Creating a financial plan for your church during the outbreak

By Sam S. Rainer III

The pandemic has thrust change upon the church. One of the more jarring changes involves finances.

In many established churches, the majority of funds come through in-service giving, not online giving. The first week of service stoppages was a wake-up call. Some churches only received a small portion of weekly needs.

Focus on what you can control. Most of us do not control the national strategies of dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s easy to get swept into the latest headline or data set and pour energy into figuring out the next steps for our nation. Your time is better spent on what you can control — the micro strategies of leading your church during this season. Your church and community need your local focus.

Your church needs a clear financial plan during the outbreak and following the outbreak. A good place to start is with best-case, expected-case, and worst-case scenario planning. This planning should include figures for the duration of the outbreak and figures for what lies beyond the outbreak. For my church, we estimated the following cases:

The stoppage refers to how long we will not gather in person. The first row of percentages refers to the decline in giving we expect during the stoppage. The second row of percentages refers to the decline in giving we expect to occur after we return to our regular on-campus schedule.

Sam S. Rainer III hosts the Est.Church Podcast, with recent topics including:

  • Ministering in an Online World
  • Shepherding in Crisis

For details, visit

Plan for your expected-case scenario, but be prepared to pivot the plan if you move towards the worst-case scenario. Once you have a clear understanding of what to expect, then you can determine your financial needs.

As you make financial decisions, consider your cash assets and the expense side of the budget.

  • How much do you have in a current year surplus? Use these funds first to cover shortages.
  • How much do you have in cash reserves? Use these funds next to cover shortages.
  • Cut every individual line item you do not need to zero. For example, you may have certain spring and summer events that will be canceled. Our denominational meeting was canceled, so we cut the travel budget to zero.
  • Implement an across-the-board percentage cut and let individual ministries determine how to reallocate resources.
  • Avoid dipping into a line of credit to cover operating costs. Go ahead and make the tough decisions of what needs to be cut.
  • Payroll cuts may be needed. However, the CARES Act will help bridge churches. Before making payroll cuts, consider the idea that stewardship in this environment may mean keeping as many people employed as possible. Being a good neighbor includes doing your part to keep the local economy going.

Also, as you make financial decisions, consider the revenue side of the budget:

  • Now is the time to promote online giving. Create a plan to move as many people as possible to online giving.
  • The CARES Act provides relief for churches in the form of a forgivable loan. This funding is unprecedented. The forgivable loan can be for up to the total average monthly payroll costs for the preceding 12 months (March 2019 to February 2020) multiplied by 2.5. The loan is forgivable as long as your 2020 FTEs (through June 30) are the same as or greater than your 2019 FTEs. Stay tuned to Church Answers for more information about the CARES Act. We will be providing a lot of information next week. Follow me and my father, Thom Rainer. We will post next steps.
  • Pastors are included in the relief payments being made. You can calculate your estimated payment here.

Even after the outbreak ends, the likelihood of a recession is high. This potential recession could be deep, even if it is short-lived. You should not count on giving returning to normal even after the conclusion of the pandemic. Prepare now financially, so you can be ready to do ministry for the long term.


Sam S. Rainer III serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Church Answers and co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health.

Rainer is author of Obstacles in the Established Church and the co-author of Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive Magazine and has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach Magazine.

Rainer teaches at Southern Seminary and has written more than 150 articles on church health for numerous publications. He is a frequent conference speaker.

Before submitting to the call of ministry, Rainer worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies.

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