When it comes to money matters, a lot of church leadership teams fly blind. Expenditures are carefully scrutinized, but where the money comes from to pay for these expenditures is anybody’s guess. Budgets are set by simply tacking an arbitrary percentage on to last year’s numbers. Key donors are unknown and unappreciated. All the while, other ministry organizations (such as Bible colleges, seminaries, and missionaries) and other non-profits (such as public schools, fire departments, police departments, etc) play by a different set of rules. It’s as if the church is supposed to play with one hand tied behind its back.
The results are tight budgets, crimped ministry, and a demoralized congregation and staff.
It’s hard to have a great ministry when the margins are so tight that there is no wiggle room and income projections are based upon assumptions rather than actual facts.
Here are a few things I have learned over the years about money matters in the church, how to plan for the future, and responding to those whose generosity make it all possible.
Churches Should Have a Savings Account
Some churches believe that good stewardship means that they should spend every dime that comes in. If extra money comes in, they seem to feel guilty about having extra. So they quickly find a special project to spend it on or quickly give it away to the mission field or the needy.
It sounds noble. But nothing guarantees a perpetual cash crisis like the absence of a margin in the budget and no cash reserves in a savings account. When churches fail to build margin into the budget and lack the discipline to store up some savings, it practically guarantees that they will have some sort of financial crisis every year and a long history of missed opportunities.
Yes, Pace Community Church has a savings account and cash reserve. This gives us margin for the ebbs and flows of seasonal giving trends. It also gives us something to fall back on in the event of significant damage to our church, such as fire, theft, or maintenance related issues. It’s just good stewardship to save.
Church Leaders Should Know Where the Money is Coming From
Churches can be goofy. We’re the only organization in the world that prides itself on making sure that our leaders have no idea where the money comes from.
Imagine a business attempting to plan and forecast without knowing who its key customers are, what they buy, or how much they spend. Or imagine a missionary who has no idea who his supporters are. Or how about a college that has no idea who its donors are?
Yet that is exactly how a lot of churches function. Pace Community Church used to be one of them. I myself was a card-carrying member of the “I don’t know who gives what” club. And I was quite proud of it.
I changed my mind about this a few years ago for many reasons. It’s dumb to fly blind.
Planning for Next Year Should Be Based Upon Financial Facts, Not Assumptions
Knowing where the money comes from plays an important role in helping us plan for the future. For instance, when the economy or personal setback negatively impacts a key donor (or when one moves away), it obviously has a major impact on our budget. Yet churches that fly blind in terms of where the money comes from have no way of knowing this until the budget starts to resemble a sinkhole.
I recently talked to a pastor who was concerned about a sudden downturn in the weekly offerings. He was in a panic and wondered what it meant. Were a lot of people upset? Was it something spiritual? Did he need to preach a sermon series on stewardship?
This pastor had no idea who his largest donors were. He had no idea if the drop in weekly offerings was the result of people who had recently moved, or suddenly stopped attending, or had lost a job. It’s one thing if a church has lost a key donor, and it’s another thing if the drop is the result of a churchwide belt-tightening. It would do no good to appeal to the congregation for more if the real problem was that the Jones family had moved to North Dakota.
Knowing where the money comes form enables us to make plans for the future based upon facts, not (panicky) assumptions.
Another value of knowing who gives and who does not give is that it smokes out board members, staff members, leaders, and church members who pretend they are committed to this ministry, when if fact they are not.
I can’t tell you the number of times over the years that I discovered some of my biggest problem-people were those had given ZERO to this ministry, sometimes for years! These chronic complainers were the most vocal about things they didn’t like, yet contributed nothing.
Then there are those demanding church members who need constant attention and perpetual hand-holding, yet do not contribute so much as a buffalo nickel to this ministry. They want to hog up all my time and lay claim to all the pastoral services provided by our church, yet do nothing to help sustain it.
Knowing where the money comes from exposes these pretenders. People can say they are committed to our church, but if they are not contributing to it then their heart is not in it. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there you heart will be also.” In other words, our hearts and wallets are connected. If people really love this church they will give to it.
I have had more than a few difficult one-on-one conversations with people in our church about this matter. I even asked for the resignation of a board member over this matter once. It’s that important.
When challenged, such people usually move on to another church where they can hide behind a carefully constructed (but blatantly false) image of spiritual maturity and commitment to the church.
I’ve learned that it is important to thank donors for their contributions too. Heaven knows, every other Christian organization is thanking them.
I’m not talking about rolling out the red carpet when someone shows up in a hot car with lots of bling. I’m not talking about giving contributors a free pass on church discipline either.
But what’s wrong with saying thank you when a special gift is given that makes a significant difference in PCC’s ministry? What’s wrong with thanking a first-time giver to PCC? What’s wrong with acknowledging the regular consistent giving of faithful church members that makes our ministry possible? Nothing.
I’m not sure how we have come to rationalize our inconsistency in showing appreciation to donors. We don’t have a problem showing appreciation to others in the church for doing good things. We’ll tell the Sunday School teacher what a great job she did. We will compliment the singers and musicians. We seem to have no problem giving special thanks to an exceptional volunteer. In fact, we have even had banquets to thank such folks. Even the pastor receives compliments and thank-yous for the sermons he preaches.
So, why shouldn’t we thank donors?
I realize that thanking donors can go overboard. But then again, so can a lot of things. Too much ice cream will make you fat. But that doesn’t mean we throw away the key to the church kitchen. Does it?
I’ve heard all the reasons why pastors and church leaders should not know who gives and should not do anything special to thank key donors. Remember, I was once a card carrying member of the “I don’t know who gives what” club and championed the cause, fearful of the pitfalls of favoritism and manipulation. So for years, we did nothing other than send out an annual stewardship statement that reflected how much someone had given for the year. It was more of an accounting issue than a thank you.
But eventually I came to the conclusion that donors to our church should be thanked just like everyone else who helps our church accomplish its mission. And I need to be the primary person who is involved in thanking these people. I haven’t done a very good job of this in the past, but plan to do better beginning now.
If I can be trusted with the deepest and darkest secrets of our people in counseling, I can probably handle knowing something about their finances. And if I can’t handle either one, then Pace Community Church needs to get a new pastor who is spiritually mature enough to know a secret or two.