?When the nation is in a difficult time economically, it impacts all sectors-business, government and even not-for-profit organizations. The church is no exception-across the nation, church leaders are reporting a downturn in contributions, reflecting the tight economy.
When people lose jobs or face cutbacks, when the value of their investments drops significantly, when the rising home values that made them feel flush are now moving in the opposite direction, all of that makes a difference in terms of what people give to the church. No wonder that even some churches that have been very healthy financially are finding themselves behind budget because of declining giving.
No one knows how long the current economic downturn will last-some think it will turn around by mid-2009, while others predict a longer period of economic slowdown. Whatever the case, pastors and church leaders need to deal with the present reality. But there are some strategies that can be used to help “weather the storm” of a struggling economy.
Identify the real priorities.
Now is the time to review your church budget. Identify those areas that are essential priorities and those that are worthy activities but are not key to the church’s mission. Then focus your financial resources on the critical priorities; the least important budgeted items can be delayed or even deleted.
Remember that in most churches, such evaluation needs to involve more than the pastor and key staff. There are lay leaders who are influencers within the larger congregation-getting their involvement and “buy in” can make the difference in a positive or negative experience for the church.
Rethink some traditional expenditures.
This is related to the first item, but it justifies a bit of explanation. Most church programs (and budgets) have areas that had a great impact at one time, but they are simply not vital or effective in today’s environment. This may be the time to gather your key leadership and encourage some long-range planning to identify which programs and budget items may have outlived their usefulness.
Don’t initiate such a discussion like a bull in a china shop-remember that every program likely has some champion who values it, if only because of some benefit it provided to them or their family in past years. Be sensitive to such perspectives, and be open to wise counsel-just because a program doesn’t seem valuable to you, recognize that it may be meeting a vital need for others in the church.
As you approach this discussion, be sure to put the emphasis on the mission and purpose of the church and how the church is fulfilling that mission in the 21st century. If handled with sensitivity, we often can help leaders who defend certain programs to see for themselves that those activities are no longer meeting a major need-or that they are less critical than other areas-and that in an economic downturn some items will have to be delayed or allowed to disappear.
The positive side of an economic downturn is that you might be able to kill some budget items that have been handed down because of tradition more than need. Thus, you may come out of the financial pinch better positioned for future advancement.
Help members with maintaining support.
One of the most likely areas to suffer in a time of economic uncertainty is financial support of a capital campaign. There are different reasons for this: some givers may have lost jobs or experienced salary cutbacks or may simply be nervous about the future of their jobs; still others had planned to make their gifts out of investment income or even the sale/gift of appreciated assets, and now those assets are worth far less than when their pledge was made.
Recognize this reality, and encourage members and supporters to find ways to continue their financial support even in the face of economic challenges. For example, offer donors the opportunity to extend a pledge over a longer period of time: a donor who will have a hard time fulfilling a pledge made over a three-year period might be able to satisfy the pledge if given an extra year or two. Demonstrate sensitivity to the situation faced by members and flexibility in helping them maintain their financial support of the church or ministry.
Begin plans now for future growth.
God is sovereign in a recession and in a time of surplus. As you preach, teach and lead in the months ahead, encourage members to recognize God’s guiding hand and to begin now to consider where the church goes when additional financial support becomes available. Even as it may be necessary to make painful cuts now, keep an emphasis on the positive future God can and will provide as we focus on His Kingdom and look to a future of ministry and service.