Keeping Cool

By Ronald Keener

The economy and its affect on the church still ranks high on the projected list of concerns in 2012, say our experts. What say you?

The most overused word in an election year is probably “projected,” as in Wolf Blitzer saying, “CNN now projects the winner will be…”

We all like to think about what a new year will be like, usually giving it a more rosy picture than it will turn out to be, but then the human condition thrives on hope, doesn’t it?

I turned to Church Executive’s editorial panel (their names are on page 6 on the masthead) for some wisdom for the year ahead, and “it’s the economy, silly” that came to the top of the heap, of course.

“Interest rates have been bouncing off of historic lows for a number of months now [this being written in January],” writes Dan Mikes, evp and manager of Religious Institution Banking at Bank of the West. “Consequently, it has been easy for religious organizations with existing debt to be complacent about refinancing. However, at some point the market will anticipate that a sustained economic recovery and unprecedented levels of cash printing will bring inflationary pressures, and this will cause interest rates to move upward, perhaps significantly.

“Consequently, even churches facing prepayment penalties should do the math now to determine whether refinancing makes sense,” says Mikes. “We expect to see an increase in construction financing requests as the economy continues to recover. As consumer sentiment improves, church leadership may be more comfortable with moving forward with expansion projects that may have been put on hold.”

From the insurance side of the economy, Eric Spacek, senior manager for GuideOne Risk Management and Loss Control, observes that “churches have been enjoying very competitive and low rates for their property, liability and business auto insurance coverage over the past several years. However, the insurance market is showing initial signs that it is starting to turn.

“If this continues to happen, it is anticipated that churches will start to see hardening or increasing property and casualty insurance rates in 2012 and beyond,” Spacek believes.

CFO Denise Craig at Abba’s House suggests that it is a “pivotal year” and that “leaders need to be at the top of their game, honing their skills and remaining dedicated to life-long learning in a time of rapidly-advancing technology.”

Mark Simmons, business manager at California’s Christ Community Church, sees accelerating trends toward online church activities with an increasing variety of devices. “As an example,” he says, “our pastoral search went through almost wholesale transformation as a printed report describing our church was replaced with multi-media available through our website, initial reviews from a couple page resume were replaced by the search committee listening to the candidate speak by downloading podcasts and going to their current church’s website and blogs to learn more about the candidates.

Similarly on the technology side, he sees the beginning of new church systems software that integrate the various church functions into a suite of applications.

Circling back to the economy, Steve Briggs, associate pastor for administration at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, NC, worries that “many churches will continue to struggle to meet their operating budgets. Mainstream media will ‘spin’ a lot of good news about the economy in a presidential year that may or may not be real.”

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