Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is it me or....?

So, finance stuff has been tight (and tough) lately (at the church I mean).  We knew before the fiscal year started that we would need to make some major budget changes and that the way do money now, in the long haul, would not take us where we need to be.  So we brought in a new finance chair to help us make the changes that we need.  

I don't know if you've tried it or not, but overhauling the budget is not an easy process. It's messy and tedious and Loooooooong.  But we're working at it.  

Well, in the meantime, we've hit a shortfall.  I don't think it's because of anything specific (maybe it is...?) but I think it's more that the economy has finally caught up with us.  Last year we were relatively unaffected, but this year we've hit the red zone.  It's not huge and it's no where near where I know other churches have dipped to, but it is troublesome and worrisome and all that bad stuff, so we brought it to the light with the larger congregation and asked for some help to get caught up.

Then, sort of at the same time, we put on our big concert event (which we had hope to have at least 2000 for but were prepared for as many as 5000), except we only ended up with 500, which meant we didn't even break even.  So next to the plea for help with the regular budget, we have a request in the church newsletter to help pay off our loans that paid for the event (made by church members).  The event as a whole had gone really well and the things we had control over were smooth and great!  But it is hard to keep people seeing that when there is a financial shortfall.  

So, people are now talking (probably more like murmuring because I'm not hearing it....not directly anyway, not yet, but I have been on a honeymoon until yesterday...) and they are worried that the church is in financial trouble (and somehow when people hear that they freeze and don't want to give money because they think we'll plunder it or something...it's odd really...or maybe not so odd since that's what many of us think when someone asks us for cash...we fear they've already mismanaged their funds to get in the place they are and we don't want to "waste" money in such a way....)

Anyway, I spoke with a church leader today and he said "we need your help to get us out of this." and I thought, "good, at least they trust me to help with this." But I also couldn't help but wonder if it's my fault.  Is it my fault that I helped lead a committee into putting on a big event that was so big that maybe it caused us to fall?  Some interpreted the obstacles we hit along the way to the concert as God's warning to try and keep us from experiencing the "failure" of the concert; and yet others interpreted those same obstacles as the enemy trying to prevent an amazing event from happening in God's name.  Which is it?  Did I ignore God's warnings?  Or did I see the enemy at work and encourage (rightly?) for folks to keep doing what we felt called to do in faith?  and who is to blame?  or do we blame anyone?

What about the general shortfalls of the church....are those my fault?  Am I supposed to be doing something different?  I'm guessing they are not my fault...though maybe I should do something different...(and I'm guessing that if I let myself believe that they are and I were to be in a church that was $20,000 in the hole or $40,000 in the hole that I might hurt myself or quit the ministry...so I probably shouldn't play into that....) But regardless, I can't help but wonder how I'm (as a still pretty green pastor) supposed to help my church out of financial trials and I am wondering how God offers guidance and discernment in these areas.

Any thoughts? Or even educated guesses?


Dr. Tony said...

It is not you and you shouldn't even begin to think that it was.

Now, I am not a pastor but I have lead a number of churches and been involved in the financial concerns of several others.

The thing that struck me when I read the piece was the focus on the concert. I have a gut reaction anytime I read or hear about a church putting their financial hopes on an event or a fund-raiser. To me, that is not good stewardship or planning.

And, from my own experience, I know that a church that focuses on the fund raisers ultimately loses its identity as a church and becomes a social meeting spot.

The other thing that one has to ask is where was the Chair of the Financial Committee in all of this? I may disagree with how the finance committee at my church does things but there are monthly meetings and there is a reference to where we stand with regards to the previous year. It gives some sense of where we are and what we have to do.

But the hard thing is to get the congregation to think about what a church is about, not what it costs. Too many churches focus on the bottom line and they lose the focus on the real mission, which should be the people of the church and the community.

Reaching out to the community does require funds but what happens if that yields new members who contribute to the church?

I don't know the budget for your church or how big you are or how many "giving units" you have. But I do know this; if this coming Sunday, you say that 10% of the offering is going to pay our apportionments (which will make a lot of people really unhappy) as a statement of our focus on this being a church, you will, by the end of the year, have resolved the crisis.

This is not the prosperity gospel; this is a statement that we as a church intend to be a church and we are going to focus on the mission of the church. And when we do that, the talents of this church will be returned in many ways.

I have seen it work - a church that hadn't paid its apportionments in six months paid them in full in the remaining six months of the year. A second church applied this and was able to not only pay in full for the first time in several years but begin paying the next year in advance.

The church that didn't do this but insisted that its fund raisers could provide the church will close within the next year.

Your church is facing hard times, as are so many churches. It will take some serious soul searching to find the answer because it will not be found under the financial bottom line.

I hope and will pray that your congregation is inspired by the Holy Spirit to see the solution that speaks of the church and the Gospel; it will be the answer they seek.

larry said...

First of all, I would agree with Dr. Tony - don't implicate yourself in this as being responsible for other people's stewardship decisions. Here are a few things I would ask for personal reflection though:

1. How are the other quantifiable measurements holding up, primarily Sunday worship attendance? In other words, is part of the problem that the same people are giving less money, or fewer people are contributing?

2. Am I leading by example in my personal stewardship as the pastor of this flock? Can I preach on tithing without being a hypocrite?

3. Whoever addresses this issue, whether you as the pastor or other individuals in leadership, is it being cast in terms of panic and dire straights, or is it presented in light of God's faithfulness to provide for the ministries He is uniquely calling your congregation to fulfill? Is it being presented in terms of "keeping the lights on" mentality or "meeting the needs of real people and transforming lives" perspective? As the pastor, it is important that you shape how the leadership makes the case so it doesn't come across in the wrong light.

4. Finally, is the money handled with the utmost integrity, so that no shadow or hint of impropriety could be cast upon you or the leadership? Are all designated/restricted funds kept separate from the general fund? Are the people who count the offerings of the highest character? Are they all unrelated to one another? Are the proper checks and balances in place? Does your church complete the audit every year? Do the people who have access to the giving records keep that information totally private?

As I re-read the post, I didn't get the sense that the event was meant to be a fund-raiser exactly, but the fact that it lost money, or as much money as it did, came as a surprise. If it was meant to be a fundraiser, then I would echo Dr. Tony's comment in regards to having concerns about relying alot on fundraisers. The congregations that I know of who are supported by fundraisers rather than the stewardship of their own members are all congregations dying a swift death.

Jim said...

Deb, Dr. Tony and larry provide some wise counsel. Larry asks some good questions that may clear the picture up best. If this is not something you can do find someone in your church who can help. Look beyond the numbers (finance and attendance) and see what trends pop up. Are their less people coming? Are regular givers not giving as much? Did you do a stewardship campaign and where are people in their estimates of giving? How does this year compare with the last ten years?

I have noticed, in my current appointment, that we are always short during the year and then December hits and a miracle happens. Every year, each December. So I don't worry as much because history shows it will happen, and for the last three years since being here it has.

Do not take it personally though and it is so very hard. The church is a community and the community has to work together. Some good books on stewardship I have read are Adam Hamilton's Enough, and there are some chapters of Richard Stearn's The Hole in Our Gospel, that are excellent on this subject.

Peace be with you and remember Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God.