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THE CHURCH’S NEW NORMAL: A time to take from the offering plate according to one’s need?

How one congregation stepped in to the needs of its members in this era of the New Normal.

By Jim Kuykendall

Cross Timbers Community Church decided to take some exciting steps to respond to this current economic season.  A few weeks back, Senior Pastor Toby Slough told the church during our giving time that if anyone that day had a need — because being laid off or other financial challenges — that they were welcome to take out of the plate as it passed by rather than give that week.

Evidently that touched a lot of people because we had the largest offering of the year that week.  In response to the generosity, the next week we bought $5,000 dollars of Visa gift cards and during the ministry time of our service invited anyone in the church who had lost their job to come to the front for prayer and after they were prayed for we gave them a $50 gift card to help in a small way.

The following week the church stepped up again and gave the largest regular weekly offering we had received in several months. Again in response to the generosity the next week we invited anyone who had lost their job or were under-employed due to the economic challenges to bring their utility bills to the church that week and we would pay them all.  We had almost 60 families bring their utility bills and we paid off around $35,000 in bills.

Used the cash reserve

We had worked hard last year to save up a cash reserve that would be used for a cushion in case the economy continued to worsen.  Toby believes that we are to give that entire reserve away.  We began that process by giving our entire Easter offering away.  We gave away $200,000 to six different organizations who are already focused on helping the unemployed and poor.

One of those organizations had just been told that the building they were in had come under new ownership and they had to move in just a few months.  Our gift was the seed money for them to begin the process of finding a new home. We found it interesting that an organization that helps the homeless was soon to be homeless as well. It was a real blessing to be part of this very timely gift for them.

We also challenged the church to invite someone they know who is unemployed or financially challenged and does not have a church home to church on Easter. We set up a website so we would know who is bringing these people and how many are coming.  On Easter the members who brought these guests went to the welcome desk and received a gift to give to these families.  We gave each of these families $500.

200 families benefitted

The invited families did not know about this gift and the inviting members did not know the amount of the gift. We had more than 200 families sign up. We ended up giving away more than $125,000. The church then blew us away by giving the largest Easter offering we have ever had in our 10-year history!

Our job seekers effort called Crossroads continues to build momentum. We are connecting jobless people with volunteers in our church and in the community to help with skills to seek employment. We help with resume writing, interview skills, social networking as well as providing donated suits and dresses for those who don’t have interview clothes. We gave haircuts and hair styling to top off the presentation for potential interviews. About 50 people are going through this process with the help of many volunteers.

We are not sure what is next for us but we are definitely enjoying riding the wave of what God is doing as we look for ways to try and help others. It has been described as a “giving throw down with God and we know we are going to lose.”

Jim Kuykendall is senior associate pastor of Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Denton and Keller, TX. [www.crosstimberschurch.org]



The CHURCH’S NEW NORMAL:

Five stories follow that shed light and hope on these recessionary times.

  1. Giving back to those in need
  2. Hiring in a non-hiring economy
  3. What’s so good about bad times?
  4. One church increases giving 46 percent
  5. How being debt free works for the church


Hiring effectively in a non-hiring economy

The hard decisions of firing five staffers while not worrying about “looking weak.”

By Eric Rojas

These days, you can’t read or view the media without the dreaded words screaming at you —“cut backs.” Major parachurch ministries are cutting back 15 to 25 percent of their staff, on average. Churches, historically known as the organizational type that holds on to employees too long, are making cuts at unprecedented rates. And from forecasters, it doesn’t appear that this New Normal is going to end any time soon. What’s a church to do? Maybe the answer is to hire.

Ministries of all kinds still want to make an impact for Christ. Churches still want to make advancements in changing lives for Christ. I am a big fan of being a great steward of God’s resources. I am also a big fan of knowing God’s plan for one’s future. I am not a big fan of arbitrary salary cuts or hiring freezes.

Remember a few years ago when you finally landed that awesome kids’ director? The good news is that he’s not in ministry for the money. The bad news is that he is just getting by financially — there’s not much margin.

Making ends meet

When you make a 10 percent arbitrary across the board salary cut, that puts him under the “ends are meeting” line and before long, he’s gone. Was that worth it? Was that being a good steward? You saved some part-time support staff help and lost a key player in a position that took three years to fill.

What’s the answer? I submit that the answer is asking God for wisdom and being as strategic in support of your vision as possible.

  • That means re-visiting your mission, values, three-year plan, etc.
  • That means evaluating every task and role for every staff person.
  • That means reducing staff in the areas that are overstaffed and under utilized — and there are areas like that in most churches.
  • It means looking at what staff positions can be handed back over to  key volunteer leaders like you had before the budget began to expand three to five years ago.

As you reduce those staff or staff positions that can be reduced or given to volunteers, you will be amazed that there will again be margin. All of a sudden you are re-visiting the key advancement that you felt called to. All of a sudden you can give modest raises, even in this economy, that will allow those key staff members to stay on board. All of a sudden that staff member who failed the “Jim Collins test” (if you had to hire this person again, would you?), is now gone. And, low and behold, you are hiring someone new again.

OK, I can hear your complaints already. Don’t bother sending the e-mails — I’ve got them covered.

Working it out

We just let go of 11 positions — 6 were vacant and 5 had people in them. One of them was a 23-year-employee. As I went through this in our church, I wanted to fix everything. I said no to staff cuts, no to specific people and, in the process, no to God.

One morning at 4:00 am, God woke me up and took me to the elliptical machine at my local gym. Over the next 45 minutes I was listening to a Christian radio station and praying. It was like I was having a conversation with God. Even the some times silly things that DJs say in between songs were being used by God to speak to me.

At the end of that time, God said this, “You did your job, now let me do mine.” Ok, God, you win, I said. I will let go and let God. I am a big believer in God’s sovereignty and His calling on our lives. I believe strongly that if he is calling us as a church to a new season, he’s probably calling some people to that new calling.

In the process, he’s probably calling some people away from that new thing. But, guess what? he has something new planned for them, too. It’s a season like this that we must trust in him with all that we have been entrusted to.

Brandon, Mike, Kristen, James, Elizabeth — names of staff who have been let go — have bills to pay, children to feed, and families to support. I get that. God has a plan. Our job is to pray, seek, research, pray, ask, discuss, pray, re-visit, pray and then decide. If God is leading, then let him be God and you be you.

In making these reductions in force I received counsel from key church leaders to not show emotion, not give information about why we’re doing this, and the like. One prominent exec told me across a breakfast table “you’ll look weak” when I shared that I was going to share my heart through the process.

God’s in control

Praise God I looked weak, because God is doing incredible things. I have had to fire scores of people in the past. I’m okay with that. I always share my heart in that process. I looked at our lobby a few weeks ago and saw five former employees who were fired here serving whole-heartedly in the church. Why? God’s spirit is working, not weakness. One fired administrative director is now going to be an elder. Praise God.

So, if you are to hire in this tumultuous season, what are the keys? I don’t think they’re unlike hiring in a prosperous season. It’s just that for many in ministry, we don’t have a solid plan and process that is reproducible. He works in systems in all of life and I believe He calls us to use our brains and the counsel of many, so that a new hire will have the greatest opportunity possible to have great success.

Eric Rojas is executive pastor of Christ Community Church in St. Charles, DeKalb and Blackberry Creek, IL. [www.ccclife.org]


What’s so good about bad times?

We believe falsely that money is a source of security, putting consumerism ahead of biblical stewardship.

By Rick Dunham

The economic implosion that has rocked our world may be one of the greatest gifts that church leaders could ever receive. It has thrown a spotlight on one of the most significant issues facing the church today — financial stewardship.

The uncertainty of these days presents a great opportunity to reframe the way Christians think about this issue that is so vital to the spiritual life of every believer. For the most part, Jesus’ teaching about money has failed to seep into the fabric of churches as members have a view of money that is more culturally informed than biblically informed.

Most churches don’t view how money is handled as a central part of spiritual growth and a key to a personal relationship with Christ. It’s trumped by things like Bible reading, prayer, accountability to others, worship, mission trips and attending small groups.

Although all of these are important, your church members can’t fully mature as Christians if they do not view money from a biblical perspective. But in the Western world, many people serve and worship money. Living in capitalistic societies that are driven by money and consumerism shapes how people, including most Christians, handle their money.

People keep their money

A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy shows that giving within Christian denominations ranges from about 1.6 percent of household income to a high of 3.5 percent. The U.S. average of all households — Christian or not — is 2.3 percent. So it’s fair to say that Christians have bought into the world’s view of finances and are holding on to their money rather than sharing it as generously as they should. They have bought into the consumerism of capitalism.

I’m not against capitalism; it has helped build great nations. But it has at its roots a humanistic view of God’s world. It lives for the here and now and builds capital for self-serving purposes. As a result, it is the modern day Baal — the god that the masses worship — believing that this god will bring security and good fortune.

We should have learned a hard lesson, however, with the meltdown of the world economy and the resulting financial struggles of nations, markets, economies and households. This god of capitalism promises a security it can never deliver. Many hearts have been ensnared by the promise of good fortune, when in fact, this worship of money has only turned hearts away from fully following God.

This financial hardship is a clear and vibrant wake-up call to Christians everywhere. It challenges our view of money and our consumerism. It tests where we have placed our faith and trust. And it calls into question to what degree we have succumbed to the hypnotizing trance induced by money.

Bigger portfolio not the end

God knows that money has the power to turn the hearts of his people away from him because the human heart is inclined to put its “hope” in money, to find its security there. So if the priority of Christians in handling money is building a bigger and bigger portfolio, or accumulating possessions, or acquiring material things to the point that they are deeply in debt, then their hearts cannot fully follow God.

This is the danger in our churches today, even for serious followers of Christ. Subtly the hearts of God’s people have been given to money above God in the belief that money is a source of security, with the result that the lives of our people are driven more by consumerism than by genuine, biblical stewardship.

What should church leaders, do? Let me give just a few 
suggestions.

  • Understand that how church members view and handle money is crucial to their spiritual well-being. They cannot be fully devoted to Christ and become mature in their faith if they are not investing as they should in God’s Kingdom.
  • Preach the whole counsel of God, including the central role that money plays in a person’s spiritual walk. This doesn’t mean putting congregants on a guilt trip, but helping them understand that the natural inclination of the heart is for money to be the source of security rather than God. If people’s hearts are given to the things of this world, God’s Kingdom work will lack the resources needed to fulfill God’s call.
  • Challenge your members to take time to step back and give serious consideration to their financial priorities, especially those with eternal consequences. Is funding God’s Kingdom work here on earth really a priority or not?
  • Finally, inspire Christians to understand that they are in the midst of an epic spiritual battle against the forces of darkness for the hearts and souls of men and women, and that they have a crucial role to play in prosecuting this battle through their financial support of God’s work, especially through His Church.
  • God expects us to use the resources He has put in our trust to fund the advancement of His Kingdom against those forces. As we make that investment, God also ends up with what He really wants — our hearts.

Rick Dunham is president and CEO of Dunham+Company, Addison, TX, and author of If God Will Provide, Why Do We Have to Ask for Money? [www.dunhamandcompany.com]


How to increase giving during a recession

An Illinois church saw giving to their budget increase by 46 percent, their donor base by 50 percent.

By Mark Brooks

What? Increase giving during a recession? Some claim giving’s off 20 percent while others say its 10 percent. Mostly we have no clue how giving has been affected. Isolating a few examples here and there does not make a scientific study.

As with the rest of this recession my feel is that a few years from now we will realize while there was a decline, it was not as bad as we thought. We tend to have short-term historical memories. We survived other recessions, we will survive this one. I am not naive enough to say that it is not a challenge and that some ministries are not suffering. I am simply saying that not everyone is seeing such a decline in giving.

Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, IL a suburb of St. Louis, last year saw giving to their budget increase by 46 percent! In addition to that increase in the first nine months of their capital campaign $750,000 came in. They increased their true giving donor base by 50 percent. How were they able to do that and more importantly what can we learn from them?

Here are what I believe are the keys.

Compelling vision. People give to a compelling vision. Christ UMC, through the leadership of Pastor Shane Bishop, has a vision of reaching the lost and unchurched of their area. They have a vision to help connect people more closely to Christ. They are about doing exciting things and it is exciting to be a member there. Good vision trumps bad economy.

Kingdom accomplishment.
People give where they believe their money is accomplishing something for the Kingdom. Christ UMC tells its story of reaching people. In turn, celebrating those Kingdom “wins” produces stewardship funding.

Have you ever wondered why the top colleges in football regularly get the best athletes to sign with them? If you have a chance of playing for a national championship or playing at a small school, where would you go? Winning teams draw winning players. Show people you are a winner and they will want to join your team.

Pastoral involvement. Pastor Bishop does not relegate stewardship responsibility to another staff member or lay person. He keeps his pulse on what is happening with giving in his church. In my experience churches that do better in the stewardship arena are churches where the senior pastor is engaged. Good stewardship takes good leadership.

A stewardship plan. Churches have mission plans, evangelism plans and discipleship plans. Why do so few have a stewardship plan? Christ UMC has a stewardship plan that they work regularly. The success is obvious.

Stewardship plans must be multifaceted. It begins from the pulpit with positive preaching. It is carried out through stewardship education and even direct mail. What works for one church might not work for yours but you need to develop a working plan of action for success. Without a plan you are planning to fail.

Positive atmosphere. We tend to think of stewardship as tiresome and negative. If you approach it with chagrin don’t be surprised if your members don’t view it the same way. This past fall I happened to attend a neighbor’s church the Sunday they kicked off their annual campaign. I felt like I was at a funeral. The lay leader giving the stewardship sermon talked about how bad the economy was. The staff member assigned to preach that day talked about how they dreaded approaching the subject. In the end I dreaded I had attended.

At Christ UMC the leadership does not shy away from talking about the responsibility of stewardship. They have simply found a way to make the message positive instead of negative. It helps that the health of the church is positive, giving them a base to communicate from. Be positive in your approach and you will produce cheerful givers. Cheerful givers become repeat givers.

Consistency. To maintain and even increase giving during a recession takes hard consistent work. You can not make this a one-time sermon or a one-time letter. You have to regularly stay in tune with what is happening in your ministry. Too many leaders put stewardship on the back burner until they realize they are in a crisis. Christ UMC works regularly throughout the year on stewardship.

Study after study has shown that donors are willing to continue giving despite this current recession. The willingness is there. They are just looking for a reason to give. Develop your vision, create a plan to communicate that vision and work your plan.

Mark Brooks is founder and president of The Charis Group, Atlanta, GA. [www.TheCharisGroup.org]


A debt-free church can DO so much more

There is a freedom of starting a church year with no financial obligations.

By Jim Fair

Despite the unsettling economy, 2009 is off to a great start for Trinity Evangelical Free Church. Two reasons —2009 marks the 40th anniversary of this middle class suburban church; and perhaps more significantly, it marks the first time in her history that she starts a year debt free.

In 1998 the church added the third and final phase of her long envisioned master plan —a gymnasium, state of the art kitchen and extra Christian education space. The church took out a $2.5 million dollar mortgage to finance the addition over a 20-year period. At the time, average attendance was around 600 in two Sunday services.

Between 1998 and 2003 the church faithfully made her required mortgage payments but paid off just $500,000 of the loan. That wasn’t good enough for our forward looking leadership, so they challenged our congregation with the question, “What could we accomplish for God’s kingdom if we had no debt?”

Our church began to dream and pray and came up with expanded ministries that could be implemented when our mortgage was paid off. With the guidance of a local stewardship organization, we made a three-year commitment in 2004 to pay off our mortgage as soon as possible. In those three years, Trinity paid another $1.5 million on our mortgage leaving just under $500,000 left as we began 2007.

Even though we formally ended our campaign pledge period, our congregation’s corporate will was to continue paying off our mortgage as quickly as possible. Finally, on December 1, 2008, we made our last mortgage payment and celebrated with our church family on Sunday January 11 with a mortgage burning ceremony.

While working to pay off our debt, our leadership became more deliberate in teaching the biblical principles of stewardship to our church family. We offered Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to our congregation and more than 100 people have graduated. These have been tremendous motivators for our people in addition to the $850,000 we saved in interest expenses to the bank by accelerating our mortgage payments.

A remarkable testimony to our church family’s sacrifice and generosity was evidenced last September when, in the homestretch of our mortgage elimination, God led Trinity to substantially reach out with our resources and time to a family in our church that was struggling with catastrophic and long-term medical needs.

Their home needed major renovation in order to accommodate multiple wheelchairs and they needed a large van to transport wheelchair-bound members of the family. Our church sacrificially gave close to $45,000 to help with the renovation, van purchase and wheelchair lift purchase/installation, and then donated time and talents to do the actual home renovation, all while not missing a beat in the quest for debt elimination.

What was our vision for expanded ministries at Trinity without debt?

  • Our attendance has increased over that time by about 20 to 25 percent.
  • We hired a family ministries pastor to bolster our ministry to our growing families and youth.
  • We increased our global missions funding by 10 percent and will continue to grow it.
  • We are positioned from a benevolence standpoint to take better care of folks in our church who have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

All in all, it’s a wonderful feeling, especially in these times, to be able to wake up in the morning and realize that our church is debt free and that we are now more able to focus on ministry opportunities that God presents to us.

Jim Fair is director of administration, Trinity Evangelical Free Church, South Bend, IN. [www.tefs.org]

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