Last week I heard a business guru give his tool to assess the success of small businesses given the difficult economy the last few years.
“If you’re still open, you’re a success.” But then he admonished them to get out of survival mode and plan for the future.
I think that’s where we are with church endowments. The church endowment experts will tell you that endowment income should never be used to support the operations of the church. Expenses like salaries, utilities and paper and glue should be paid for from the offering plate. Putting these expenses on the endowment will allow your congregation to become complacent, rather than deciding that they will need to financially support the ministry that they want to have happen.
But I imagine that rule was pretty well trampled on in recent years. As the Sunday morning offerings shrunk, many churches turned to their endowments and other reserve funds to help plug the holes and keep their ministries moving ahead. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that.
But now that things are turning around (knock on wood) I think it’s time that churches get out of this habit. Your financial situation this year is likely to indicate the situation for the next decade or so. A shrinking membership with staffing levels that have increased is simply not sustainable. And we really don’t have any reason to expect that expenses like utilities, insurance or communion supplies will drop significantly.
It is what it is.
Congress is really good at spending into oblivion, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the church.
Make sure that you are talking finances outside of the Finance Committee, that all of your leaders understand. It does not need to be doom and gloom. In fact, present the great things you are doing and portray it as an opportunity to refocus your mission and make sure your giving levels are where they need to be.
Maybe this fall is the time for the money conversations I wrote about earlier.
But one warning as you face difficult decisions. The temptation will be to “take care of us first.” Some will want to balance the budget by dropping missions, outreach, evangelism, all of those things that cost money but don’t seem to benefit the members. This is a sure-fire way to accelerate your church’s decline. A church that ceases to be about others ceases to be a church. And while the current occupants of your pews may be just fine with that, those who are considering becoming part of your congregation will notice this in a hurry.
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