April is financial literacy month and to help your congregation, we offer five resources to help get you started with the basics. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
In the November Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources for creating and growing endowments, practicing good oversight, and establishing year-round stewardship in your congregation.
It’s easy and free to receive more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.
Many of us have just completed the stewardship campaigns in our congregations and, as we are in my congregation, reviewing how close we came to having 100% of the pledge cards completed. More than likely there is a shortfall from pledges and we are now looking at supplemental income streams if we are not blessed with a large endowment.
Many fundraising committees were formed to fill this shortfall gap, and hold within them the tension of raising desperately needed funds with the desire to have an event that the congregation, family, and friends will support.
Music has always been a struggle in our Spanish service at St. Mary’s. As we have slowly built membership in our largely low-income neighborhood, we are not anywhere close to generating the kind of offerings that would fully support the clergy time that goes into the service, much less paying a professional musician. We’ve tried different things over the years -- a priest with a guitar or piano, a capella singing, some paid musical help. In recent years, we’ve come upon what I would argue is the best musical situation yet: bartering for band music.
The middle school students were given a paper with a job, average monthly salary, and number of children (including zero). They had to make their way around tables set up in the gymnasium and make lifestyle decisions based on their budget. The tables included taxes (first stop!), health insurance, transportation, housing, childcare, communications (the almighty cell phone), entertainment, clothing, and my table, chance (where they would have to pay for the unexpected—flat tire, school fees, birthday parties, medicine, faulty furnace, etc.).
In some places, the students had no choice (like taxes), but in most places they could spend up—the Cadillac—or down—bus fare.
As you can imagine, the exercise was quite illuminating. By the time they made it to chance, they were desperate to draw a low-cost card. (Of course, I suggested that to make it more realistic, they should have to draw ten cards. It’s never just one unexpected bill in a month!)
The program instigated some good discussions among the teens and around our dinner table. And it got me to thinking: What if churches put on a similar program, but this time, for the budget?
In my head I really believe this, and I’ve long thought it’s absolutely fundamental to effective ministry. I trace the origin of the concept back to my time in the Diocese of Chicago’s intentional curacy program, and my introduction to the thinking – and the person – of Kennon Callahan, author of The Twelve Keys of an Effective Church, among other volumes. I think Callahan said this, or at least he planted the seeds in my mind and, like I said, it seems very, very basic to me.
But then I attend meetings with clergy and diocesan leaders and it seems that I’m the only one who thinks this. And then I start to think that I might be wrong or misguided. But, still, I can’t shake it from my mind. And, still, I think it’s a downright bedrock truth of effective ministry.
The concept is simple, or at least I think so: Congregations need to fit their basic expenses into their baseline – let’s call it pledge and plate – giving. That is, congregations need to live within what people give.
The point is about making the institution called ‘church’ speak clearly the message of Christian discipleship. A congregation’s baseline giving, most notably plate and pledge giving, is perhaps the most significant numerical indicator of how well that congregation is engaging the work of Christian ministry. Pledge and plate giving is the fruit, so to speak, of everything a church does which is readily identifiable as Christian ministry: worship, formation, preaching, pastoral care, outreach, engaging the neighborhood – all of these streams of activities flow back into whether and how well the local congregation is a vibrant missionary center. And all of those streams of activities reflect themselves in certain numbers, financial giving among them.
Not surprisingly, a tangential remark led to a rich conversation at one of the many meetings we’ve been having among the Episcopal churches in southern Maryland. “The fact is that the numbers get you to understand the need for institutional collaboration very quickly,” said the treasurer of one of the congregations represented. “In our congregation,” he added, “the pledging and giving trends are skewed toward complete unsustainability: older, more established members are giving at levels so much higher than younger, newer members.”
This is an undeniable trend, he was saying, and this numerical fact, alone, should speak to and spur on our work with real haste and creativity. At this rate, The Episcopal Church in southern Maryland will look radically and fundamentally different when my daughter (now almost 7 years old) will enter high school. We’re not talking about another generation or two; we’re talking about a few more years. As any casual church leader might suspect, statements like this can kick off passionate conversation.
It also kicked off an investigation and further research. Joey Rick, canon for congregational vitality in our Episcopal Diocese of Washington, has been sitting with us at these meetings in southern Maryland, helping facilitate and give guidance to our discernment. Later that week, Joey sent this very question out to clergy and leaders in our wider diocesan community: If you were to analyze giving and pledging trends in your congregation, what trends and patterns would you realize?
The numbers and trends are not comforting. To be fair, Joey only got 16 responses; it was early June when she sent out that email. Nor did all of them quote numbers; some gave rough percentages. She called it a “Compilation of Responses,” not an analysis, per se, but here’s what she found:
As I mentioned in my last post, Southside Abbey's funding is up. More accurately, my funding is up with the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee in August. It has really been on my mind of late that I am confusing these two issues. Nothing about the funding of Southside Abbey's ministry is jeopardy. The Holy Spirit doesn't call us to ministries without providing for them. No, the only change will be in my compensation.
If I think back to three years ago, I was perfectly willing to do this ministry for free as this was as clear a call as I had ever heard. It's fascinating to me just how quickly I got comfortable with the notion of full-time employment once it was offered through the diocese.
Without going too far down the rabbit trail, I am concerned about the two-tiered system of those who follow Jesus. There are “professional” Christians and “amateur” Christians. Before I spark a firestorm with this distinction, remember that Olympians are considered “amateur.”
This two-tiered system is less about lay and ordained as it is about paid and unpaid, but don't think that ordination isn't often a deciding factor in who is on what side of that line. I really have to face the fact that I am a professional Christian. I get paid to do all of the great and wonderful things to which Jesus is calling me everyday. Would I do the same if I didn't get paid? Does the pay merely free me up to do that which all of us should be doing anyway? What a blessing, right? Before the reader jumps up in arms over “the laborer deserves to be paid”-type cherry-picked bible verses, hear me out.
Recently, clergy from our portion of the Diocese of East Tennessee gathered for conversation, led by our bishop, George Young. When we were asked to share our anxieties, I spoke up. I do not think that the model of professional Christians is either sustainable or, truth be told, very biblical. Routinely the best Followers of Jesus I know are those who don't get paid for it. This shut the conversation down. It was too much for those who had dedicated their lives to this system. No more fears were shared and the conversation turned pretty pat-on-the-back-ish after that.
File this under “Borrowed from Another Church” or “How a Decentralized Budget Works.” I’m talking about how we raise awareness and investment for outreach at St. George’s, Valley Lee – what we call the Second Collection.
It’s really very simple: we’ve cut outreach from our centralized operating budget so that we can more effectively make the connections between the work of justice and the craft of worship on the Lord’s Day. During the offertory at Sunday worship, someone carries a large basket alongside the offering plates. The initial concept was that people would bring in non-perishable food donations to support the work of several local food pantries, along with their financial gift to support the church. People forgot to bring the canned goods, however, but they still wanted to help. “Can we give some loose change, instead?” a few asked. Which gave birth to the idea of the smaller basket that comes around during the offertory. (The related principle being that if you want to give money to the church, especially so the church can give it away, we’ll always find a way to support you in doing that!) People toss their loose change in the smaller basket and, for those who bring in the canned goods, there are larger baskets in the entryway to the church and parish hall.
What we flippantly call “outreach” in the church is really intended to be a much more radical thing. That is, we’re really talking about creating relationships of awareness and building the capacity for advocacy. The point is to expose people, including people of privilege, to those who struggle with not having enough, and to build that relationship between one’s Sunday morning pew and the immediate community’s real needs and opportunities. This isn’t all we do to engage the work of justice at St. George’s, Valley Lee, but the Second Collection is a very simple, very direct, and very impactful way to “strive for justice and peace.”
Communication – that is, listening and teaching – is important to developing this new approach. For starters, we feature a regular, weekly announcement. Additionally, we’ve occasionally changed the four food pantries based on what we’re hearing from our community and the ways they are – or are not – getting involved in and aware of the work of those places on the ground. Here’s how we begin the write-up in our bulletin and newsletter:
Okay, so I might be underestimating a tad, but here’s an idea for a quick-and-easy fundraiser.
Think about upcoming church-wide events. Hymn sing? Thanksgiving gathering? Wreath making? You want an event that will attract a significant proportion of your congregation—and maybe even one that people from outside of the church already attend. I also suggest an early evening event and one with time and space for people to meander. After you’ve picked the likely candidate, add in a Christmas boutique.
The idea is simple: Announce during church and in your newsletters (print and electronic) that you’re inviting vendors to exhibit during the selected event. There’s no charge (or you can charge—your call) but you invite the vendors to donate 10 percent of their sales to the church (or specified ministry). Your role is to do some basic coordination and promotion: How many tables needed, communicate date and times to the vendors, and advertise in different venues.
Other than setting up and tearing down the tables, the onus is on the vendors to prepare their space. If they don’t sell anything, no harm, no foul. If they do, then it’s a win-win. The small or home business vendor earns a little money, and the church receives a donation. And add a third win in there: church members have an opportunity to do some low-key holiday shopping while supporting local merchants/vendors.
We began this three part series on debt retirement talking about the impact of debt on the mission and ministry of a parish. A reminder that the current rule of thumb is that debt services should comprise no more than about 25% of your budget. Begin by asking,
“Has our parish’s debt had a negative impact in any way on the church’s ability to meet current operational needs? “
In my last blog, I wrote about the importance of connecting how mission and ministry will be positively impacted by a successful capital campaign.
But, there’s a big elephant that many parishioners are too embarrassed to talk about. Many priests, struggling with loans from seminary, are unable to tackle their own debt.
In my last blog, I wrote about important questions to ask when considering the impact of debt on your operating budget. The current rule of thumb is that debt services should comprise no more than about 25% of your budget. As yourself:
Has your parish’s debt had a negative impact in any way on the church’s ability to meet current operational needs? Has the church been forced to cut back or restrict ministry resources in order to -service the debt? Could the money currently being spent to service a debt obligation be re-appropriated to new ministries that could inspire and encourage your church and possibly attract new families?
Part 1 of a multipart series on debt reduction. Read Part 2 here.
When thinking about your congregation's debt, it’s important to ask a few key initial questions:Has your parish’s debt had a negative impact in any way on the church’s ability to meet current operational needs? Has the church been forced to cut back or restrict ministry resources in order to service the debt? Could the money currently being spent to service a debt obligation be re-appropriated to new ministries that could inspire and encourage your church and possibly attract new families?
In recent years, debt retirement capital campaigns have grown in popularity. Sue Fornabai, ECF Capital Campaign consultant, tells a beautiful story of a parish’s campaign that was not only successful but it inspired its parishioners in the process.
“About 10 years ago in Florida hurricanes tore through neighborhoods. When you drove past many churches ---the roofs were covered with blue tarps valiantly trying to protect what was spared.
Through my consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some parishes that have found ways to help people ‘see’ the ministry aspects of the operations budget in a different way.
Here are some fun ideas that you may want to consider: Add up how many hours (volunteer) it takes for a Sunday of services. You’ll be surprised by how many hours are provided.
Summertime means audit-time in the life of congregations of The Episcopal Church.
The Canons [I.7.1(f)] state the standard accordingly: “…All accounts of parishes, missions, or other institutions shall be audited annually by an independent certified public accountant, or independent licensed public accountant, or such audit committee as shall be authorized by the finance committee, department of finance, or other appropriate diocesan authority.” In our Diocese of Washington, an audit report is due by September 1. Given that the work has to be done and the report written, presented to and approved by the vestry – presumably, during the vestry’s August meeting at the latest – this means the summer is spent on internal financial audits.
Audits are a good thing. In an earlier Vestry Papers article, Tom Patterson does a fine job of explaining why, in fact, audits are “a necessity, not an option.” I commend this article highly.
But audits can be expensive, and inexpensive audits can have little impact.
Happy New Year!
What makes some vestries really effective? Is there a secret to developing a vestry that enjoys working together, feels energized while doing so, and has fun at the same time?
How are vital congregations and congregational leaders making God present in their families, community, and world at a time when it sometimes feels as if no one is interested?
These are questions we think about a lot at ECF Vital Practices – and we’re devoting our January/February Vestry Papers to an exploration of some of the vital practices that lead to vestries that work well.
This month, we’ll share articles on:
Cutting the office budget - and especially the print newsletter - is an easy target.
It seemed every year I served as the administrator at a parish, I would be put to task to advocate that my office budget was already running as leanly as could and I had to make the case for the print newsletter to be kept in place. This was despite the fact that the majority of the congregation read the newsletter and valued it. As a print publication in our digital age, some in the congregation still viewed the newsletter as something that could simply be digitized.
As stewardship season in the Episcopal Church draws near, we decided to explore the groundwork for a successful stewardship campaign. The following series of articles explores a whole range of topics, including the connection between a transparent budget and increased pledges. Please check these articles out and share widely.
Tough Talk on Budgets and Pledges
In this article, Dick Kurth of St. Luke's, Darien, CT, explains why his church had to address confusion over the budget prior to being able to increase pledges. "We learned that there was a widespread assumption that there was a lot of slush in the budget, only that it was going to some program other than their own." This article first appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Church Budgets in a Bear Market.
Show Them the Money
With stewardship season right around the corner, we are revisiting Laurel Johnston's six practices for Modeling Intentional Giving. One of these practices - "Show Them the Money" - explores the need to demonstrate how pledges fuel the ministry of the congregation, and how expenses are connected to the mission of the church. This article first appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Pledging.
Dream Budget: Rector Peter Strimer shares why he asks his staff to submit dream budgets, where resources are no limit, year after year.
L.E.A.D.E.R. Budget: A helpful tool for showing how your budget fuels the mission of your congregation. Simple Giving: Lisa Meeder Turnbull explores the modern tithe and offers ways for individuals to prayerfully increase their pledges.
Year-Round Stewardship Ads: Did you know the Episcopal Church offers free monthly ads highlighting year-round stewardship?
Beyond Time, Talent, Treasure: Bishop Claude Payne speaks of stewardship in ways that go beyond the three T's. Pledge Card Prayer: A prayer in both English and Spanish by Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia. Innovative Stewardship Ideas
St. David's in Austin, TX is funding their ministries through a wide variety of ways including a consignment shop, a cafe for nearby office workers, a day school, parking garage and more. Jeanie Sablatura writes "We have found new ways to lead our congregation and grow, spiritually and numerically, in mission in the community and to increase our financial stability." This article appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Innovative Stewardship.
Last week I remembered a resource about “survival mode” vs. “growth mode” for congregations. There are lots of resources available about this topic, but my notes pointed me to a short, easy description I could remember and share with others.
So with due credit to the Rev. Gerald W. Keucher, here’s my simple digest of a framework provided in his book Remember the Future: Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations.
Congregations in survival mode tend to:Centralize power in the hands of a few. Let the same people do everything, because “it’s easier” that way. Assume “everyone knows” what’s happening. Take a complacent or passive stance toward the future.
Me están llegando preguntas por correo electrónico sobre dinero. No estafas en las que me instan a que gire fondos para los necesitados en algún país extranjero ni pedidos de subsidios. Provienen de líderes de feligresías que luchan con el dinero y las finanzas.
Algunas de las preguntas son bastante directas. Por ejemplo, una junta parroquial me preguntó si hay algún folleto u otro documento que explique el propósito y el uso del fondo discrecional de un rector. (Lo hay, ver el Capítulo V en el recurso indicado más abajo).
Pero un correo electrónico reciente insinuó inquietudes más profundas: describió una instancia de mala administración financiera y de desconfianza entre el tesorero de la parroquia, el sacerdote a cargo y la junta parroquial. Es el tipo de situación que sería un estudio de caso perfecto para aprender cómo no gestionar las finanzas de la iglesia, y si bien el autor no proporcionó los nombres de las personas involucradas ni de la parroquia, sí describió cómo se manejó la situación. Como es fácil suponer, las secuelas ahora están afectando negativamente la dinámica y el crecimiento de la feligresía.
Este tipo de correo electrónico me pone la piel de gallina. Desgraciadamente le tuve que decir a la persona que ella no está sola. La mala administración financiera, intencional o más frecuentemente por negligencia, ocurre más a menudo que lo que suponemos. Y para peor, el liderazgo deficiente y los malos patrones de comunicación entre los dirigentes laicos, el sacerdocio y sí, también los obispos, puede convertir una situación administrativa difícil en un embrollo mucho más profundo.
Esta es una lucha muy real en nuestras feligresías episcopales. Por lo general no tiendo a desesperarme ni a quejarme, especialmente en estos blogs para líderes eclesiásticos. Pero a veces tenemos que nombrar los obstáculos en nuestro camino y señalar una manera de zanjarlos.
La Oficina de Finanzas del Centro de la Iglesia Episcopal ofrece un recurso llamado Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs (Manual de Métodos Financieros en Asuntos Eclasiásticos). No resuelve todos los posibles problemas relacionados con las prácticas financieras y administrativas, pero es una base sólida. Si usted o los líderes de su junta parroquial no saben que existe este recurso, por favor “lean, marquen, aprendan y digieran” estas directrices. No sólo lo requieren los Cánones de la Iglesia Episcopal, sino que también pueden ahorrarles muchos futuros dolores de cabeza y contratiempos a usted y a su feligresía.
Si usted gestiona las finanzas de la feligresía, puede seguir adelante con la misión, liderando con seguridad como buen mayordomo de todos los recursos que le da Dios.
Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs (Manual de Métodos Financieros en Asuntos Eclesiásticos)