As hard as churches strive to make all the right financial decisions for the church, sometimes things happen and even the best of churches can find themselves in a bit of a rut. However, it does not mean the church has to stay there! Some pitfalls churches may experience may deal with budgeting that has gone wrong, church planting without all the answers, and having limited resources for the pastors when life gets challenging. Seeking to make your weaknesses into strengths could help the church thrive at being spiritually and financially healthy.
Setting a budget annually and getting it approved by the congregation will assist the church in making fiscally responsible decisions.
Typically, the first consideration in allocating funds appropriately would be what percentage of funds is going to staff, ministries, savings, repairs, and general expenses. Gathering giving information as to where the funds are coming from would be essential in making sure the funds are properly allocated. For example, some giving is recurring while other giving is one-off. Setting your annual budget based on one-off giving may not be prudent.
Preparing a budget would allow the church to gain better insight and knowledge as to how much they can really afford for staff, savings, everyday expenses, and rainy-day funds.
If your church is looking for more ways to save or be prepared for unprecedented times, it is important to evaluate how much the church is setting aside for savings in proportion to their average monthly expenses. It is important for a church to consider building reserves that can sustain the church for a minimum of three to six months, as that is about how much time it takes to make operational adjustments during times of uncertainty. Of course, if the church can save more, that it is great too!
This may seem like an easy question to answer. However, many churches run into issues with this. Many times, there is not a lot of transparency in the budget and that can lead to bad decisions. Consider having a budgeting team that has experience handling church finances, as having one person setting the budget can create misbalances. Ensuring the budget is properly set and approved by the congregation will help lead your church closer to being financially healthy.
Unfortunately, churches sometimes fall victim to having too much/bad debt. If the church is struggling to pay off what has been borrowed, getting the church financially stable should be a priority. Many times, leadership does not want to disclose the problem to the congregation. However, we have found that churches that are transparent about their finances usually have more support from their congregation. If you find that your church has an unhealthy debt load, having a congregational meeting to discuss the situation may be a good idea. Paying down the debt by initiating a capital campaign may just be what is needed for the church. It can serve as a motivation to not just pay off the debt, but also for the church to dive deeper into becoming good stewards of God’s money.
Church Planting Unknowns
If a church is hiring or sending off a pastor to plant a church, it is critical to examine the overall health of his nuclear family. When the family begins the new church they are often excited, but they can also experience moments of loneliness, feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from the ones closest to them. Ensuring the planter family has a strong foundation built upon God, a healthy marriage, and support is key in knowing the church will be led well by a pastor and family that are seeking after God’s heart – even when loneliness and isolation become a part of the journey.
As a church is getting started, it can be exciting, and the church may be wanting to check off all the ministry boxes to provide for their community. Though that is an excellent goal, it is important to analyze what the new church can afford to do in the beginning stages. Consider waiting a year or two after the church gains momentum and then evaluate to see what ministry can be added. If a ministry is to be added, it would be important to discuss what the staffing needs are for the specific ministry, and if it would thrive with volunteers until the church can afford staffing. If there is a struggle to find volunteers for the ministry, it may be a sign that this is not a ministry the church should be starting at that time. Taking baby steps to add ministries could be helpful in keeping the church in balance as it begins to grow.
It will likely take a few years for the church to become financially independent. Therefore, it is important to know where the financial support is coming from, which will assist when creating a budget for the church. Having an individual that has experience in budgeting for a church will serve the church well in creating a healthy financial vision.
As the church begins establishing roots, a team of leaders may already be in the works before the church is planted. If a team is still being sought out, it would be wise to choose leaders who may already have experience and skills that will continue in pursing the church’s mission. Develop your team to build trust, accountability, and encouragement through the journey.
Limited Pastoral Support
As pastors are ministering over a church, it can be easy for people to reach out to them when they need help the most. Unfortunately, the pastor is only one person and can only do so much. If they try to assist everyone that needs help, it could cause them to be overwhelmed. Providing resources or directing people to others for prayer or guidance, will give the pastor room to minister effectively with the help of staff members and volunteers.
Sometimes, even pastors need help! But it can be a challenge for people used to serving to ask for help when they need it. If a pastor or the pastor’s family is going through a season of grief, disappointment, or just stress and frustration, it could be a great opportunity for church members to reach out and see how they can be an encouragement to the family. Simply offering to watch the pastor’s kids or bringing a meal could help the pastor and his wife have more time for each other and the family.
Some pastors may hesitate at the thought of seeking counselling if they are going through a difficult season. This could be due to feeling as if they need to have everything together in their lives since they are, after all, the pastor. Biblically, we are called to build one another up and encourage one another, and when the journey gets too hard for one person, this is a wonderful resource that many churches offer. Counselling or being part of a pastors’ support group can be places where a pastor finds healing in a journey or space to talk about what is really burdening him without the consequence of feeling judged by another member of the congregation.
Help! (Example Stories)
A new church plant has been established in a rural area that is starting to see a lot of growth. More young families have begun moving to the area and the church has been seeing an increase in their attendance. With the growing number of students attending, the church would like to provide a service specifically for students but does not currently have room in the budget to hire a Youth Director. The church sent out a survey to see how many families would be interested in having the option for their child to be in Sunday school. With over half of the surveys returned, results indicate that parents would like to have this option available to their children. The church asked for volunteers to fill this need and were able to gather a couple of volunteers that would be committed to help put together a Sunday school for kids in Jr. High and High School on the first and last Sundays of each month. Without hesitation, a young man working towards earning a degree in youth ministry agreed to give sermons on these days to provide students the opportunity to grow in their faith and gather in fellowship with one another.
A church would like to start using another building on their campus to use as an overflow section for services. The building they are considering needs quite a few repairs that would take some time to fix before it could be ready to hold additional people. Though the building would be a great addition, the church cannot afford to make all the changes with the funds they currently have. The church decides to hold a capital campaign to raise funds for the project and see how much from the campaign can go towards the repair. The goal would be to have enough funds raised before summer hits and begin renovations to have it ready by the fall, in hope that it could also be used for other ministries that would need space as they meet throughout the week.
Recently a small-town church has become not-so-small to the pastor. Every Sunday the pastor ends up staying late after the service as couples and individuals seek his guidance. He does not mind meeting with people and enjoys being a listening ear to the ones in need, however, he has become overwhelmed that the same people come to him for help after services on Sunday. He shared this problem during a monthly staff meeting and learned that other ministries in the church had the same issue—they all needed volunteers to support their work. The pastor decided to begin a series on service and what it looks like to faithfully serve God. The church began to have connection cards available at the end of each service to have people who were interested to sign up to join the prayer team, youth, women’s, help, and local mission ministries.