The last two years have been as exciting and momentous a chapter of Redeemer’s ministry history as we have ever seen. In 2009 we announced our plan to transition Redeemer from a single centralized multi-site church to a “collegiate” network of three congregations that would eventually generate other sites and other worshipping communities, as well.
In 2012 we opened the W83 Ministry Center on the West Side and launched our Downtown congregation. As 2013 closes we are now completing our first full year operating as three collegiate congregations. I want to thank the members and friends of Redeemer who have poured so much energy into becoming such strong congregations. One immediate result has been a significant growth in attendance. In the last two years our fall attendance has grown from approximately 4800 to 5600 on a Sunday, a very healthy increase.
There are reports across the congregations of greater involvement in volunteer work and ministry and of deeper engagement in community. People are “owning” their congregations and their ministry in “their” part of the city. This fall’s Public Faith initiative has challenged and stretched our people toward more loving and courageous engagement with friends and colleagues about the gospel. Perhaps most significantly of all, many new leaders—more lay ministers, staff, and pastors—have grown as a result of the collegiate model. It is this that gives us assurance that Redeemer’s ministry can change lives in the city for a long time to come.
There is overwhelming consensus that congregationalizing Redeemer in this way has been the right decision. We can already see how crucial it has been for renewing and more deeply establishing Redeemer’s distinct way of serving. We are seeing Redeemer’s gospel ministry vision released across the city. This is most definitely the way forward for us.
However, we must emphasize that the continued fruitfulness of this congregational model comes with an increased financial cost. It is much more expensive to maintain three different locations than it would be to put everyone in one large space. Like all major projects, the Redeemer collegiate model is being funded with start-up capital—the RENEW Campaign and the Downtown Challenge—that are being spent down. We must continue to grow our annual giving significantly over the next three years in order to support the entire operating budget without the seed funds.
To date giving in 2013 has been consistently stronger than last year and we expect to finish the year exceeding our goal of $13.9M But it is important to see that we will have to grow our giving to the operation budget at a similarly significant pace for at least two more years to bring ourselves to the place where the annual giving covers our yearly expenses. These are our goals for the next three years. They are challenging ones, to be sure.
2013: $13.9M in annual giving
2014: $15.8M in annual giving
2015: $17.5M in annual giving
This year most of you will receive more charitable year end giving appeals than ever before. Every year I see more good causes and charitable organizations reaching out to me with their requests for financial support. I have two words of advice.
First, the great majority of those reading these words could probably give a great deal more. We typically give out of what we feel we can spare. And that usually means what we can spare without any emotional cost or inconvenience to our lifestyle choices. But when we only give what we can spare, we are not tapping into the greater resources we could give if we are motivated by the joy of the gospel. "The Lord Jesus Christ…though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:7,9.)
Jesus did not give out of what he could spare. Jesus did not give out of his riches—he gave away his riches. Gospel-shaped giving doesn’t even begin until it entails sacrifice and scarcity. That makes you nervous and presses you to look at Jesus’ cosmic philanthropy for you. But then that comforts us for we see our inheritance in heaven that can never fade or be lost. All other inheritances (and retirement funds) pale before that.
The second practical word of advice is this. If you attend a church regularly for spiritual sustenance you should financially support it at some level, and that support should not be nominal. There are many good and important ministries and charities out there, and our family supports many of them. But there is no more foundational and important giving for a Christian than giving to the church which ministers to you. Large churches, especially those in urban areas, often have a significant number of people who come and are served but who don’t (at least initially) financially support it. Your gifts make it possible to bring the gospel to these people. If you come—please bless us with your gifts. Thanks!