from Scripture that occur on a mountaintop. In the Old Testament, we find Elijah on a mountaintop near the end of his life, after he has been serving God as a prophet for many years and has trained up Elisha to be his successor. In this story, God takes Elijah up to heaven, leaving Elisha behind, to return down the mountain and continue in the work of the Lord. In our Matthew passage, we find Elijah on a mountain top again, this time with Moses, Jesus, and 3 disciples.

Now Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, doesn’t know what to do when he sees all this, and I don’t blame him. These big wigs from the history books have come back to life and are spending time with Jesus. The Bible tells us that the 3 disciples were all terrified. While the rest of them are presumably shell shocked, not saying anything, an idea hits Peter.

What if they could just set up camp and stay here forever? It’s not that Peter understands what is going on with Moses and Elijah and Jesus, he just has this gut instinct that it is something very glorious and holy, and he doesn’t want that to get away from this setting. He’s got a good thing going on…and I think many churches today share his mentality.

Why worry about all the people at the bottom of the mountain? Things are good right here, the way they are.

So Peter boldly breaks the silence, and puts the plan in his head into words: alright guys, Jesus, Moses, Elijah, you do whatever you’re doing, I’m going set up some tents for you and we will all have a good time.

But, apparently God didn’t envision this camping trip or vacation for them. For immediately, a voice came down from heaven, and said that Jesus was the Son of God and that they should listen to him.

After God speaks to all of them, Jesus and the disciples return back down the mountain – they go back to their regular lives, they go back to traveling around Israel, reaching the lost, going to the dark places and healing those who are sick as they teach about God everywhere they go.

The church in America has largely focused on staying on the mountaintop and they’ve forgotten to go back down the mountain to continue the work. This is clear, when we recognize that only around 3% of Millennials are a part of a church – we were too focused on church being what we wanted it to be, to take them into account, and now they are nowhere to be found.

Furthermore, some estimates show 3,500 people a day leaving the church and 5,000 churches close a year. Yet if we were to keep up with the United States growth in population we would need to be adding 10,000 churches a year.

In Scripture, the mountaintop experiences are never the goal. When we see Peter wanting to stay there, setting up tents for everyone, Jesus insists that the disciples had to go back down the mountain. Elisha too, must have wanted to stay and mourn the absence of his friend, his mentor, for longer on the mountain, but he too recognized that he eventually had to go back down the mountain. There was work yet to be done in both of these stories.

The reason churches need to wake up and become beacons embedded in their communities is the same reason that Elisha and Jesus came back down the mountain. There is still work to be done. There are still people to be loved and cared for and there are stories of the Good News, of God’s provision and presence, yet to be told.

The Great Commission is not done on the mountain – it is done when we come down.

The fact is that the day we each gave our lives to Christ, we signed a full-time ministry employee agreement. Within the United Staes we have more unchurched people than the entire population of all but 11 of the worlds’ 194 nations. The United States may well be the new mission field. You are in a mission field with far more people not knowing Jesus than knowing Him. So what are you doing about it?

Are you stuck on the mountaintop? Content with things the way they are, content with Christianity and church being just about you?

Or are you on the trek down? Trying to pull yourself away from a mentality that ministry is all about you and trying to actively focus on the Great Commission?

Or are you already in the midst of the city, the people, the mission field?

Wherever you find yourself today, we can’t wait a second longer – the world around us is changing rapidly and the future of the church in the USA depends on how we react. We need to reach out to the lost, audaciously following God’s Word, and honoring Him in all we do.

And that starts with getting up out of our comfortable pews on the mountain, and becoming an unforgettable part of our communities.

Nine to Five

As I work with our growing list of BGW Sustainable Solutions clients, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between ministry and work. Why are these two so often kept completely separate?

I recently came across a series of articles created by the Theology of Work project regarding how to equip people for God’s work in the world. Below are a few examples they have seen:

Prayer For Workers: One church prays for a different group of workers each month. They have gone right through their church list with the aim to include everybody in special prayer for their daily work at least once a year.

This Time Tomorrow: The Imagine Church Project in London encourages churches to invite a different person each week to answer three questions about This Time Tomorrow (TTT) in their worship services. What will you be doing this time tomorrow? What opportunities or challenges will you face? How can we pray for you?

Preaching with a Workplace Emphasis: Steve Graham, pastor in Christchurch, New Zealand, preached a sermon series on Joseph, seeking to understand his daily work circumstances and how they relate to the congregation. He has enjoyed asking some congregants to tell stories from their own lives and interacting with questions about ethical dilemmas.

Work Groups: At Ilam Baptist Church, several home groups decided to take the daily work of their people more seriously. They began by spending the first part of each evening listening to one person’s story of their work history and an explanation of the opportunities and challenges they now face in their work. Where they can, they have decided to visit that person’s workplace. They ask questions and end by praying for that person in their work and for the good of the enterprise and people they work with.

Faith at Work Breakfast: Once a month people gather in a central city venue in Christchurch, New Zealand, for breakfast and an hour of fellowship. A different person each week is invited to share something of their faith and work story. The aim is to keep it honest, down to earth and catch a glimpse of everyday discipleship, rather than focus on more dramatic stories from professional speakers. There is time for questions. Sometimes a case study is presented for discussion.

Workplace Visits: British Baptist Pastor David Coffey says, ‘In my time as a Pastor I made a regular pattern to visit church members in their place of work, whenever this was appropriate. I have sat with the defense lawyer in a court room; I have watched a farmer assist in the birth of a calf; I have spent time with a cancer consultant in his hospital; I have walked the floor of a chemical factory and sat in the office of a manager who runs a large bookshop. I have driven a tank and spent time with some senior military officers; I have shared the tears and joys of family life with homemakers; I have visited a London hostel for the homeless and walked round a regional prison with a Governor. The purpose of such visits is primarily to encourage and disciple a church member in that place where God has called them to be a worker.’

How does your church bridge the gap between Sunday worship and Monday at 9am?

I think many of these ideas are fun and worth a try…but I also wonder if a bigger engagement in the marketplace could be in store for your whole church. Let me know if you’re interested in talking more about what that could look like.