During my years in the pastorate, I recall lots of financial ups and downs. At times the giving was great, and we ended the year with overages that we joyfully applied to special projects and missions needs. But at times the giving was down, and we struggled to meet our expenses. In the lean years, our church had to proactively take steps to meet our obligations. It was often a painful process!
Churches are not immune to the downturn in financial markets and the struggles of many businesses. No doubt some of our churches will be facing budget shortfalls this year. What can they do to lessen the impact and continue to move ahead in these uncertain times? Consider these six action steps.
I usually don’t have to be told twice. When things are heading in the wrong direction, I get down on my knees. (Unfortunately, I am not as quick to do so in good times.) But why wait for a crisis? Make prayer for God’s financial provision a regular part of your church’s ministry focus.
2. Don’t overreact.
Keep the big picture in mind. As I mentioned, churches experience financial fluctuations. It’s foolish to minimize the problems, but there is little benefit in prematurely predicting a doomsday scenario unless the struggles are long-term and represent a pattern over a number of years. Most churches face financial difficulties at times, and they work through them.
3. Encourage sacrificial giving.
There’s nothing wrong with appropriate encouragement about financial stewardship. Periodically teach and preach on the Biblical principles of giving. Encourage members to give above their regular commitments in the light of the special challenges the church is facing. But they need to clearly understand the need. Thus, it usually helps to publish financial updates in weekly worship folders. Additionally, you might consider lining up occasional testimonies about giving, or sending a letter to the entire church family outlining current financial needs. Keep your people informed!
4. Reduce discretionary expenditures.
It’s wise to look carefully at spending priorities in tough financial times. Consider how unnecessary spending can be eliminated. It might be helpful to have a team of financial leaders (perhaps the church finance committee) review all expenditure requests prior to any check writing. This helps key ministry leaders identify what is truly necessary spending. Obviously, these actions often require painful decisions that can mean some ministry projects may need to be curtailed or postponed.
5. Watch the cash flow.
I’m all for good budgeting in churches. But it is helpful to keep in mind that a difference exists between what is projected as a need in an approved budget before the year begins, and what is actually needed and expended during the year. I recall times in my ministry when we did not meet budget but ended the year in the black because we were able to get by without all the anticipated expenditures. We had a positive cash flow because we did not spend more than we received in giving. Use a budget, but keep a watchful eye on the cash flow.
6. Trust God.
I’m reminded of Christ’s words about the need to put aside money worries and trust God (Matthew 6:24-34). While Jesus no doubt had individuals, not churches, in mind, the principle applies. He will take care of us. We can trust Him in these uncertain days.