July 2019
Strategic Visioning

Through All Kinds of Weather

What inspires congregations to make sound financial management a priority? Who is doing this? Why? We hear messages about decline…we eagerly greet opportunities for planting new congregations and approaching ministry in new ways…we pray, we have faith…and ultimately, financial management is involved. There is no getting around it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, a basic and sound sense of financial management is at the core of our success as a Church evolving into the future.

Our charge as people committed to improving the sustainability of our congregations’ ministries is to address financial management for every one of our 6500+ congregations, intentionally and individually. And achieving long-term sustainability through up and down economic cycles, serving constantly shifting demographics in our communities, addressing evolving ministry approaches in the Episcopal Church in our world today, takes coordination.

Integrated support for sound financial management

The Episcopal Church has a unique and demonstrable system of integrated support in its congregations, dioceses and resource organizations. But it doesn’t work without our engagement. True and consistent application at each layer is needed to reap the benefits the system provides. Here’s an outline of how each layer works:

1. Transparency and Accountability

It all starts with an elected vestry. The vestry has the fiduciary duty to serve the congregation and to meet canonical obligations – many of which are financial, and for good reason. But they do not work if not done and done correctly. And responded to. And analyzed, carefully considered and discussed. This is the work of the diocese and resource organizations, working closely with the congregation.

Disaggregating the summary information is critical – for example, looking at the breakout of the sources of income compared to expenses. There are hundreds of ways to be sustainable and hundreds of scenarios that require a safety net. Instances where the system employs a safety net mark an opportunity to evolve. How are we approaching them?

To start, detailed historical financial management data for all 6500+ congregations going back to 2000 is available online here. Ways in which this parochial report data can be useful to local congregations is outlined in this webinar.

2. Frameworks for Understanding

Once elected to the vestry, what do you get? What you need are good frameworks that are understandable, relevant and directed to your individual situation. You need benchmarks, relevant laws and support. Dioceses provide guidance in this and are responsible for targeting support (or hunting it down in many cases), serving as conduits to resources and most importantly, engaging leaders and inspiring action. Dioceses also help resource organizations understand the local context in which their services can be applied.

You can find an example of how these frameworks are communicated to vestry leaders in the 2018 Diocesan Benchmark Report from the Diocese of Southwest Florida.

3. Data-driven Decisions

With the right frameworks in place, data effectively drives decisions. It quantifies concern and outlines opportunities. Most of all, data proves, reiterates and persuades. Look at the trend data on the 2018 Diocesan Benchmark Report charts, and you will see how the persuasion works – legacy asset (endowment) growth, debt reduction, property usage, capital investments, human resource optimization, balanced budgets!

Our system of integrated support in the Episcopal Church (which includes dioceses, The Church Pension Group, The Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal Relief and Development and more) is not only an able facilitator of complicated business methods. It’s a confidence builder and an optimization tool, built to endure more than a century of demographic shifts, making the Church and its people stronger to fulfill God’s mission.

4. Circle of Communication

Imagine a ship with little or no transparency on its position, no framework for navigation or data for making decisions. The Episcopal Church system is not that! Like the Coast Guard to the vessels of the sea, dioceses are listening, monitoring the weather, providing a proactive patrol and when necessary, providing direct communication and instructions. Without this full circle of communication, the system doesn’t work, and the ship is alone and lost, separated from its context.

5. Anticipated Impact

Here is the exciting proof that this integrated support system works. When you announce a bold anticipated impact – and it happens! When you establish an endowment for ministry from scratch, give tiny little grants, communicate impact, attract support and are able to give larger and larger grants – in perpetuity. When you know one another and the challenges you each face. When you call out and they respond, one by one, and when you respond to another’s call, completing the circle of awareness.

These are the stories that inspire, that give confidence and create interest in financial management. But this stage is built upon the others. When you see it happening, you know you’ve done it right.

Humming along - Guided by mission

Strategic visioning, and especially financial strategy, were not as complicated and intimidating years ago. Past leaders could not anticipate today’s challenges and opportunities. But those leaders did think of legacy, and they understood sustainability at its core. Our risks are ever more evident and managed. Today, jazzed about articulating and measuring mission, we are using it as our guide.

With this system of integrated support in place, financial management is relevant. It’s a natural priority due to its inspirational value alone. When we get this working on all cylinders, watch out world! All the passion of our Marks of Mission, our Jesus Movement, our Way of Love will take on new levels in all kinds of weather. I’m excited about this and thrilled to help engage all of our leaders in using the structures that are in place and functioning right now. We have tweaking to do, but oh, how it will hum!

Canon Anne Vickers has been the Canon for Finance and Administration of the Diocese of Southwest Florida since 2009. In that role, she leads a diocesan system of support for the 77 congregations in Southwest Florida. Over the last decade, these coordinated efforts have successfully created remarkable trends in the local financial management of congregations. As a Trustee of the Church Pension Fund, she understands the strategic challenges and varying economic and cultural environments that exist across the entire Church. Anne is driven by her passion for healthy churches with a well-functioning system of support.


This article is part of the July 2019 Vestry Papers issue on Strategic Visioning