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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Largest Church Building Program in US History

In an earlier post, I detailed the exorbitant incomes of some of the best paid "servants" of the Lord. The amount of money consumed (wasted?) by religion in the USA is truly astounding. I came across this news release the other day:
First Baptist Church of Dallas has raised $115 million in just seven months for a project that will transform downtown Dallas. The church is building a state-of-the-art campus that will replace most existing buildings with an acre of new buildings and even a sky bridge.

"The finest facility in this area should be one that glorifies almighty God,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas.

First Baptist Dallas is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose churches, according to one report, own $42 billion worth of property and buildings. The value of property and buildings owned by the Roman Catholic Church in the USA probably rivals that of the SBC. If one were to add the value of the property owned by other Christian denominations and sects in the US (including the Mormon church), the ultimate figure would be mind-boggling.  Then think of the non-Christian groups, such as Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, the Church of Scientology, Hindu temples, and so on. Recently, 10 miles from where I currently live (in the middle of the Bible belt), a $20 million Hindu temple was constructed. Made of Turkish limestone, Italian marble and Indian pink sandstone, the temple rises 72 feet into the sky and looks a bit like the Taj Mahal, with its soft white spires and 13 domes (source).

I took a tour of the temple and it is a very impressive structure. I wanted to ask the tour guide how many hungry people in India $20 million would feed, but I "bit my tongue."

So, why am I writing this post? Because I believe that the money invested in these religious structures could be used in a much better way to benefit humanity. Many of these buildings are used only a couple of times a week. What if this money were used to feed the hungry? What if it were used to fund research into a cure for cancer or other diseases? At the very least, the US could tax this property and use it to reduce the deficit.

In 2006, SBC churches took in $10.4 billion in offerings. The great majority of this money went to pay for buildings, property and employee salaries. $5 million went to the World Hunger Relief fund. This sounds impressive until you realize that it averages about 30 cents per member for the year (16.3 million members).

It is my opinion, that the world could be much better off, if the huge amount of money devoted to the propagation of religion were used differently.


  1. Ken,

    When I was at BJU in the early 90's, someone asked Dr Wood why they are spending the money on a new gym instead of using it in missions to help. Dr Wood basically explained to him that we are running a university, and as such, we invest as a university would.

    My view is that these 'centers' are important in that they are places where people with means are able to congregate, and then they are used (or their resources) to help the needy. In the example of BJU, as the university grows, you have more students, more faculty and in the end more people ministring to the needy.

  2. Amen!

    I totally agree that a lot less money should be put into these huge, and expensive church structures. How much time, effort, and financial resources has to go into maintaining these buildings?

    My husband's church chose to forgo buying or building a church building altogether in favor of channeling more available income into helping the poor, and needy in the community. I think for them, this is a good, and righteous decision.

    The situation does seem a bit different in supporting a university, though. John, I can see where you're coming from.

  3. Truly, churches are losing their effectiveness and this could be one of the reasons. Man's glory over God's glory. I believe that all new building projects should be paid in cash. Damage to the building and maintenance needs could be an exception.

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  5. John Sfifer, don't you think Christians can congregate just as well in a modest structure? Do they need that kind of opulence?

    Look at the gospel story leading up to the Olivet Discourse. When the disciples were "oohing" and "ahhing" over the temple, Jesus was totally unimpressed. What would he say about these palaces built in his name?

    Christians in the New Testament met in homes. If Baptists and other so-called "Bible believing" Christians want to follow the Scriptures so closely, why don't they do the same?

  6. Ken:

    Thanks for these two recent posts. Both of them go to the heart of an issue that was important to me when I was a Christian - stewardship: how do Christians use the resources they believe God entrusted to them? Sad to say, my view of the matter as a nonbeliever doesn't differ significantly from the view I held as a believer - Christians (in the USA, at least) misuse a lot of their money. When I was a believer, I said that God would judge them/us for the way they/we used our resources. As a nonbeliever, I say that society has a right and a responsibility to judge Christians to the extent that Christians present themselves as arbiters of public social values. If they want to tell me how I ought to live, then their lives had better be squeaky clean. The way they use their money is just as much a moral issue as who sleeps with whom and why they do it. If Christians want to be taken seriously on the latter issue, they'd better clean up their acts on both issues.

  7. Interesting post. I wanted to also mention the holdings, w of the JWs in prime real estate in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn waterfront areas, DUMBO and their huge farm and "educational" complexes in upstate NY and Paterson, NJ. This from a relatively small religion with just over a million US adherents (6M worldwide.)

  8. There are some legitimate points here, Ken. Do pastors need to do the power lunches, or should they just bring a sandwich to work? Yeah, where IS the money going?

  9. The church I go to started out life as a very small, modest Baptist chapel built over 120 years ago.
    Led by the current pastor the small congregation have, over a period of 17 years, managed to raise enough to build an impressive new church with state of the art facilities.

    As a result the church is attracting huge numbers of people, especially young people, who may never have gone to the older building.
    So there is much to be said for having these kinds of churches.

    Where I disagree with churches these days, particularly those influenced by the American Evangelical movement, is in the erroneous teaching of tithing.
    Tithing money is not Biblical, it is never taught by Christ or any of the apostles as being something that Christians should do, so much of the money being collected is being obtained by a form of deception, so that the vast amounts of money keep rolling in.

  10. I also think we miss the point that the"church" is actually the body of believers. As such the wealth of the church is actually the cumulative networth of all of its members. When Jesus said woe to you who are rich, my fear is He was addressing many believers during this age of tithe but dont worry about the poor.

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  12. How about selling off the US Capitol, White House, US Archives (incl documents), paintings in the National Gallery of Art, all the land in the National Park System? That's a heck of a lot more money for the poor than what all the larger church buildings would bring. Somehow my guess is that all those willing to consign worshipers to large sheds instead will not be so ready to do everything they could to benefit the poor. Besides, who says the poor don't also benefit by beautiful church buildings? (They can go in them!) I'm currently contributing to building a beautiful church and that was the purpose of my donation; church leaders weren't given the option of spending it on something else.