As we enter the season of Advent, a time of watching and waiting, it’s a good time to perform a checkup on your congregation’s financial health. Your answers to the following questions will give you a quick assessment of your church’s overall financial health. No computer or calculator needed!
1. Are you able to pay current expenses on time?
2. Do you have funds for emergencies like an uninsured repair or equipment failure?
3. Do you have funds in reserve to take advantage of an emerging ministry opportunity?
4. Do you have an effective and ongoing giving (financial stewardship) campaign?
5. Are your church’s leaders generous givers? (This doesn’t mean biggest dollar amounts but in relation to their ability to give.)
6. Is your pastor comfortable preaching about generosity and our need to give out of what God has given us?
7. Do members understand and experience the joy of giving or do they consider giving an obligation to be fulfilled out of duty or guilt?
8. Do members receive information about planned gifts, such as including the church in their will?
9. Is your debt level manageable?
10. Do you have a plan to reduce your outstanding debt?
If you have answered “no” to more than a couple of these questions, you might try one of these prescriptions to improve your church’s financial vitality.
Stewardship campaigns. I have been told (by people who know what they’re talking about) that many churches never conduct annual stewardship campaigns. If you are one of those churches, consider an annual stewardship campaign. Plan one for 2013, but start now to communicate regularly about the ministry impact of people’s financial gifts.
Share stories in worship—save the financial information for the newsletter or a report to members. Don’t report revenue and expense compared to budget in your bulletin but do talk about the joy of giving. Don’t talk about the need to fund the budget, but stress the Christian’s opportunity to give in response to our generous and loving God.
Debt reduction. The Sustainability Advisory Group report issued in April 2010 says that the indebtedness of United Methodist churches is significant and increasing. The report estimated that debt increased by 50 percent between 2000 and 2007. Now is a good time to refinance existing loans to reduce debt service and to think abouta capital campaign to reduce your loan principle Sometimes debt is necessary but a high debt load can stifle a church’s ministry. If you want motivation for a capital campaign or a refinance, figure out the total interest cost over the life of the mortgage. Then think about what that amount of money could accomplish in mission and ministry if it were not needed for debt service.
Giving habits. Does your pastor know how much people give? I think the pastor should know. I realize that some folks may be uncomfortable with having the pastor know and some pastors may not want to know. But I believe our pastors handle the information appropriately. Besides, we all make assumptions about people’s income and giving; knowing the truth is better than making inaccurate assumptions.
Individual givers’ information is private but a few key leaders need to know this information. Pastors should know when someone’s giving changes because that is an opportunity for pastoral care. A member may not tell you they are having financial problems, like a job loss or high medical bills, but these are exactly the times when people need to hear from their pastor. I’ve also read that a member’s giving will drop about six months before they leave their church. That is another signal for the pastor to pursue.
There are many resources available to churches for capital campaigns, annual stewardship campaigns, financial management, and more. The Minnesota United Methodist Foundation (mnumf.org) offers resources for church planned giving, annual campaigns, and capital campaigns. Some books to read include:
· Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate–A New Vision for Financial Stewardship,by J. Clif Christopher (Abingdon Press, 2008)
· Whose Offering Plate Is it? New Strategies for Financial Stewardship,by J. Clif Christopher (Abingdon Press, 2010)
· Five Practices of Fruitful Congregationsby Robert Schnase (Abingdon Press, 2007).
Barbara Carroll is director of finance and administration for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church