IT is probably not an exaggeration to say that the financial concern of evangelistic work is the greatest deterrent to its large use by administrators, and is the heaviest burden weighing down the evangelists and pastors. In fact, many are fearful of launching campaigns lest there be few baptisms for what can often turn into a heavy expense.
The cost of public evangelism today is heavy, even staggering, to some minds. How much does it cost? How much must be written in red ink and how much can we expect in black?
On the red-ink side let's take the cost of supporting a typical team in a continuous program of campaigns. With a three-family team just the salaries, plus moving six or eight times a year over hundreds of miles, the extra allowances it takes to live on the move, and, of course, the ordinary car insurance, medical, utility, and other standard allowances bring the cost under this heading alone to about twenty-five to twenty-seven thousand dollars each year. That is before any money is spent holding meetings. Many leaders give up the thought at this point. But let's not quit so soon! It costs money for General Motors to build Cadillacs, but it pays handsomely. Yet the red gets redder.
When it comes to campaign budgets this varies with evangelists, but I think most teams now in full-time work spend approximately the same amount. There is a difference in the way it is figured in various conferences. Some include the moving expenses in the campaign budgets, while others charge these expenses to the worker account. But the over-all cost should be in the same general area. It should also be noted that some teams who hold mostly larger city campaigns, working over larger areas, requiring longer moves, et cetera, will, of course, spend about twice as much as a team working in one conference, where moves are short and half the campaigns are small-town situations. But taking all this into consideration in striking an average figure, I think we would not be too far off to suggest that campaign budgets will cost about $25,000 a year—above offerings received.
This brings the total on the red side to around $50,000. Some would bring this down to $30,000; but a team working over a union conference might go to $70,000.
Now $50,000 can be a staggering prospect to some minds. But an aggressive businessman looks beyond the cost to the profit. It may seem obvious and unnecessary to repeat what I wrote in an article in the MINISTRY a few years ago, but we still have many farmers who decide to quit planting and harvesting because it is the most costly part of the operation. It seems to escape them that it is also the most profitable.
It may be a little more difficult to generalize about the baptisms of the average team. It is an interesting fact that as a rule the team that costs nearest $70,000 a year has more baptisms per dollar spent than the team costing $30,000. In any case I think we could say that the average team costing the average $50,000 will baptize an average of 200 souls a year. Have you ever figured the return on this?
Now I can hear questions being raised.
"Are not many of these our own children who would have been baptized anyway, without the cost of the team or the campaign?" Yes, I think it would be fair to say that about 25 per cent are such. That leaves us with 150 souls.
"But were not some of these 150 folks being studied with by the pastor and would have come along anyway?" Yes, maybe another 25 per cent. Now we have only 100.
"What about those who backslide?" According to thorough research they average about 20 per cent. Now we have only 60 converts left out of the average work of an evangelistic team that costs $50,000 to support! Now to be fair, we should add a bit to this. There are those who would have lost their way if the team had not come. They were conserved by the effort. In a year's time I think this would amount to at least the number who apostatized. So we are back to 100. There are also the children, wives, husbands, and other relatives who soon followed the lead of those we brought in. They would not have come except for the campaign. This would be an estimate, but I think a fair and conservative guess would give us at least 25 such souls. So, we could surely agree that the final results are near 125 souls in the church who would not have been there without this investment in evangelism.
What are the financial returns? According to the General Conference Statistical Report, the average member gives in recorded tithes and offerings about $275 a year in North America. This leaves out the loose offerings and the work done by the members which have their financial value. Let's take $300 a year per member as a round figure for the return realized on each member. Our 125 souls then would return to the church each year $37,500! That wakes you up, doesn't it? It is surprising. This means that in three years, while the team was costing $150,000 the converts would return $168,750. (This allows only half income the first year for each year's group, since not all are baptized at the beginning of the year, i.e.: first-year group $18,750+$37,500+$37,500. Second-year group $18,750+ 37,500. Third-year group $18,750. This adds up to a total of $168,750.) This is amazing enough, but have you figured the next three years? A total cost of $300,000 for six years would result in $506,250. Putting it in another way, it takes 167 converts to support permanently an evangelistic team. All the rest is pure profit to the kingdom of God.
I hear loud protests!
"Not all that money comes back to the same till that paid the cost for the team!"
I know a large percentage of tithe goes on and most of the offerings never go to the conference treasury at all. But after all, we are here to build up the kingdom and it is still the most profitable expenditure of means we know to accomplish growth. I think there is no other way the conference can spend its funds for enlargement that will bring such large and rapid returns on the investment.
And all has not yet been said on the side of the black ink. Any conference who has a team can take an evangelistic offering at camp meeting that will pay the whole $50,000 bill and leave all the return as profit. Many are doing it, and it is money that would not be given without the aggressive program of evangelism that inspires it. At least a large portion of this potential can be credited to the presence of the team.
Any realistic appraisal of these factors puts the work of evangelism where it ought to be reckoned from the economic aspect. The work of God would be much nearer completion if as cool-headed businessmen we had always considered these facts as we should.
But, of course, we should have gone all out for evangelism even if it had been entirely sacrifice. What else are we here to accomplish? What monetary value can be put on a soul? Surely, our vision of an expanded and finished work is too narrow. May God forgive us!
All this fails to calculate the blessing to the saints as they hear the message proclaimed again and as they work with Christ for the lost. No program provided for the church does so much to revive and establish the believers as the program of evangelism.
I confess to bias, but in my most objective moments I cannot see how a conference can afford not to have a full-time evangelist at work in the field. I am sure there are some salaries we could eliminate and never see the difference in growth, but evangelism expense is not one of them.