Is your church budget shrinking?

Posted: March 22, 2013 by efenster in Information, Resources

Upward arrowThe church is one of the last organizations that relies on primarily one income stream–congregational offerings.  Lovett Weems in his book, Focus:   The Real Challenges that Face the United Methodist Church (2011), points out that giving for the UM denomination increased until 2008 and then began declining.  Unless churches begin to move beyond relying solely on the offering plate, they will be dealing with dwindling funds.

What are some additional funding streams?  Some say that younger people are used to user fees and that church’s should begin charging members for some of its services, such as Vacation Bible Schools, weddings, and Sunday school curriculum.  Some churches have begun relying on ministries using their facility to generate income–for example, daycares that pay the church for custodial services, help with utilities, and building maintenance.  Some collect rent from outside organizations using their facilities, such a another church using their facility or groups renting their hall for receptions.

David Bell, Senior Design Partner with Design Group International, says that a healthy church’s finances should rely on three key areas.  Think of them as legs on a stool.

1. Annual gifts.  This includes the following:  annual stewardship campaign, offerings and tithes, special Sunday offerings, designated asking, and special events.

2. Major gifts.  This includes:  capital campaigns, endowment funds, special projects.

3. Life gifts.  This includes bequests, wills and estate gifts, and irrevocable gifts.

If a church gives attention to all three legs, it is likely to be able to fund its ministries much more effectively.  Some church finance committees fear considering numbers 2 and 3 above because they are afraid they will divert money needed for the church’s operating budget to other special projects, such as a building campaign.  Bell points out, however, that people give out of different pockets.  Numbers 2 and 3 are asking people to give from their accumulated assets, not their incomes.  If the church doesn’t ask persons to give, these people will likely give anyway to other organizations that make requests.  Churches are encouraged to contact Manet Shettle at the United Methodist Foundation of Indiana for assistance in developing 2 and 3.

What are some additional ways to strengthen a church’s income?  Bell says that churches that offer electronic fund transfer giving (withdrawals from interested members’ bank accounts each month), experience a 20% increase in giving annually.  Early adopters typically are adults under 45 years of age, who no longer write checks, and snowbirds who are already using EFT at the churches they attend during the winter.

Church’s also use annual stewardship campaigns, such as Consecration Sunday.  And they teach stewardship through courses like Financial Peace University  and Good $ense.

Finally, it really isn’t about raising money.  It’s about stewardship, which is managing all the gifts God has blessed us with.  Churches can grow in this area with the help of Dr. Kent Millard, Director of Generosity and Gratitude for the Indiana Conference, and training offered through Rejuvenate, directed by Rev. Mary Ann Moman.  Rejuvenate is presently offering a stewardship workshop for church leaders in Indiana, called “Encouraging the Joy of Generous Giving,” which is led by David Bell.

Churches would be wise to take advantage of any of the above resources if they wish to move from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance.  So, what’s your church’s next step?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


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