10 Things Church Leaders Can Do Now to Survive the Economy

Since the economic collapse in 2008, a shift has been taking place in the American consciousness- from a culture of buying and spending, unlimited credit card debt and hefty mortgages to precisely the opposite of this mindset. Today, a culture of debt elimination has emerged, especially toward credit card debt-but, all debt, too-to a commitment to save more, even downsizing one's lifestyle and the square-footage in personal housing. From a cultural mindset characterized by "more and bigger" today's "New Normal," as it has been called is a mindset characterized by "less and smaller."Church leadership should "tighten-its-belt" as well on spending, debt service, salary increases, etc., and be perceived by members as doing so without resistance or complaint by leaders. In the next decade, churches and church leaders perceived to be addressing the human needs, as well as the spiritual, local, global or "green" needs of planet earth, will find people willing to support it. Those churches and leaders who possess an apocalyptic view of the future that focuses on escaping the challenges faced by humans and the planet will be increasingly marginalized and accelerate their own numerical and financial decline.2. As a matter of practice, make sure you say "Thank You" for member support at least three-times as often as you say things like, "We need your help." Send quarterly "thank you" letters to members that are addressed to them personally (ie., "Dear Bob and Mary..."), along with their statement of giving for that quarter. Make sure the letter highlights a specific ministry/mission accomplishment for the previous quarter (ie., faith conversions, new members, a facility that just went "green" or was painted, updated, or the number of households served by the church's food pantry, a mission team report, etc.). People give to people and to projects they deem worthy in serving the cause of Christianity. Put a "face" on these letters so that members are reminded that their generosity is making a difference in someone's life.3. Make use of "generosity testimonies" throughout the year, not just a budget promotion time. Listen for those stories from members who are facing hard times but remaining faithful in their giving and finding God's presence and provision to be adequate. Enlist them to share their story.

Guide them in preparing and delivering it to the church/parish. Be sure their story is shared, not only in worship, but through church publications, the church's website, etc. A spirit of generosity is caught more often than it is taught.4. Many churches report their giving totals for the previous week/month in their parish bulletin or newsletter. These churches typically report the AVN "Average Weekly Need" as well (AVN is the total annual budget need divided by 52 weeks or 12 months). As a consequence, often the weekly/monthly receipts appear to be short of the average weekly/monthly need.In time, this reporting method creates the perception that the church is always behind in its giving. Most churches have the best quarter of giving during the final quarter of the year and will often "catch up" and close out the year at or near budget projections. However, by reporting weekly receipts against the average weekly need, the perception is nurtured that church is always behind. And perceptions, once fixed in people's minds, are hard to change.Here's what to do. Church expenses are not equally distributed throughout the year. The utility bills, for example, are likely to be higher during those months of intense cold or heat than at other times of the year. Instead of reporting the average weekly receipts against the average weekly need, why not calculate the average weekly expenses based on the last five year's expenses for that same week?This will take a little time. Once set up, however, in an Excel spreadsheet, or some other program, it will be easy to maintain. Simply average all weekly or monthly expenses for the last five years. This will give you a weekly/monthly average of expenses that is much more realistic and accurate. Then, when you report the weekly receipts with THIS average, the receipts will more often meet or exceed the weekly average need. In time, the perceptions, as well as the congregational attitudes, will change and become more positive, accurate, and optimistic about the church's financial health.5. Teach generosity, and do so regularly. Consider opening a Financial Counseling Center. Most churches have one or more lay persons who have skills and training in this area, as in bankers, accountants, investors, insurance and financial advisors, etc. Offer classes in financial planning, debt and money management, and planned giving. Invite a speaker who specializes in motivating people to live beyond fear and anxiety and more by faith and generosity. It is true that generous people are the happiest people. Teach and preach on Biblical giving. Consider a teaching series or a series of homilies/sermons designed to expose the myths about giving prevalent in virtually every church in America. Try reading and or teaching a book like The Giving Myths.6. Ask the right questions...Since people give to vision, or human and spiritual needs; What is your church's vision? How well are you communicating it? If it is unclear, or cannot be stated by most members in the pew, it may be time to lead them to discover a new vision for the future, a re-defined mission and vision for the church's future.Is your financial support declining, or flat; Why? Do local unemployment and other economic factors explain the decline or are there other reasons for it? (ie., No vision? Low Vision? Fear? Internal conflict? Distrust, suspicion, or a lack of confidence in leadership?)Whether real or perceived, are more of your church's resources being spent within the church walls than on missions and mission projects beyond the church walls? According to Empty Tomb, Inc., an Illinois-based Christian research organization, most churches spend 85 percent or more of their financial resources on salaries, utilities, and brick-and-mortar maintenance. If so, this trend will likely be protested, either verbally or quietly, and a turn-around necessary if giving trends are to ever change.What counsel, guidance, and active prayer support is your church offering to members, as well as those within the community, who are unemployed and/or under-employed? What about debt counseling or financial counseling? Has your church hosted a "Jobs Fair," or a "Resume-Writing" Seminar? Does the church offer guidance to those completing applications for unemployment assistance? In other words, how do your members "perceive" the level of your concern as a church for the difficulties they are facing?7. Before undertaking a new building or expansion campaign, renovation project, or capital campaign, it is imperative to conduct a pre-campaign readiness assessment (or, feasibility study) by a third-party professional firm. This will help church leadership evaluate whether members are willing support the effort (that is, how they really feel about it beyond any church vote) and, equally as important, whether their financial support will be great enough to prevent the church from mortgaging its future with an unmanageable debt.8. If your church has a large debt, it would be wise to consider conducting a capital campaign for debt reduction/elimination, even if you have just completed a capital campaign for new construction. Why? Remember, people are becoming more and more debt conscious. At first, the suggestion of "another" capital campaign for debt reduction will meet with resistance from some. But, this is due mostly to campaign fatigue. Once members see that, if the church does not reduce debt, it will pay $________ (this amount can be calculated from the amortization schedule on the church loan) in interest money alone over the next three years. Merely seeing this number is generally enough to lead them to reconsider. Interest money spent on debt service is really ministry money the church is needlessly throwing away.Normally, a capital campaign for debt service will yield only about one to one-and-one-half times a church's annual budget in three-year commitments. In other words, a church with an $800,000 annual budget will likely receive $1.2 million in revenue for debt elimination/reduction over a three-year giving period. This example assumes the church is using the services of a professional fundraising firm. Normally, those churches attempting capital campaigns for debt reduction without the assistance of a professional fundraising/stewardship firm will not do as well. They can guide you in avoiding pitfalls and in designing a successful campaign for debt reduction/elimination that will make sense - even in today's economic climate.9. If your church/parish has conducted a capital campaign in recent months, when was the last time information on the status of the campaign, as well as the progress of the worthy cause, was shared with members? While many churches conduct successful annual and capital campaigns, too often what happens after the campaign concludes could be summarized in one word: Nothing. In an annual stewardship campaign, for example, some aspect of the church's ministry accomplishments should be shared at least every six weeks.Generally speaking, all that most churches do is post in the weekly/monthly bulletin the giving totals from the previous week (or, month). In capital campaigns, there are few churches that successfully implement a Follow-Up program that keeps members abreast of campaign/project progress. These same churches often do little to introduce and encourage new members to participate. Good communication will keep the campaign momentum and contributions going forward.10. In the end, make sure that the church, and its lay and professional leadership, is practicing what it preaches. Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom...and these things will be given as well" (Luke 12:32). Know that the Kingdom is not the church. Nor is it some future place or destiny. The Kingdom, as Jesus referred to it, is within you (Luke 17:21); that is, within each follower of Christ. In other words, it is that deepest place within every follower, where none other than God himself dwells. So, what does this mean when applied to the economy?The central thought in a capitalist economy is the "principle of scarcity," where it is assumed there are not enough resources to produce all the goods and services people need and want. The central thought in a Kingdom economy, however, is the "principle of abundance." Where God is, there is plenty.The problem in today's world is not a deficit of resources but the distribution of resources. On one hand, a scarcity mentality creates fear and competition. This, in turn, fuels greed, ego-based decision-making, and a misguided, competitive bigger-is-better philosophy. This collective leadership ego has led churches to over-build, over-extend, and mortgage their future in excessive debt. A Kingdom mentality, on the other hand, creates trust. It nurtures sound, God-based not ego-based decision-making. In this leadership environment, there is confidence in the church's leaders, joy among its members, and a spirit of generosity.Since there is no such thing as scarcity in God's Kingdom, members should feel the church's decisions are not being dictated by the economy but by leaders who are wise, spiritual, in-touch with the God within, and interested only in building the "real" Kingdom-the Kingdom within each follower. Where this prevails, the church prospers.     

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