Ideas for responding to a decline in church offerings.
By Matt Branaugh
1. Use scarcity to find clarity.
The majority of congregations felt a financial pinch in 2009, and the trend is likely to continue this year. LifeWay Research and a YourChurch.net poll both reported in January that nearly half of the respondents said their churches had been hurt by the economy.
That means church leaders will need to "make every penny shine and every dollar crisp. Every expense has got to be justified," says John Throop, the priest-in-charge for Trinity Episcopal Church, a 300-member congregation in Portsmouth, Virginia. For Throop, the clarity comes when a church uses a "We will … so that …" approach. Filling in the blanks forces leaders to answer the question of where God is taking them.
This may include cutting staff or ministries. "When you're discerning and selective, hard conversations come," says Joy Skjegstad, a Minneapolis-based consultant. But the payoff comes in the long term. "Churches can't be everything to everybody, and they need to realize their unique gifts and abilities."
2. Review budgets early and often.
In the past, leaders waited a year before creating a new budget. But now budget revisions are frequent, even monthly, occurrences.
Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago uses a green-yellow-red approach to budgeting, with green-colored budget items approved for purchase, yellow-colored ones needing approval, and red-colored items on hold, says Brian McAuliffe, the director of operations.
"No longer a once-a-year drudgery, now it is a question of how many versions of the budget do we need—high, low, and middle-of-the-road?" says Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Mid-flight adjustments based on changes in revenue and expenses are increasingly common. He says churches must embrace tools that allow constant monitoring and, if necessary, enable revisions.
3. Offer many meaningful ways to give.
After an earthquake hit Haiti in January, the American Red Cross raised $35 million within 48 hours. Half of that came through online contributions and $5 million via text messages.
This reveals two facts: (1) electronic tools are changing the ways people give, and (2) churches must show people how their giving matters.
Too many churches "limit their giving to a check or cash at 10:45 a.m. on a Sunday. And yet in most churches, one-third of your people are not in the service on a given Sunday," Colorado pastor and finance teacher Brian Kluth says. "And most 28-year-olds don't even own checks. It's not that they are unwilling to be generous. It's just that we've put up so many limitations to how and when they can be generous."
Churches also must provide compelling connections between the giving and the cause. At Rev. Throop's church, at Christmas the church set up a program in which congregants could send letters to family and friends, asking them to give money to a ministry in the name of a friend, rather than sending that person a gift. "People find ways to give extra," Throop says, "especially when they're inspired."
—From "Ten Trends for '10" by Matt Branaugh, Your Church magazine (Jan/Feb 2010)
Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!