Churches combine earthquake insurance payouts to buy Airbus A380

13 June, 2014 — 21 Comments

In 2011 there was a devastating series of earthquakes that destroyed a lot of Christchurch New Zealand. Many buildings, including church buildings, have now gone, and insurance companies have paid (or are in the process of paying) large sums of money to building owners to repair or replace what was lost.

alobos-Life-Airbus-A380-CC-cropped

Last week I heard that between the churches in Christchurch there was a total of $400 million in insurance payouts. I wondered what you could buy for $400 million, and it turns out an Airbus A380.

I love planes and travel. During the week I’ve been floating the idea with different people to see how much traction could be gained to buy an A380, below I list the various responses:

Some people think it’s a stupid idea

They laugh. They can’t see how useful it would be for missionaries to have at their disposal the largest passenger plane in the world. We could plan trips all over the place and then run it as a business, selling tickets to people who aren’t churchgoers slightly less than the bigger airlines are charging to go to the same places (we would probably have the plane sectioned off into Christian and non-Christian areas).

Why an A380?

One person suggested that rather than an A380 we could probably solve all of the issues around child poverty in New Zealand (structurally, socially, educationally, etc). I’m not actually sure you could do that for $400 million – and that’s not as cool as an A380.

WWJD

To another person I asked them this: imagine it was the year 95AD, you’re a follower of Jesus, you know people who knew people who knew Jesus. Together in your Christian-faith-community you actually think Jesus is coming back soon. All of the Christians in your town together get the historical-day-equavalient of $400 million. What do you do?

2025

I doubt we’ll get an A380.

I expect that in 10 years or so most of that $400 million will have been spent on new church buildings.

I know there are some innovative ideas around how these new church buildings could function, perhaps being more usable and flexible than in the past, generating useful and needed income for the church, great places of worship… I don’t doubt the church I work in will end up with better buildings than we had in 2009 (I do believe that Chris!)

Paradigms aren’t easily shifted

What if the last 150 years of churches creating property in Christchurch, to then be released as a load of cash after the 2011 earthquakes, was seen as a great freeing opportunity from a Christendom bind to property and buildings.

In 21st century New Zealand, is it any sillier an idea for the churches in a city to spend $400 million on buildings, than it is for them to buy an A380? Or to work together to eradicate child poverty in an entire country?

Another friend, admittedly a plane enthusiast, said at least in ten years time the A380 would still let us see the world, enabling our perspectives to be challenged.

The eradicate child poverty suggestion came from a friend who also made this astute point: whether we got an A380 or eradicated child poverty from New Zealand, once the money was gone, we’d still have our beliefs – if we found we still wanted buildings we could always start from scratch.

The point

I’ve never tried to write a satirical blog post heading before and I’m not against buildings – I actually very much like that the church provides one for me to live in. My points are these:

  • Christchurch churches find themselves in a very unique predicament.
  • $400 million is a lot of money.
  • Replacing old buildings with new buildings provides little challenge to the existing paradigm.
  • A380s are a spectacular example of humans being made in the image of God.

What Would You Do?

Image: Airbus A380 – Santiago de Chile 2014, by alobos Life on flickr.com, Creative Commons (image cropped).
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  • Rob Kilpatrick

    Just got off a 380 in Auckland about an hour ago Mike. Gotta say its a great way to fly. I wonder what the profit is on them over a lifetime?? $400M won’t solve child poverty in NZ simply because its not really just a money problem. There are societal attitudinal shifts involved as well. I would think you could establish an incredible church centre with some satellite campuses for under 100M and use co-ownership and co-workers. Now that would be good and a pretty good advert for Christians. Whatever…I think the whole idea of thinking outside the square is a good one. Go for it

    • Hi Rob – I haven’t been on an A380 yet – I’m looking forward to the day…
      Yeah, child poverty is probably more complex than trying to get all the different churches in the city to pool their money in the first place!

  • H Middlemiss

    This is super interesting! Imagine if $400 million was actually spent on helping save lives/make life better for those who have less. A building is just a building, and churches are mainly managing fine without the buildings they had pre-earthquake. If there are problems within the church, they aren’t going to be solved by having a multi million dollar building. It feels like it is such a waste to spend that much money on buildings.

    • Yeah, the risk is all this money gets spent on church buildings, and then we find the mindset is no different than it was in 2009. That would be opportunity lost.

  • Andrew Meek

    We are having a church meeting to discuss the blueprint for our build this Sunday. I would love to put up a picture of an A380 and see what the reaction was.

  • Philip

    Aside from the question of how much physical infrastructure the church really needs, the notion that childhood poverty in New Zealand can be eliminated by simply throwing money at the problem seems incredibly naive, At its crudest would giving a few thousand dollar dollars to each child in poverty or their families solve the problem? Few would believe that it would. In most cases (particularly in New Zealand) lack of money is the symptom not the cause of the problem and the real problems in soceity causing poverty are far more difficult to deal with by money – How much does it take to mend a broken marriage? How much to stop a parents addiction? How much to cure a mental illness? How much to reconcile an estranged teenage mother with her family? How much to make a hedonistic father realise that he is responsible for his children?

    From the materialist/Marxist perspective people are just economic units and their problems can be solved by economic means. This is not the case for a Christian, but in someways it makes it harder as we should be dealing with and loving real and falliable people which is more difficult than spending other people’s money.
    So the church buildings (or A380) versus eliminating childhood poverty is largely a false dichotomy .

    But I suppose it is rather better than the Green Party’s plan to reduce child poverty – kill the babies before they are born. Seriously many proponents of abortion cite reducing poverty as justification for abortion lest unwanted children become an ‘economic burden’ on the parents.

    • Hi Philip! And thanks for your comments.
      I agree that eliminating child poverty is complex and you raise some very significant points. It’s good to see your passion in this area.

      The point in this piece is to suggest the churches in a city could consider pooling their financial resources (which have uniquely been realised as cash) to work together on an important issue(s) rather than pouring that financial resource back into buildings. it’s interesting to imagine what might be possible!

  • Jeannie Cochrane

    I really like your point about the opportunity to consider a paradigm shift. That’s an exciting challenge to have. A great opportunity to rethink what being church could look like in our time. One suggestion I have would be to gather together all those who have left the institutional church while still naming themselves as followers of Christ. They will possibly have a wealth of thoughts and ideas that are really worth considering in terms of being church differently. I will be interested to hear at a later date just how the $400 million ended up being spent.

    • Hi Jeannie. Indeed! They would be a great group to draw into the discussion.

      It would be great for any/all churches to consider paradigm shift. Christchurch is particularly unique in that a lot of the material efforts of the past (investing in property) have been released as cash, giving all sorts of new paradigm options not possible when a church has no cash but an old building.

  • Mark Day

    This is one of my favourite blog posts of yours so far.

    • And this is one of my favourite comments of yours!

  • Mark Day

    Your friend’s observation struck me as a particular challenge.

    “whether we got an A380 or eradicated child poverty from New Zealand, once the money was gone, we’d still have our beliefs – if we found we still wanted buildings we could always start from scratch.”

    There’s something, dare I say it, prophetic in that statement. It dares us with a question about to whom we pledge our allegiance; or in whom we put our faith. Is it in God? Is our faith in God so much that if we simply let go of $400 million we’d be confident that God would still be God and we could still live lives of flourishing and faithfulness? Or does money have such a grip on us that we really believe in money’s ability to be our foundation and our security?

    Challenging!

  • Rod Fleming

    I was thinking that you could spend it to buy love – but in Song of Solomon (8 v 7) it says that

    Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
    If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.

    So maybe the $400m is just the tip of the ice-berg of what God has graciously given us…I wonder what His plans could be for the $400m?

    • Hi Rod! And thanks for bringing the Song of Solomon into this :)
      Looking at the $400m as the tip of the iceberg makes it even more complex! – But I agree…

      • Rod Fleming

        Glad you like the Song of Solomon Mike ;) that verse came to me as I considered your post.

  • Mark

    Hi Mike

    I think you’ve previously identified the issue with money is that there is no one opinion the same within or outside of the church. I’m a firm believer (currently at least) that buildings and money are an inherent part of the institution of church and, unless there is a HUGE shift in thinking about what church is (i.e. the paradigm shift you refer to), then the money will go directly back into buildings. Unless individual churches and the collective church becomes a community of believers, or in your words a faith community, it will remain within the paradigm of being a church institution and all that entails. We can live in hope but the time frame to decide on what to do with the money is far too short to change people’s thinking.

    Can you imagine if all the churches got together, a nigh on impossible task in itself, and they decided to set up a trust that gave all the earthquake money to people to pay bills, to buy food for the hungry, to provide clothes for those who need them, to provide health services for those who can’t afford it, to help those who need repairs to their homes, to put petrol in people’s cars, to provide shelter for the homeless and whatever else you can think of?

    Imagine The Church giving ALL $400M away!! Would The Church survive without all that money and buildings? Could The Church trust that God will provide all its needs? Would The Church trust in what Matthew 6 says?

    What would the perceptions of the not Christians and the media be?

    Am I crazy??

    • Hi Mark – I can imagine that! I don’t think I’ll ever see it though…
      The current paradigm would call you crazy.
      It’s nice to think things could be different – I have hope that things will change, but as you say, probably not in time to readjust where the $400m goes.

  • Larry D Carpenter Jr

    Good post Michael, Look forward to seeing the OTBC airbus 380 soon.

    • Hi Larry!! And when we get it we’ll be coming over to Texas!