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Good Steward: Perspectives on 2013

DAN MIKES
Dan Mikes is executive vice president and national manager of the religious institution division of Bank of the West, San Ramon, CA.

Economic turnaround for churches

From a financial perspective the last four years have certainly been challenging for churches. However, looking at the data gathered across our church customer base, we have noticed a slow but distinct turnaround.

For example, the general tithes and offerings (T&Os) collected by our customers as reported on statements prepared by certified public accountants increased 4 percent between 2010 and 2011. While 33 percent of those churches saw a 5.9 percent average decline in T&Os, the remaining 64 percent realized a 9.2 percent increase.

Geographic and demographic factors were certainly in play. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see the 4 percent increase after T&Os declined 1 percent between 2008 and 2009, and then increased 1 percent between 2009 and 2010. We should note that we only analyzed the T&Os line.

The next most substantial revenue line for churches is typically the building fund. Often, gifts designated for the building fund are the result of a capital pledge campaign orchestrated in conjunction with a building phase, and therefore may be non-recurring.

Many churches have put building projects on hold due to an unwillingness to solicit pledge commitments and incur debt during a recession and slow recovery.

For example, over the past three years (2010-12) our construction lending comprised only 24 percent of our total church lending. Over the three preceding years, the number was 47 percent. We have yet to see this trend turn around and we expect it will be a couple of years before we return to pre-recession construction levels. Meanwhile, churches hoping to position themselves for physical plant expansion and related borrowings will need to diligently manage the expense side of their operations, stabilize their net cash flow and re-establish their operating reserves.

Many churches were slow to make tough expenditure reduction decisions during the downturn, allowing cash reserves to dwindle to uncomfortably low levels.

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MARK SIMMONS
Mark Simmons is business manager at Christ Community Church, Milpitas, CA.

Nurturing a spirit of generosity

I’m often asked by small business owners whether it is possible to grow their business given current market conditions. I ask them, “What is your market share?” Rarely is the answer greater than 25 percent.

“So then,” I say, “what you are telling me is that there are more than enough customers, you just aren’t winning enough of them.”

he same is true with the kingdom of God. It’s easy to blame the market. But the truth is we live in a sea of lost humanity. We “are the salt of the Earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness” what needs to be done? We “are the light of the world. But if the light is hidden, what good is it?” What is the solution? Is it to blame the market? No, Jesus said, “Go.” Our Savior said, “Let your light shine before others – our communities, where we live, where we work – that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Similarly, many churches are worried about the economic outlook, and to be sure there is plenty to worry about! In some parts of our country unemployment is well over 20 percent. Nationally, household income is said to be down more than $5,000, while prices rise, especially in housing, groceries and gasoline.

Whether we are talking about businesses, churches or families, most are one pay cycle away from disaster.

The time to act is now. I have observed that churches with healthy, well-discipled members tend to do better in hard economic times. Our church has, for many years, developed and nurtured a spirit of generosity in all things. But we were challenged about five years ago to do more in the area of finances – particularly as it relates to equipping our families.

We now have classes that cover every life stage – 13 in all. We leverage the resources of several Christian organizations that specialize in this area. We’ve retired many millions in consumer debt, taught and provided counseling and other support to help our families get on solid, biblical ground. The benefits to our families are tremendous – and the church has benefitted too.

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DENISE CRAIG
Denise Craig, CCA, is chief financial officer of Abba’s House, Hixson, TN.

Staying at the top of your game

Church business administration is a uniquely challenging, yet wonderfully rewarding career and calling.

Most church administrators come to the field as a second or sometimes third career. The positive side of that is they bring experience to the table. It may be experience in business or a completely different field. Any experience working with diverse people in real-life situations, making stewardship decisions concerning resources – both financial and human – are invaluable when it comes to church administration.

To do this job well, the goal must be to achieve excellence and balance between tasks and relationships. To gain the knowledge necessary to perform the tasks required of an administrator well, I studied and sat for the Certified Church Administration certification program of the National Association of Church Business Administration. The program allows you an opportunity to network with other administrators and to learn from other professionals who have been doing this for years. Relationships are an important part of the job. I find that you must genuinely love people and lead them to become better at what they do while encouraging them to become more like Jesus.

Because our world is moving so quickly, largely due to rapid advances in technology, knowledge becomes stale in no time. Church administrators should commit to life-long learning.

All churches, whether large or small, are facing challenges in the days ahead. I think one of the challenges specifically for the megachurch is to ensure things still feel personal, even in the large church environment. Getting people connected to a smaller group within the church and helping them understand the corporate vision and how it applies to their daily lives is critical.

Some people think that church is not “business.” Actually, it is. We are in the people business. We are in the business of multiplying the disciples of Christ here on this earth. We are in the business of knowing and adhering to the laws of our land. We are in the business of being good managers of all the resources God has placed before us. We are in the business of glorifying God in everything we do, because in him we live, move and have our being. This is God’s business, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

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STEVE BRIGGS
Steve Briggs is associate pastor of administration at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, NC.

Vision is more caught than taught

Three words come to mind when it comes to making vision come alive and making it happen in a local church – communication, communication and communication! If that sounds like overkill to you then that is maybe one reason your church is missing it when it comes to making your vision come alive in the hearts and souls of the congregation.

Once the lead or senior pastor and his team understand the vision God has given for the church, they must be able to state it briefly in a memorable way. Just a few words are ideal.

At our congregation we use one word – Transformation. How are we transformed? By connecting, growing and sharing. Our logo, our signage, our letterhead, our website, our ministries all communicate this simple-to-understand vision. Christ’s plan for his disciples is to be transformed into his image. The preaching pastors must communicate the vision constantly from the pulpit. All publications – your website, your church’s logo, your use of social media – must keep it before the people.

Tell stories in the pulpit and in your publications that relay real life examples of the vision being lived out.

Make sure every area of your church, from children’s ministry to senior adults to recreation to your small group or Sunday school, conveys the same vision. Everyone must be on the same page. The senior leadership and staff of the church bear the responsibility to make sure all ministries under their guidance stay on the same page.

Finally and of utmost importance, the senior pastor, the ministry staff and key volunteer leadership must model the vision in their daily lives. Someone has said, “Christianity is more caught than taught.” Same with vision: it is more caught than taught!

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ERIC SPACEK
Eric Spacek is senior manager of risk management and loss control, GuideOne Insurance, West Des Moines, IA.

Financial and reputational risks

Risk management is evolving in the business world as the enterprise risk management (ERM) concept takes hold and a number of companies have elevated the position of chief risk officer (CRO) to the senior level. ERM looks beyond traditional operational risks to address risks from all sources across the enterprise, including financial risk and reputational risk. Considering that a fair number of churches don’t do traditional risk management particularly well (i.e., it remains unusual to have a volunteer or staff member dedicated to risk management), expanding ERM into the religious community may be a challenge.

Still, it is important for churches to consider how their potential actions, inactions and decisions can present a risk to the ministry from a reputational or community standpoint. Having a board-level liaison who works closely with the executive pastor or senior pastor on addressing the range of risks that churches face can be a positive way of incorporating elements of ERM into the church environment.

As far as liability risks, I expect the protection of children from abuse by adults and by other minors will continue to be a focal point in the coming years. The Penn State situation placed a renewed emphasis on the importance of having a plan in place to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities.

Many of the liability risks that face churches are not new, such as slips and falls and injuries on the playground. However, some newer risks have emerged including those associated with extreme activities or ministries, such as skate parks, bungee sports and zorbing, the threat of an armed person on premises, and employment and board-related claims.

One factor that presents both a liability risk and a risk to the property is the issue of declining membership in many churches. As the number of attending members shrink, funds become tighter, and churches can begin to struggle to maintain their facility. Sometimes shortcuts necessitated by budget constraints can lead to property damage, such as unrepaired roofs or leaks, leading to further damage or injuries on the premises either due to volunteers attempting to perform work that should be left to professionals or to the property’s overall deteriorating condition.

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SAM S RAINER III
Sam S. Rainer III is president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, TN.

When big is better

Looking ahead some three to five years I see these things increasing in importance in the church: homegrown leaders, expectations of accessibility, and “big.”

More homegrown leaders. It’s not a new trend. In fact, church researchers have called for local equipping of leaders for a long time. In our globalized society, however, it is becoming even more important. Today everyone has access to the same information at the same time. Podcasts, blogs and sermon videos are ubiquitous.

The best teachers and preachers in the world now broadcast messages for free. Anyone can listen and benefit from excellent teaching – simply take your pick from several great leaders. The problem is applying this teaching to a variety of individual contexts. What is needed are local leaders who understand unique cultural nuances of small towns, neighborhoods and enclaves of larger metropolitan cities.

Many churches will benefit by training and equipping local, homegrown leaders who have specific, lifelong knowledge of their context.

Top church leaders will do better in most cases to train up people from within the church rather than hiring from the outside.
Increased expectations of accessibility. As social media matures (and potentially peaks), followers will expect to connect to leaders through technology. In general, accessible leaders will be viewed more positively than inaccessible leaders. Being perceived as accessible is accomplished easily and quickly by remaining relatively active in social media.

While not every direct message on Twitter demands a response, regular interaction with followers through social media helps a leader be viewed as more approachable when face-to-face interactions occur. Church leaders should take advantage of these easy tools to communicate with their congregations.

Big becomes more popular. While a few may decry the constant focus on larger churches, the reality is the biggest churches are getting bigger at faster rates than churches of other sizes. Many small churches are certainly doing good kingdom work, and the desire by some to highlight this work is noble.

In the next five years, however, the self-generating gravitational pull of the largest churches will grow. In short, the big will continue to get bigger and more popular. Within a five-year window, the growth of multisite megachurches will continue to accelerate. The long-term prospects of this growth are debatable, but big will remain popular for the mid-term.

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JOHN MRAZEK
John C. Mrazek III is executive pastor of Pathways Church, Denver, CO.

Building a ‘MILLENNIAL-FOCUSED’ church

It is already happening in corporate America and now it is creeping into our churches as well! Boomers are not leaving their leadership positions in either place and their continued influence is hampering the ability of Gen-Xers and millennials to create church environments that meet their needs.

That is why my congregation, Pathways Church, is committed to creating opportunities for millennials to experience grace and redemption in their type of nontraditional church venue. More churches might do the same. What does a truly millennial-focused church look like? We believe it is a place that is saturated in community, raw uncensored truth, and missional impact that is very personal. Every generation is naturally drawn towards authentic community within their context.

We find that millennials desire community as they do breathing and demand it in every area of their lives. Small groups are just the beginning at Pathways because every event or project starts with ensuring community is the primary focus.

Secondly, we do our best to leverage technology and personal stories to present truth in as many formats as possible. Sometimes situations really suck and that is the only authentic way to say it! Finally, traditional strategies are not helping us “own” the one-mile radius around our church. Our people really want to interact personally with the homeless and crave missional events that make that possible.

Pathways Church has many local ministry partnerships that put our people on the frontlines of caring and presenting the love of Christ in very tactile way. Millennials are the future of the church and our society. We can’t wait another five or 10 years to begin listening and changing our churches to serve them. It has to happen now or our churches will continue to fade and become irrelevant to a generation that is rapidly running out of godly truth sources and accessible grace.

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MIKE KLOCKENBRINK
Mike Klockenbrink is chief of staff at Lakeside Church, Folsom, CA.

Creating a mountain to climb

I came into my church job from an industrial supply company. And for others who come to church administration from the secular workplace, there are some characteristics that are common to both.

First and foremost, one must be a leader, a listener and team builder. The ability to recognize leaders and collaborate will be key to one’s success. What I recognize today is that while most business executives have one or two specific skill sets, the majority are much more generalists. One must have the ability to put together teams of skilled individuals for the task at hand. This person must also have an appetite to be a learner.

Everything you do is a process. The question is do you have a process for that? What are your key processes that you measure your success by? At a minimum, you should have a process developed for these areas. Bring your teams together to develop a process. This way you have buy in, eliminate a majority of your potential mistakes and increase your probability for success.

When it comes to innovative and forward-looking directions, this goes back to having an appetite to learn and innovate. One must be in touch with technology. I don’t mean they need to be a geek or gadget guru. They must have the desire to explore new tools and technology that are available to them. Consistently ask the question, how can we do this better? This is a time to play, experiment, and ask the question, “What if?

Let’s face it, social media is here to stay. So how do we adopt, adapt and make the most of it?

Today people want to make a difference; they don’t want to just go to church. So how do we create online community opportunities? How can the church go viral within its community? The church must create a mountain to climb.

Why is it when asked the question “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” we have incredible ideas or risks that we would take. So what if you do fail, it’s better than not trying at all. For this next year, think big, dream big, go big, or stay home.

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2 Comments for “Good Steward: Perspectives on 2013”

  1. […] originally published at Church Executive. Read more analysis of future trends from me and others here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  2. […] a great read over at ChurchExecutive.  They asked some people involved in church finance and generosity to give some predictions on […]

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