This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
XI. Unpaid subscriptions are the cause of some church debts.
Not unfrequently is it the case, that after subscriptions are made, they are forgotten, or the payment neglected. In these cases blame attaches itself, according to circumstances, sometimes to the person subscribing, at other times to the collector, or it may be to the person securing the subscription. Concerning the collections no universal rule can be laid down. Some congregations are composed of men who await the presentation of a bill, while others may be composed of men who so seldom have a bill presented, that when one is presented they will take offense. But in either case, when due public notice has been given, and subscriptions remain unpaid, it is the collector's duty to call upon the parties and request the payment of the same.
But there are cases, also, where congregations become embarrassed because certain subscriptions for large amounts are repudiated. A certain congregation in a large city was induced by a subscription of $5,000, made by the wife of a wealthy merchant in the name of her husband, to incur a large debt. The husband was absent from home at the time, but in consideration of this subscription generous plans were devised and work begun. When the husband returned he refused to pay the subscription. This was the beginning of reverses which almost crushed the congregation with an overpowering debt. There are numerous other cases where subscriptions are made, which, had the parties lived, would have been duly paid. Alienation from the church, loss of property, sickness and death render worthless many subscriptions otherwise good. The safest plan is not to begin the work until a warrantable amount of money is already raised.
XII. Some churches become involved in debt by allowing the success of the entire enterprise to rest upon the large liberality of a single individual. Extensive plans and large engagements are entered into, such as the congregation is wholly unable to provide for. Everything may move along prosperously so long as the great supporter of the entire enterprise completes his purpose, but in some evil hour he may meet with financial reverses, and be unable to carry out his cherished plans. "In all such cases the expense should be paid at once, or be provided for in a legal manner, so that if the party or parties concerned should die, change their location, lose their property, or become alienated from the church, the debt may not fall on the masses, who would never have contracted it and are unable to pay or carry it. Our first experience in paying church debts fully justifies this suggestion. The debt was incurred by one good rich man, who controlled in everything and intended to pay it, but was suddenly stricken down by death, leaving no provision, in his will or otherwise, for doing so. His heirs, being opposed to the Methodists, would do nothing. The result was, the debt fell upon a poor society, which struggled under it for many years, expecting to be sold out. Deliverance, however, came at last, but not until several preachers had suffered for want of bread and Methodism had been sadly dishonored.
"This remark is equally applicable to other benevolent enterprises. Gentlemen have liberally proposed to give large sums toward the establishment or endowment of a college or school, and thereby drawn others into the movement; but, failing to pay the amount or give proper security, the whole has been lost, to the damage, if not to the utter defeat of the enterprise. Those who are kind enough to promise such indispensable sums should secure them as fully as they would any just debt for the same amount, otherwise their proposed liberality may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing."*
In fact, large-hearted liberality should be united with great judiciousness, or in many ways it may defeat the worthy motive of its honored projector.
* Rev. James Porter, D. D., in a very excellent book for Methodists, enti-t'ed "Helps to Official Members."
The late Gerritt Smith was one of the most generous men in this country. He gave right and left to almost everyone that came, with little inquiry or dis-crimination. No doubt his charities relieved a great deal of suffering and did a great deal of good, but the good was not unmixed with evil. Perhaps there never was a more signal illustration of the ill effects of indiscriminate giving of money. His biographer says that his prodigal liberality "ruined his beloved Peter-boro by excessive indulgence, in doing so much for the villagers, that they became quite incapable of doing anything for themselves. His generosity dried up the sources of public spirit and made men positively sordid. He proposed to build and endow a library there, and the owners of desirable land-sites were, all at once, misers, who held the ground at prices so exorbitant that the scheme was abandoned. He opened a free reading-room, and the thirst for information, being anticipated, was discouraged. He offered to erect a fountain on the common, and the jealousy of the residents, each of whom Wanted it in front of his own house, caused a bitterness which the waters of Bethesda could not cure. He presented a town-clock to the authorities, and they grew at once so-parsimonious that he was requested to provide a man to wind it up. The common railing was dilapidated, and remained so, because he did not choose to repair it at his own expense. The brood of parasites increased on this branching oak. Tramps, swindlers and cheats multiplied. Liars sprang up like weeds. Beggars infested the county. His bounty would in many cases, if not in most, have been more wisely bestowed on the devouring sea, which it could not poison, or buried in the ground, where it would lie forever hid."
XIII. Unscriptural motives lead many congregations into situations of great financial embarrassment. Too many churches are built because Mr. Selfwill falls out with the minister, alienates an unstable or impulsive few, and then goes to establish "a church of his own." The question is not, how can the church be made most successful in accomplishing God's great purpose in the redemption of the world, but how can it be made to subserve myself, gratify my selfish ends, and bring honor to my family? Pride, caste, covetousness, self-glory and other unholy motives are allowed too prominent and ruinous a place.
There is also too frequent manifestation of a desire to build a church that will be "an honor to the place," "an ornament to the city," rather than an honor to God. Too many churches are erected to improve the value of adjacent property, for which some have even been stigmatized as the "Church of the Holy Speculation." Too many are built for purely sectarian purposes in localities which could not support the churches already struggling for existence - these, and many other unscriptural ends arc too frequently the controlling motives.
Conclusion - Other means of getting churches into debt might be named, (a) Such as the delusive idea that a church debt is beneficial in binding the congre-gation together, or giving them something to work for. (6.) Contracting with parties who are not responsible, and who may fail in carrying the structure to completion, or loading the edifice with builders' liens, or otherwise embarrass the congregation. (c.) Tempting the congregation to build beyond their means by much eloquent talk about getting help from the "Church Extension Society," or "from abroad." This is "like the statesman's promise or the harlot's tears - full of fair seeming, but deception all." (d.) By letting "Mr. Highspire, the eminent architect," devise generous plans for spending other people's money, and advertising his own business.
We have sought only to designate the more prevalent sources of this annoying evil. May the church of God be so aroused to realize the enormity of the crime of running in debt, that the free-will offerings of the people shall be as abundant as in the days when the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness, and the workmen came to Moses. saying: "The people being much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing." - (Ex. xxxvi., 5, 6)