Battling Your Church's Budget Crisis

by John Powell November 7, 2015

When David Platt’s email hit my inbox, I buried my head in my hands. The largest missionary force the world has ever known is decreasing domestic and international personnel by a whopping 800 people in the next few months. That means that inefficiencies will be fixed, yes. But what that also means is that there will be people who do not hear the Gospel, who otherwise would have.

I buried my head in my hands because my church is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I’m new to my church.  Having only been here for 3 years, I can only gather information on what our budget has looked like for the last few years before I arrived.  But from what I can tell, for several years, my church has adopted a deficit budget.  Every year it wouldn’t look as badly as it could have, because large year-end gifts, fueled by high commodity prices at the time, kept our deficit at least palatable.  Palatable enough to adopt another deficit budget the next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that. And so on.

David Platt might have been writing that article about my church.  Trying to make up ground, but having to draw from savings.  I found that our 4 months worth of budget in savings mirrored exactly the situation of the IMB.  We were just spending it at about half the rate of the IMB.

I eventually came to accept the surreal fact that my church could be bankrupt in 4 years.  I want to pastor my church longer than that.  And I want the kingdom effects of my 106 year old church to reach far beyond 2020.

As pastors, we must have the courage to not be OK with a deficit budget.  For many years, I have heard ignorant pastors say that to adopt a budget lower than the year before is to accept defeat -- that a church should step out on faith and ask for more, because, of course, "the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills."

Yes, a church should operate on faith. And the Lord is infinitely wealthy. But God has given us to be good stewards. And he who is faithful in little in this life, is given much over which to be faithful in the kingdom to come.

Courage is not in adding a dollar to the existing budget and blindly and foolishly stumbling in to next year’s deficit.  Courage is being willing to cut every single line until it could be said of your church: “well done," even as you cry from the pain.

When approaching a budget, be willing to have the tough conversations: Could the answer to our problems be that we have too much staff?  Do we need to cut certain programs?  If so, have the courage to have the conversation about these reductions, as drastic as they may seem. No staff member or program is as crucial to your church as the gospel.

If your staffing budget is significantly over 1 for every 50 average attenders on a Sunday morning, or your staffing budget (to include expenses) is significantly over 50% of your annual budget, you need to have the brave conversation about who to cut, not what to cut.

But, if you determine that your staffing is appropriate for your church’s size, then have the courage not to starve the staff out.  Don’t look at cutting compensation, or expenses, or travel accounts.  Have the courage to know that those are part of the pastor’s compensation, and a church should seek to honor a pastor’s tireless effort and thankless position by not nickle-and-diming his compensation in order to make up for the lack of stewardship a church has shown.

 

Choose whether to cut staffing, or to cut everything else.  And when you decide that, have the courage to not just cut a few things… but cut everything.  Cut every single line a little, rather than whole line items (unless they need to go).

Pastors should take the initiative in doing this.  For me, it was sitting down with my staff and designing a budget (from scratch) using the projected dollar amount for that year as the balance.  I then took that to the finance committee, and I proposed this budget as a possible solution to our budget deficit, down to the dollars and cents of what we expected.

I also talked them through the staffing answer that I came to, but made sure to tell them that if they thought differently than me, I would have the courage to discuss who we should let go.

I also told them of the great need of our denomination’s mission effort.  I told them that I would like to lead our church to be a part of the solution, and not just another part of the problem.  I told them that I would like to concoct a plan to be giving14% to the CP in the next 5 years.  But for now, I would like to reallocate 10% to the CP, and walk up 1% for the next 4 years.  This will mean that we have to pull back donations to local encampments, and area ministries.  But I told them that I feel very strongly about answering the IMB’s call. I handed them each David Platt’s letter.

Our missions category said that we gave 10% to “missions” But when we boiled it down, our CP giving was a measly 4.5%  I told them that I thought we should have a 15% missions budget, a 50% staffing budget, a 20% utilities budget, and allocate 15% to other needs like literature, insurance, copiers, and food for our AWANA program.  This seemed healthy to me.

With their collaboration, and help from our deacon body, we are prayerfully coming to consensus about the most important ways a church can invest for the kingdom.  That time was used to inform.  Many deacons and finance committee members are very ignorant of the money flow of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Most don’t know where the money goes as soon as it leaves the church.  Our time of stewardship conversations opened the eyes of many people about what kind of ministries can be funded by a church’s good stewardship.

All churches should have the courage to re-evaluate their finances in these desperate times.  For me, it took more courage than I was expecting.  But many times, a pastor’s head in his hands is the prelude to a church’s shining moment.

What a fantastic time to talk about stewardship - a time when the IMB needs faithful churches so badly!

Pray about how you (whether you’re a pastor or not) may lead your church to be good stewards of the funds entrusted to you, and how your church can help to be a kingdom solution, and not a kingdom problem.