• Financial strategies for your church

    By Rev. Dr. Perry J. Hopper, MBA After two years of doing ministry and worshipping with the uncertainty of the pandemic, most churches have returned to in-person worship.  Church attendance at mainline churches had been experiencing a steady decline before the pandemic, and that has been exacerbated because churches were forced to worship online for far longer than expected.  We are learning to live with and protect ourselves from the COVID-19 virus, and discerning insights gained during the pandemic. Churches will benefit by taking a realistic assessment of their financial health as they plan for future ministry and financial needs. Consider the following factors in your financial evaluation: • Include an analysis of your pre-pandemic giving income and expenses in 2019 or earlier. • Determine how the church fared financially during the disruptive pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. Did congregational giving decrease, increase, or did it hold steady? • If your church received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program initiated in response to COVID-19, how did that impact your budget in in 2020 and 2021?  • Is your church making payments on payroll taxes that were deferred through December 31, 2022 under the 2020 CARES Act? How will that affect the balance sheet? • If your church adopted an online giving platform(s) in the last two years, what has been the impact on congregational giving?   • Has 2022 functioned as a stabilizing year financially?   • Are there any financial trends or expenses that emerged over the last two years that have become permanent? • Note any shifts that have occurred amongst your church staff. Ideally you want to develop a three-year comparison and analysis to help your church finance committee determine how giving patterns and income and expense cycles might have shifted. This might be time-consuming for the financial team at your church, but the information gathered will be invaluable as you begin working on the budget for the coming year. Discontinue ministries that are no longer effective. Pastoral leaders will want to prayerfully determine with other church leaders which ministries need to be halted before you plan your budget; determine which ministries might need increased funding such as a growing media ministry or whether there are new ministries that require funding. While everyone might have a particular ministry they believe should be retained, it is critical to take a no-nonsense look to ascertain the ministries and programs that are most effective. Consider changing your budget cycle. Most churches use the annual budget approach. However, many churches are still discerning potential changes in worship and understanding the choices congregations are making after almost two years of online worship. Should the church use a hybrid model for worship? How do you define hybrid for your church context? Changing to a 6-month budget cycle might allow the church to be more responsive as adjustments are needed. Be sure to consider cash flow when formulating your budget. Many churches make the mistake of focusing solely on overall giving without considering cash flow, so they have enough cash on hand for ongoing expenses and unforeseen emergencies. Your church will want to build up a reserve for periods when giving and income is down and large annual expenses need to be paid.  The church budget should be aligned with your strategic ministry priorities. You want to be sure that all spending links back to the ministry and program goals and plans that have emerged from the church vision and mission.   Think carefully about your stewardship plan. Pastors need to decide how they will preach and teach about stewardship and giving. If there is a stewardship committee, work together to develop a plan that helps the congregation understand how we are called to be stewards of God’s provision.   In the book Embracing Stewardship by Charles R. Lane & Grace Duddy Pomroy1, Pomroy remarks that “Stewardship is the multiplicity of ways that the people of God live out God’s mission in the world using all of the abundance that God has entrusted to them.” She appears to view stewardship as having a generous mindset that goes beyond giving money, but manifests in our understanding of who we are called to be out of gratitude for God’s grace in our lives. Make financial education a central priority for the congregation. For most people, talking about money and finance is uncomfortable. But it does not make much sense to speak about stewardship and giving if you do not provide resources for people to become more knowledgeable about how to build their personal financial wellness.   Consider hosting a workshop or webinar for a financial planner to speak about ways to manage debt or create an emergency fund. When people experience positive change in their personal finances, they tend to be more responsive to the financial needs of the church. Finally, the pastor needs to be comfortable talking about money. If the pastor has difficulty discussing money and his or her own experiences or money struggles, it will be reflected in the congregation.  Members can benefit from hearing about pastors honestly speak about their own money stories or journeys and the wisdom they have gleaned as they have worked toward creating financial wellness and wellbeing in their own lives. Rev. Dr. Perry J. Hopper, MBA serves as the associate executive director and director of denominational relations of MMBB. He joined MMBB’s staff in 1987 and is responsible for coordinating special programs that support MMBB’s mission. He works in various capacities to best serve existing members, to reach prospective members, and to maintain solid relationships between MMBB and its affiliates.  Rev. Dr. Hopper’s education includes a B.A. in political science (with a minor in business administration) from the University of Washington and an MBA from Penn State University. He also holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Harvard University Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry degree as a Samuel DeWitt Proctor Fellow at the United Theological Seminary of Dayton, Ohio. 1Lane, C.D., Read More >

  • Together We Honor: the importance of Pastor Appreciation Month for fighting burnout

    Communities rely on their church leaders year-round. It’s a responsibility willingly accepted by those who’ve been called to serve — and more often than not, those leaders are the last ones to ask for any recognition or applause for their sacrifice. But that dynamic is exactly why Pastor Appreciation Month is so important. The tradition provides an opportunity for all those whose lives have been touched and improved, to show the gratitude and appreciation that leaders would never ask for — but which they often need, perhaps more than they recognize. The History and Spirit of Pastor Appreciation Month Many don’t realize how recently this annual event came about; Pastor Appreciation Month began as a grassroots movement during the 1990s. There’s no agreed-upon date or origin for this celebration, but like all great ideas, it quickly spread like a wildfire across congregations and Christian denominations. Whether a church celebrates through special services or prayers, gifts or potlucks, acts of service or financial support, the spirit of the month is consistent. It’s a time for thankful communities to express just how much their pastors matter in their lives. That gratitude is something they need to hear and feel; a major factor in the widespread adoption of Pastor Appreciation Month was that leaders constantly feel overburdened by the weight of their roles. The Burnout Epidemic The number that’s usually kicked around is 1,500. That’s how many pastors supposedly leave their vocation every month. The truth, according to a Lifeway Research study, is closer to 250 per month. Which is better, but still tragic. Those who once felt such a strong calling to serve, lead, and shepherd their church don’t pursue that path on a whim. Pastors are passionate, empathetic, strong-willed individuals — yet the trend continues. No wonder Pastor Appreciation Month took off: the same Lifeway study concluded that 84% of pastors claim they’re on call twenty-four hours a day, 80% expect conflict in their church, and 54% find their role frequently overwhelming. Pastors taking a small semblance of a break each October, allowing those who benefit from their tireless efforts to celebrate all their hard work, is beyond well-deserved. But burnout persists — an issue that influences almost everything we build at Pushpay. Technology’s Role in Preventing Burnout Looking for help is never a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite; it shows a pastor’s self-awareness, knowing that they might be slipping toward the end of their rope, and acknowledging that the community they care about will be negatively affected should they leave the ministry. There’s usually another hesitation for leaders looking for support: they don’t want to pass their burdens onto others. But that’s the gift of technology. So much of the toil weighing down struggling pastors, staff, and volunteers can be alleviated by tech solutions. These days, virtually every church uses some digital tools. The 2023 State of Church Tech report found that 94% of ministries believe technology is important for achieving their mission — and we’re not just referencing Excel spreadsheets and email accounts. Online giving solutions remain the most-used tech solution for ministries, while church and donor management software increased in popularity among churches this past year. More and more leadership teams are discovering the value of a fully integrated, intuitively designed ChMS. Tools that simplify event scheduling, check-ins, volunteer management, and data analytics — while seamlessly communicating with all your other digital platforms — eliminates many manual tasks that drain the energy of leaders, which all too often is the root of burnout. Many churches say they’re happy with their current tech suite, but too few regularly explore the latest features and updates, which might solve for the inefficiencies and headaches that slowly weigh down once-passionate teams. This Pastor Appreciation Month, while you celebrate your leaders, consider exploring the latest church tech solutions on the market. One of the new features, platforms, or updates might be exactly what a tired leader needs to free up their time for the work they really care about, and in doing so reinvigorate their passion for the Church.

Risk Management
  • An extension of care worth considering

      PHLYTRAC Vehicle Telematics Program gives dynamic insights into driver behavior, vehicle stats, and more to help churches lower the risk of driver-related accidents. Church Executive: Tell us about PHLYTRAC. Andrew Shockey: We officially launched PHLYTRAC in 2016, but it was the result of about 10 years of efforts prior to that. As with many carriers, our auto line of coverage sustained losses.  Meanwhile, GPS technology was getting faster, better, and cheaper, and we wanted to see what it could do in terms of prevention.   There is a lot of avoidable tragedy when it comes to motor vehicle accidents. To address it, we felt we could use GPS technology to identify unsafe driving habits.  With more than 1 billion miles now logged in PHLYTRAC, we’re happy to say that the investment we made in launching the program is having the effect we hoped for. Customers with PHLYTRAC are seeing a 19% reduction in loss frequency compared to accounts without PHLYTRAC. CE: Among church clients, who do you see using PHLYTRAC most?  Shockey: Churches with schools, of course, but really any church, whether they have just one van, one bus, or a whole fleet. It’s all worth protecting as an extension of care.  Unfortunately, AI is scaring people right now; who wants Big Brother in their church van? But if that van is being used on irregular routes — for mission trips to other states, for instance — PHLYTRAC gives church leaders a way to care for their people beyond, “We hope to see you back soon.”  With PHLYTRAC, I’m proud to say we continue to use GPS technology/data in a responsible way, one that serves and supports our clients. Just because a church doesn’t have a fleet of 50 vans, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a major exposure. What if your one church van is involved in a rollover accident while carrying your members? Whether the driver is at fault or not, your church is now in the headlines. When someone asks what Philadelphia Insurance will do with all this data, it’s a fair question. I’ve always responded that everything we’re doing with it now — and anything we do with it in the future — centers on service for and support of our policyholders. For anyone who is skeptical or has Big Brother concerns about this technology, I’d ask for the opportunity to personally address those. I would welcome a direct, private conversation about what we’re not doing. CE: Many churches rely on volunteer drivers. How have those individuals reacted to the use of PHLYTRAC? Shockey: It depends on how the technology is presented. First and foremost, it should be upfront, open, and unapologetically about care and safety, period. After all, that’s why a driving record needs to be provided before a person is given keys to a church vehicle; it’s just basic due diligence. Stated simply, the church is responsible at all times for who is entrusted with its vehicle keys.  If someone takes the church van and does something they shouldn’t be doing with it, it enables church leaders to address that behavior — which is important because that vehicle is a congregational asset, not a personal one. Most often, though, this is the exception; we find that people are doing the right, honest, good thing with these vehicles. The GPS data actually also shows that.   Just because a church doesn’t have a fleet of 50 vans, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a major exposure. What if your one church van is in a rollover accident while carrying your members? Whether the driver is at fault or not, your church is now in the headlines.   So, looking at it another way, using PHLYTRAC positions the church to say, “Good job today,” or “Thank you for making sure all of our members were belted in during that trip.” It opens up an opportunity for positive reinforcement of the driving behaviors that are usually being exhibited, anyway. GPS technology can also help you produce a pattern of behavior that’s teachable and coachable. For instance, you might have a goodhearted volunteer driver who doesn’t often tow a trailer, so they don’t know to increase their following distance. In that case — before a major accident occurs — you can spend some time with him or her in the parking lot discussing stopping distance: “When loaded, we need more time on the brakes because of the weight.” No one loses their job. No one loses their standing in the church over it. You ease those fears.  CE: What out-of-pocket costs can a church expect to pay for PHLYTRAC? Shockey: If they’re a policyholder of Philadelphia Insurance Companies with our commercial auto coverage, I’m happy to say the out-of-pocket cost is zero. It’s 100-percent paid for by Philadelphia Insurance. CE: Can a church expect to realize any cost savings by using this technology? Shockey: Yes. First of all, it has been proven over and over that when a vehicle is driven better, there is a savings returned to the policyholder. There are fuel savings. The wear-and-tear on the tires is slowed.    In fact, we’re currently working on a new partnership that will give our policyholders with PHLYTRAC access to discounted auto services. CE: Any quantifiable safety improvements you can share among churches using PHLYTRAC? Shockey: Yes. For whatever reason, church clients often feel the need to give us a call (or their agent calls us) to tell us about questionable driving behavior happening at their church, which they learn about in their PHLYTRAC data. They’re nervous; they forget to exhale.  “Do you need to report a claim?” we ask. No; no accident happened — just a bit of behavior that’s embarrassing. A church driver hit the brakes too hard, for instance. Can they expect Philadelphia Insurance to send a bill, now?  That answer is no. In fact, they’re surprised when all they hear from us is gratitude. Would their church benefit from additional training? That’s one option. Read More >

Pastor-Friendly A/V
  • 4 audio/video/lighting/architecture trends to pay attention to

    If the goal is to really reach people (and it is), there’s a shift underway towards things like integrated architecture, spatial audio and more.   So, what do I mean by all that? Well, through my work with our firm, I’m finding that some of the newest trends are decidedly old school-meets-new school.  #1: Having a “platform look” — one that doesn’t change — as part of your church’s branding. A platform look helps people to connect and builds trust. As an example, think of Joel Osteen’s stage with the ever-present giant, spinning globe. You can picture it, right? That’s the point.  This represents what we call “studio church platforms,” something we’re implementing a lot of lately. The idea, here, is to have a flexible space as a part of the platform, but then have it anchored by “sets,” or a look that never changes. This way, when people see the space on video or in person, they can tell exactly where they are. A platform look relies less on the people on stage and more on the statement made by the “look” of the platform.  In coming years, this method will change the way we think about church audio/video/lighting and architecture.   Think about some of your most trusted shows — Johnny Carson or Jimmy Fallon, for instance. The sets don’t change, yet there’s a space for everything. You see a shot of the set, and you know and trust. We’re observing this in a lot of new churches, and I believe the ones that adopt it first will reap the biggest benefits.   #2: LED-wall integration into church architecture. LED walls are a huge trend right now. Gone are the days of a black stage with screens and lights, or just windows; we’re seeing that, with architecture, you can change the dynamics of a worship space while having a set that doesn’t need to change every month.  LED walls let you mimic stained glass windows on the walls, or a view of the outdoors. You can use them in backdrop effects and incorporate logos. We’re seeing LED walls act as digital skylights instead of installing real ones. We’re even seeing churches use fully immersive LED wall stages and ceilings that enable a space to serve dual purposes: for worship on the weekends and as a movie / commercial set, which can be rented out, during the week. This configuration has the added benefit of helping pay for the facility and the technology.  #3: Cinematic cameras and robotics. Movement and focus — the tools that master filmmakers use to tell stories — are being used more and more to create a way of storytelling in the Church. Movement can be achieved with the focus of lenses, as well as from movement of the camera using jibs (the projecting arms of cranes) and track.  Static images in which everything is in focus are boring and won’t keep people’s attention with all the other content floating around. You need your video to look great and have that “focusing” movement to keep viewers locked in.   Pushing cameras on tracks involves manpower, whereas using jibs requires the use of robotic cameras on tracks that can move side to side and up and down, creating sweeping moves.  Both help capture and keep the audience’s attention. #4: Spatial audio is on the rise! You hear a lot about spatial audio on iTunes, and now you’ll start experiencing it in more and more churches.  I’m an early adopter of this 360-degree sound format and have been designing these systems for more than 25 years. I learned most of what I know about it during my time working at Sight & Sound Theaters in Lancaster, Pa., where Bible stories come to life on the stage. It was very effective, as the sides of the stage in this space surround the audience.   In using spatial audio at Sight & Sound, we had to think differently about how sound affects people. Through the years, people have started to see the benefit of this type of connection. Effectively, it gives every person a unique experience — one might say that it harkens back to “old school” sound, before big mono audio systems became the norm.  With spatial audio, viewers can actually hear where people are on stage. It locates congregants to the reality of what they’re seeing and really starts to make them forget about the sound system, and that they’re not hearing them directly. Very powerful.  When a “surround” aspect is incorporated into the space, the room becomes multifunctional: good for speech, but also great for worship and congregational connection.    When we think of worship technology, the “flash” of some modern churches might immediately come to mind; but actually, those churches represent a very small subset of the nation.  In my experience, a church can benefit much by exploring new (if, in some ways, old-school) ways of thinking and reaching people with its audio, video, lighting and acoustics.

Mission & Travel
  • Holy Land journeys: A disciple-making tool or Christian vacation?

      Walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the land of the Bible is the ultimate hands-on disciple-making experience for Christians — not just a vacation to a destination related to church.  Educational Opportunities Tours (EO) President/CEO James Ridgway recently interviewed Rev. Tom Smith about how Holy Land journeys have changed lives and inspired the faith of people who traveled with him in the Holy Land. James Ridgway: How did your first Holy Land journey influence your life and ministry? Rev. Tom Smith: It’s safe to say that it began to affect me even before I returned home. But the immediately noticeable influence was the way that it affected my preaching and teaching. I found myself painting word pictures of a passage of Scripture as I would preach or teach. I would give little tidbits of what it means to go ‘up’ from Jericho or the winds affecting the Sea of Galilee as they funneled into that area. It was like I had an entirely new resource to add to my library as I prepared for a sermon or class. Ridgway: When did you decide to start taking groups to the Holy Land? How did the people respond? Smith: I went the first time without a group. But after returning, my excitement was obvious. I talked about it constantly.  As soon as I was introduced to Educational Opportunities and learned of how I could ‘earn’ a trip, I decided to go back and take as many people as possible. As soon as I mentioned that I was putting a group together, people started signing up.  A journey to the Holy Land is in the hearts of a lot of people — not as a vacation but as part of their faith development — so there was natural interest in participating. Folks were excited that they could travel with me because they trusted me as their pastor.  Ridgway: Afterwards, what did you see in the lives of those who experienced the Holy Land? Smith: They were changed. They engaged with Scripture differently. They talked about the way they heard the sermons differently. They began to participate more readily in Sunday School, study groups or accountability groups. Many of them became more open and expressive of being leaders in the congregation. They have a renewed/revitalized faith, it seems.  Ridgway: What other benefits come from the Holy Land journeys? Smith: One of the things was how close the group became. They bonded with each other as they shared the experience.  They also bonded with me, as their pastor, differently. Instead of hearing me teach or preach a couple of hours per month, they spent 12 to 14 hours a day talking and experiencing this profoundly moving journey. We formed some truly lasting bonds.  They also came back with a deeper understanding of the current issues facing people in the region. They experienced not just what the news media shared, but what they themselves saw. They could ‘put a face’ to it, and it opened doors/eyes in a way that nothing else could do. Ridgway: How does a pastor plan a journey to the Holy Land?  Smith: There are two ways a pastor could begin this journey.  First, they could participate in an EO Familiarization tour. After experiencing the Holy Land personally, they could start planning a group journey. Personal experience helps while recruiting a group.  The second way is to jump right in and organize an EO Holy Land journey for their group by going to and reviewing the different itineraries offered and finding one that best suits what they and their folks would love to see. Then, they can reach out to the EO team to partner and build the journey that will help make disciples for Jesus Christ. The EO staff will provide all the tools necessary — including ongoing support — to build a life-changing tour for the congregation. 

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