Finances are a reality of ministry. Ministries cost money, but they need not be a burden to either pastor or church. Here are five tips to help you navigate the challenging waters of church finances.
Don’t try to do it all at once.
Let me say that again: Don’t try to do it all at once. Start by making a list of the areas that need to be addressed. (If you are not sure what they are, get help from a trusted mentor and don’t be afraid to ask questions) Once you have your list, choose one area to focus on first. Break down that area into smaller areas. You will find that some areas have more moving parts than others, so by breaking them down into their smaller components, you can take action more easily and effectively.
Look for a long runway.
Be prepared. I often hear church leaders talk about the need to be flexible as they steward their church’s financial resources. The reality, however, is that flexibility requires planning. A football team may have a full playbook, but some plays are called only when certain circumstances arise. A professional chef does not just throw ingredients into the pot on a whim; they plan for what those might all taste like together and create from them create a meal that delights the senses and fills the stomachs of hungry diners.
Similarly, church leaders must plan ahead if they want their churches to have enough money in the budget at the right time for God-sized dreams to become realities – or for the unforeseen problems and opportunities that arise from time to time. You might call this “looking for a long runway” – a situation where you can see what lies ahead and prepare yourself accordingly. In a replanting situation, it often can be hard to look ahead and not give in to the temptation to expect everything to work out quickly. Take your time and do your best to set financial goals for the long haul.
Have a plan to communicate with staff and lay leadership.
Make sure you are communicating with church staff and lay leadership about the financial situation. Use all avenues of communication available to you, including written materials, phone calls and in-person meetings. Plan some lunch meetings, invite them to your office or home for coffee or schedule visits to their home. Use this as a time to be personal and build relationships as well. Don’t assume that people understand the financial situation or its urgency. Be honest and transparent about finances; don’t try to hide problems or make them look better than they are. Above all else, don’t assume people will understand the seriousness of a financial problem without explicit explanation! A gentle bluntness for a church replant or revitalization can help focus on the seriousness of where they are in the context of what Scripture calls a local body of believers to be and do.
Prepare to help your congregation for change.
Ministers and church finance committees/teams should be prepared for some of the following reactions to change within the congregation:
- Anxiety: It can be hard for people to accept change, no matter how small. Some may express concerns about a new way of doing things. These concerns need to be acknowledged and addressed by those in charge – most importantly by you. Answering questions and giving reassurance are key in smoothing over this anxiety. Again, this goes back to being transparent and not trying to hide things or make things look better than they are, but also giving an understanding of the goals and hopes for the future of the congregation.
- Adjustment Period: Change requires everyone to adjust their attitudes and behaviors, which can take time. Expect some resistance as your members become accustomed to a new way of doing things, but don’t let negativity get in the way of progress. Don’t despair at these setbacks; rather, use them as opportunities to help people adjust more smoothly, by identifying pitfalls and addressing them quickly before they become too problematic. Don’t expect a problem or upset person to simply go away; lean into the conflict so God can use you to lead through and out of that conflict. Having an attitude that is patient, understanding and flexible will help ease tension when dealing with people’s frustrations during the adjustment period. However, remember that this can take a toll on you. Make sure you have a mentor or other ministers you can lean on and be truthful with about how these things are affecting you and your family. Allow them to share their wisdom and encouragement with you as you go through it all. You will have to adjust to many things, just as the congregation will, so use wisdom and give understanding freely.
Don’t wait until everyone is on board before you begin taking steps to adjust the finances.
Now, the last point here is important because we don’t want to wait and wait until it’s too late to do anything, so have an overall plan. When it comes to financial challenges of any kind, a good plan is the best place to begin. Take small steps to address those challenges and make sure leadership is on board with your approach. Be patient and persistent. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see quick results. Make adjustments as needed and continue working toward achieving your goal. Replanting and revitalization will never be a sprint; this is a marathon, whether you are dealing with pre-existing financial struggles or those getting started for the first time. A dying church didn’t get there overnight, and they won’t fix everything overnight. Discouragement is going to happen. Some people will be critical , but that does not mean you should stop and wait for everyone to get on board. Keep moving forward and in every part of the finances always ask, “Is this glorifying to God ‘‘? Move with patience and keep your eyes and heart on God’s glory.
Published April 20, 2022