There are conversations people try to avoid—taking the keys from elderly parents, living will discussions, funeral arrangements. No one wants to have these difficult conversations. Nevertheless, avoiding these conversations can lead to greater pain, more people can get hurt.
Very few people want to talk about church budgeting in a crisis. People want to believe that things will get better if ignored. Hopefully, that will be the case. However, the church needs to begin immediately having hard conversations around church budgeting. Now is the time to have the conversations.
Here are some suggestions that may help guide those conversations.
On-board multiple giving platforms – yesterday! Creating new methods for the majority of a congregation will be challenging, but it needs to be done immediately. Churches should encourage online giving, snail-mail, and drop off points.
Plan a new next year’s budget now. Remember non-profit giving is like the mother of the bride—last in and first out. People will cut charitable giving first if they are affected financially, and they will wait until they recover personally to restart giving. There will be pain. If a church does not adjust quickly, they could use up reserves necessary to rebound when people come back.
Ask for help from a wide range of people. Budgeting may not be a pastors’ strong suit. God has put people in the church who can help him. He should seek help today.
Create multiple scenarios. Churches should formulate a “great depression”, “hard recession”, and “slight dip” budget model. No one knows how this is going to play out. God does not promise prosperity.
Have the future in mind. Pastors should have an evangelistic future in mind. There will be incredible opportunities when this is over. People will be searching for stability. Churches must offer hope. The people who come back to the church will also cost money. Proper planning will help a church to be in a position to effectively disciple new members. There is a lag time (6-12 months) between a person entering the church and giving to a church.
Make your ministry budget flexible. Needs are changing daily. Pastors need to be able to respond to the needs quickly. Simplify the number of ministry line items a budget has so real-time decisions can be made. This is difficult in smaller churches. Perhaps a committee could be given the authority to act on behalf of the church on urgent financial matters until the congregation can act as normal.
Don’t forget missionaries. They depend on the local church. Churches must prioritize support for them. This is the advantage of percentage giving—church budgets are automatically adjusted for missions giving.
Guard against overstaffing in the downturn. Healthy churches run 50% or less in staffing. This still applies in a downturn. Temporarily going over this percentage is expected, but a church cannot sustain this and have a bright future.
Provide a clear vision. People are motivated by vision, not guilt. All non-profits will be strained. Churches and pastors will be tempted to use guilt to motivate giving. Guilt may work in the short term, but it will be short-lived. People will give to a compelling vision—people will give sacrificially to a compelling vision. Leaders should clearly articulate how giving through a local church is making a difference.
Be wise. If literature has already been purchased, but not used, consider utilizing it in the next quarter, next year, etc. Ongoing subscriptions should be scrutinized since they are often forgotten until the bill arrives. Ministry needs have changed; some items may not have value at the moment.
Review government assistance. Some assistance being proposed includes help for non-profit workers with children.
Expect a long downturn. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Regular reviews should be scheduled to make adjustments.
Trust God to accomplish the work according to His plan. His plan might not align with a church's current budget.
Don’t fail to learn the lessons of the crisis. How can this moment help a church plan for the next difficult moment? A church would be wise to create an emergency plan. Some churches have created leadership teams made up of laypeople and staff when congregational gatherings may be hindered.
God is the sovereign God. He has allowed a season such as this to come to the church. While it is a difficult one to navigate, He has given His Spirit to guide. As His church seeks to glorify the name of Jesus, He will help her to overcome!
Nick Sandefur is senior pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington.