In my role as a capital campaign consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation, it’s not unusual to hear Vestry leaders hoping for grants to help pay for building improvement projects because…
“We serve our city in unique ways.”
“Our building is historically significant.”
“Our feeding ministry serves the broader community.”
Yes, but, in the world of grant-giving, the stark reality is that your congregation may not be all that special. When you identify a granting organization that will allow a church to apply (many don’t), expect the competition to be steep from established not-for-profit organizations. Agencies that provide food, clothing, health care, or other services as their main mission have honed their compelling “case statements.” A church that serves a community meal once a week or a free clinic once a month may be deemed to have a weaker case.
Is your church community putting its money where its mouth and mission are? This month we are highlighting five resources on mission-based finances. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. Greg Syler, in Facing Financial Uncertainty—Testing and Re-testing the Budget, illustrates why having a nimble budget can help your community of faith live more fully and more intentionally in its mission. This article is packed with good resources to help your church be more flexible.
This month, we are highlighting five resources that can help your faith community invest in and maintain an endowment. Who else do you know who might appreciate these articles? Please share and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In Four Steps to Maintain and Increase Your Endowment, Jerry Keucher shares the Dos and Don’ts of how to use your church’s endowment. If your church in considering establishing an endowment or wondering how an endowment might be beneficial, this is a very helpful read.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with church budgeting and finance. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In his article, Church Finance—Where Endurance Matters, Robert Button shares his wisdom as a vestry member and a church treasurer. From stewardship and budgeting, capital campaigns, and internal controls and audits, to the long view, this is a great overview of why church finance matters and how it can be spiritually fulfilling to those called to steward church finances.
“Wait? This isn’t the last budget revision we’re doing?” our church’s treasurer recently asked at the finance meeting. To his point, he’s the one who plugs in the numbers. He did it in November, preparing for our December annual meeting. He did it in December, when the Vestry wanted to revise some areas. And he was doing it in January and February, when the finance committee started to take another whack at it.
Ascension and St. George’s, the two congregations I serve as rector, are doing a lot of amazing things and one of the most impressive things, I tell them, is that they’re facing financial uncertainty. A few years ago, before our collaborative sharing began, Ascension looked at their numbers and calculated they had three to five years left. St. George’s, too, recognized that the numerical and financial growth it was experiencing was, ultimately, insufficient to create a sustainable model of ongoing discipleship and growth. And each congregation, unto itself, faced those financial uncertainties. They stared financial uncertainty in its ugly, nasty, scary face. They wouldn’t let it dominate them. They didn’t run away and pretend it didn’t exist. They faced it, plain and simple, and they let that uncertainty take them to the limit of the old business model.
This month we are highlighting five resources to help your vestry or other church groups learn more about effective endowment management. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. An "Endow your Pledge" Campaign
In order for most traditional churches to function, they depend on the generosity of their parishioners in the form of pledges. What would it look like if some were to guarantee their annual pledge in perpetuity? In An "Endow your Pledge" Campaign, Deborah Kelly shares how her church educated and invited parishioners to think about endowing their pledge.
Luke 16 verse 13
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Personally for many, our financial health is fragile and in some cases dire. A 2017 GOBankingRates survey indicates of the 8,000 respondents 39 percent have $0 (nothing) saved. The reasons are varied for this stark number. It includes chronic unemployment, underemployment, poor money management, insufficient retirement funds, catastrophic illness, government policies etc.
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with different generational aspects to giving. 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.
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.
It’s amazing how quickly the Cadillac SUV went to the wayside for a used Ford.
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.
How do parish’s talk about debt --- when many parishioners are crushed by debt?
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.