COVID-19
  • 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 >

Leadership
  • Brotherhood Mutual Foundation Awards $150,000 in Kingdom Advancing Grants to Four Innovative Church Programs

    2023 Grant Cycle Now Open FORT WAYNE, Ind.: In support of its mission to serve America’s churches so they can focus on building the Kingdom, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company and the Brotherhood Mutual FoundationSM recently announced the inaugural recipients of Kingdom Advancing Grants. Funded through the Brotherhood Mutual Foundation, four church programs were awarded a total of $150,000 in Kingdom Advancing Grants in 2022. Brotherhood Mutual® leadership along with the Grant Council developed the granting opportunity to support Christian church programs that are transforming local communities through service and ministry. The goal is to support sustainable initiatives that can be replicated by other churches around the country. “What a privilege it is to learn about the many innovative new programs that churches are developing, and to be able to do our part in helping them succeed, expand and eventually, be duplicated in other parts of the country,” said Mark Robison, Brotherhood Mutual chairman and president. “These faithful servants of God are making a profound impact as they establish unique ways to engage with the community and reach souls for Christ.” The Kingdom Advancing Grant is designed for a church program or initiative that demonstrates the following: Directly overseen by the church. Intended to help build the Kingdom by introducing people to Jesus or strengthening their relationship with Jesus. Involves a unique idea that’s innovative, creative, and new, and that other churches are not already doing. Can be sustained over time. Can be replicated by other churches. The 2022 grant recipients are: Church @ the Park, Salem OR: Awarded $50,000 to add a portable shower facility to its managed micro-community. The portable facility includes four pods – each with a shower stall and toilet – fixed on flatbed trailers. Church @ the Park is dedicated to helping transition those experiencing homelessness to stability. Life Church – Do Unto Others Mobile Mission (DUO), Cookeville, TN: Awarded $25,000 for new equipment and upgraded electronic health record software for their Dental truck. This is one of six buses/trucks the ministry uses to reach those in need of dental, wellness, vision, food, and outreach. Grace Church – Bath Campus – Momentum Marketplace, Akron, OH: Awarded $25,000 to develop curriculum and run a pilot program that helps teens understand their potential to be called to do God’s work in the business marketplace. Leaders from the business community are trained to serve as spiritual disciples and mentors. Mosaic Community Church, Mosaic After-School Program, Jeannette, PA: Awarded $50,000 to expand its tutoring and program services and to add staff. Mosaic was asked by their local public school district for help in meeting the needs of underserved students in grades 3 to 6. Additionally, services such as parent training, conflict resolution, 1-to-1 advocacy in the school, and free legal support are now available. Read their full stories at www.brotherhoodmutual.com/kingdom-advancing-grant/recipients “Providing these innovative ministry programs with a financial boost and the guidance of mentors is one way we can help advance the Kingdom of God,” shared Robison. “If your church has a program that’s focused on spreading the gospel through increasing community engagement, meeting the practical needs of your community or establishing creative revenue streams to expand your impact, we invite you to apply for a 2023 Kingdom Advancing Grant.” How to Apply for a 2023 Kingdom Advancing Grant The number of grants awarded each year will vary, based on the scope and financial need of the projects. Applications for grants are open January 9 through March 31, 2023. Each Kingdom Advancing Grant recipient not only receives funding for their initiative or program, but also is paired with an experienced ministry leader who can provide guidance and assistance. For an initiative or program to be considered eligible for a Kingdom Advancing Grant, it must be directly overseen by a Christian church that meets each of the following requirements: A tax-exempt charitable organization as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code In good standing with the IRS; If the 501(c)(3) tax exemption was previously revoked by the IRS, it must have been reinstated for at least one full year prior to applying for the Kingdom Advancing Grant. Based in the United States The Kingdom Advancing Grant Council will make final decisions in July. The Grant Council is made up of more than a dozen pastors, administrators and executive leaders from some of the most influential churches and ministries around the country. Many of these will be the same individuals providing mentorship to the grant recipients. For more information or to submit an application, visit brotherhoodmutual.com/kingdom-advancing-grant. About Brotherhood Mutual Foundation A private nonprofit established by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, the Foundation exists to distribute funds used to promote and encourage charitable, religious, and educational projects. Since 2005, the Foundation has donated millions of dollars to support dozens of nonprofit organizations whose work transforms their communities. In 2017, the Brotherhood Mutual FoundationSM helped launch Full Strength Network, a national nonprofit ministry that helps pastors thrive in ministry leadership. www.brotherhoodmutual.com/kingdom-advancing-grant About Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company Celebrating more than 100 years in business, Brotherhood Mutual® is a national property and casualty insurance company with a heart for helping Christian ministries thrive. As a leader in the industry, Brotherhood Mutual provides innovative insurance coverage and risk management resources, specifically designed for ministries, to help them operate safely and effectively. The company serves more than 65,000 churches, schools, colleges and universities, camps, and mission organizations in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Brotherhood Mutual provides access to payroll and tax filing services, employee health benefits, auto insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and mission travel insurance. Headquartered in Fort Wayne, IN, Brotherhood Mutual is staffed by 600+ employees and works with 424 independent agents in 93 agencies nationwide. www.brotherhoodmutual.com

Risk Management
  • An untapped (and unspoken) opportunity

    How to provide help, hope and healing to sexual abuse survivors in your church Church Executive: Even now, it seems like sexual trauma incidents are treated like isolated incidents. Why? Dr. James Reeves: Sexual abuse occurs in a subterranean place. In a secret place. Most of the public is living on one level; beneath that, there’s a dark reality where the sexual abuse of children and young girls happens. And because the vast majority of women never actually talk about their sexual abuse, it contributes to the idea that it’s not something that’s going on all the time. A minimum of 1 in 3 girls will be abused by the age of 18.  I often speak about the ‘code of silence’ which must be broken in the Christian community around sexual abuse. It begins with church leaders. Pastors aren’t talking about the issue, even though there’s plenty of biblical material — the story of David and Bathsheba is a classic case of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse always has an element of power. It can be physical, emotional, vocational or financial in nature.  Meanwhile, women who haven’t had the experience aren’t talking about it because it’s not on their radar. So, for the women who have been abused, they’re not going to talk about it because of shame and fear. This is how the perpetual circle of silence continues in the Christian community. At some point, it must be broken.  Someone must step out and start the conversation in a safe way for survivors to access. CE: In what ways is sexual trauma — whenever it happens to a woman — likely to manifest itself tragically in her life? Reeves: Whether it’s sexual, physical or emotional trauma, there are some commonalities. The individual enters immediately into pain; the trauma causes suffering. Even as children, the first thing we start doing when we hurt is to look for medication, some way to escape the hurt. Without appropriate intervention to start the healing process, we find temporary relief in something else. Often, the suffering leads us into self-destructive behaviors. Among children, this might manifest in isolation. As we get older, we might find pornography, affairs and promiscuity, because that’s the only definition we have of what it means to be loved. We might also seek relief from the suffering with food, drugs and alcohol. As a result, we not only have the suffering related to the sin committed against us, but now there is the suffering from our own bad choices.  So again, we look for medication. Around and around it goes in a circular motion. This is what I call the “sin-suffering cycle.”  To break this cycle in a survivor’s life, we must address the suffering. The survivor has probably confessed and repented a thousand times — and genuinely meant it — but by not addressing the suffering, the sin always comes back.  CE: Teens are also encouraged to participate in this program. How does the program differ for these participants? Reeves: While the Fearless Series for Women was developed specifically for grown women to start addressing their trauma, we know that the average age of sexual abuse is 9. So, by the time students get into junior high and high school, many have already experienced sexual abuse, and it’s already having a negative impact. Without intervention, it’s bound to eventually damage their lives, their marriages, their homes, and their families. By inviting teens to participate in the Series, we’re starting the intervention process while they’re in the home and their care-givers can participate in beginning the healing process.  This can also be preventive. We pray a young boy or girl who hasn’t experienced sexual abuse can learn to recognize it and avoid devastation.  CE: What does healing from sexual trauma look like?  Reeves: One of the major issues is shame. Children and adults will take shame on themselves and keep them from doing the very thing that they must do to start healing — talk about it.  Secondly, is confronting the lies that developed as a result of trauma about who they are and who God is. The healing process includes identifying the lies and replace them with the truth of God. Eventually, the survivor must be able to forgive the abuser, but in the process, we talk about what forgiveness is and isn’t. There are many misconceptions about what forgiveness is and isn’t. Often, pastors jump right to the forgiveness piece, but most women aren’t ready to do that in the beginning and just need to be heard.  CE: What is required of a church that wants to offer the Series? Reeves: I developed this Series so that it would be easy for the church to implement.  Thirty years ago, I took my passion to help survivors and developed a “hospital church”-style ministry in the local church. Our churches can and should be a place of healing for those who are hurting. From this core, I created The Fearless Series for Women to provide a safe place for women to gain healing from their past. The Series is developed in two parts. The first is made up of five videos and intended for everyone. It helps the survivor to recognize that they can get help and for others it serves to open their eyes to the enormity of the problem. The second part is a workbook study to help actual survivors in a safe place format.  The Church needs to talk about this subject. We have mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbors who need healing from this trauma. It is time for women to stand up and say respectfully to male leadership — “we no longer will be silent about this.” This must be seen as priority and be addressed in the local church.  — Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

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 www.eo.travelwithus.com 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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