How’s Your Church Doing Financially? (by William Thornton)

Editor: Saw this interesting discussion-starter on William Thornton’s site, SBC Plodder. He agreed I could repost it here.  From what I hear, churches that aren’t belt tightening and cutting back a little are more the exception than the rule.

One of the things about visiting different churches each week, my worship plan for the past seven months or so, is that there is almost invariably a financial statement available in the foyer.

I’ve been known to sneak one out for more careful review at my leisure.

To tell the truth, when I scrutinize another church’s financial statement I get a mild feeling of ecclesiastical voyeurism. It’s none of my business, but we all know how nosy Baptist preachers are.

I am gratified that most churches are forthright, open, and unashamedly transparent about their financial matters. Being wide open about church finances, lay it all out there for everyone to see and know, is a very healthy practice that helps clergy and churches alike avoid some of the more harmful effects that money can cause in a church.

What I am seeing, just about every Sunday, is a church that is behind on their budget.

I will admit to more than a modicum of concern about finances when I was a pastor. My favorite church committee was the counting committee and I would often, playfully tell the ladies (they were always ladies in the churches I pastored, except for honest-as-the-day-is-long Albert who was an all-in-one treasurer, counter, internal auditor, and check dispenser in my first church) that they needed to do a better job because the totals weren’t large enough.

One of the things I don’t miss is, dare I say it, the weekly concern about budgets, bills, and such. The Lord invariably took care of things but it would have been nice to meet a budget every now and then.

Count me as highly appreciative of the folks in church who give regularly, some who tithe, some who go beyond, some who give occasionally but who, together, make it possible to have paid, full time clergy who may focus on preaching the Word and ministering.

If I come to your church and you have a monthly financial report available, I’ll subtly fold one and slip it into my Bible. When I get home and read it, I’ll doubtless say a prayer for you and your church finances.

So…how’s your church doing financially? Do you lose sleep over it? How do you respond in your church if things are going south?

You have my prayers.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    here’s some GOOD ways the Women Of The Church can save some money to contribute that will help make things a little easier for the Church,
    as every penny adds up:

    WAYS TO SAVE MONEY IN TODAY’S ECONOMY:

    Here are some practical ideas.
    I have tried them all and have been very pleased with the results.
    AND, my advice, for what it’s worth, is FREE. :)

    1. Stay out of book stores and
    art galleries (too tempting)
    (Go to the PUBLIC LIBRARY
    and to museums instead)

    2. Garage sales ( shop at them,
    OR have a garage sale,
    do this with your neighbors.
    This is a great money-saver.

    3. Get over it: thrift shops are
    great. You can find the best
    things there, if you will go
    on a regular basis AND take
    some time to look.
    (Example: I found a Queen
    Anne secretary desk which,
    I am told, is a very fine
    piece of furniture. It is
    BEAUTIFUL and cost me less
    than a hundred dollars,
    PLUS the money went for a
    hospital charity that runs
    the thrift shop.)

    4. START COOKING FROM SCRATCH
    using dried peas and beans
    and assorted rices.
    Get out of those fast-food
    places and COOK. You will
    save a fortune, lose weight,
    lower your blood pressure,
    and feel better.

    5. GROW A GARDEN !
    do it, even if you have
    never done it before.

    6. Buy produce out at farm
    stands. Or PICK YOUR OWN
    at farms that allow people
    to come in and do this for
    a very reasonable cost.
    Bring the kids. THIS is
    a real education for them.

    7. Go to the dairy.

    8. Stay out of the MALL. Ladies
    in cities that have a
    consignment shop run by the
    Junior League: check it out
    for very nice things for
    cheap.

    9. Don’t buy flower bouquets.
    Plant flowers instead.

    10. Don’t BUY a pet. The
    shelters are full. Go
    and ‘rescue’ an animal.
    God will smile.

    Hey MOMS: Think about it. What is really financially important? Your kids need good schools, good shoes, good food, good doctors and dentists.
    EVERYTHING ELSE you can get from the Salvation Army or the Public Library. Case closed. :)

    Reality Check: life’s tough, economy’s down, we are tougher and we are resourceful. Smile, we will get through this. Take care of the one’s who cannot care for themselves. Give them what they need. Your credit will be good with God and He will care for you in return. Give thanks always and share His blessings:

    no one ever got poor by giving to those in need. :)

  2. says

    I’m not a pastor but I can tell you that our church almost always fails to meet budget but ends the year in the black. That seems to be a good thing, as we always need .. I suppose .. to want to do more than we’re able to, and we’ll do all we’re allowed to do by the funds that are available.

    We do pay $400 (I believe it is) on behalf of each person who wants to go on a foreign mission trip … mostly E3 missions to South America, but occasionally African missions as well … and we do foot the entire bill for a summer domestic mission trip. This year’s was 100+ people to Jackson MS for construction and VBS, last week, and we’ve done that for over 20 years.

    We also give 10% of undesignated receipts to the CP.

  3. Matt Svoboda says

    We just finished our last budget year, at the end of June, $39,000 over what we budgeted.

    We budget conservatively and has resulted in effective ministry and surplus the last several consecutive years. Budgeting conservatively makes it to where we never have to stress about money and knowing we will have a surplus frees us up to easily do things that we didnt foresee when we planned the budget.

  4. Bruce McGovern says

    I hope it is not offensive to show estimated details for a small Baptist Temple here in rural Mexico.

    We have around 50 to 60 people who attend most Sundays. The Temple owns the building. Actually that is not true. By law any declared church building becomes Federal Property, a result of Benito Juarez’ taking control of the Catholic Church 145 years ago. But, it provided that building, also a house for the pastor, who prefers to live in his own house.

    He is paid around $25 a week, so he must find other work to support his family. He started seminary, but had to drop for financial reasons. He gives a good sermon, seems to be a good pastor. The congregation seems to be a pleasant, happy church family.

    We would not dare tithe, trust me. We would be kidnapped the next month. We work hard to appear to be somewhat poor, rather than extremely poor like our neighbors.

    We do kick in around 25 to 30% of the monthly budget, which is under $300. I assume the “counters” can tell, because our contribution always happens when we are there, and not when we are not there. People simply aren’t that stupid.

    I suspect the temple would fold if we left. There is not a lot of extra money as it is. But, perhaps not. If we left, other people may try harder.

    So, I estimate they have a monthly budget around $4 USD for each person who regularly attends.

    I believe for VBS and other special events, the women work out donations of food and materials instead of cash. As an example, at the anniversary last winter, my wife took in several gallons of black beans (frijoles).

    And, if they have a big project, such as the extra rooms they added on, once in a great while they will have a special collection fund, but it takes a long time to get the money. And, the people contribute the labor.

  5. Bruce H. says

    If the budget has no savings plan it isn’t a budget. That is how our government operates. Many claim that the church is living by faith when they have no savings in place. The reality is, the church is living from pay check to pay check. If I live pay check to pay check I am causing my wife to fear, including myself. That has been a concern of mine about church budgets.

    • William Thornton says

      While I like the concept of budgeting for various future expenses and sinking funds, it hasn’t often been possible. A typical way for average sized churches to manage major maintenance items (new roof, HVAC, etc) is to have a special offering or ask for more when such is needed. This has always worked well and churches seem comfortable with it.

      • Bruce H. says

        William,

        That is what I have been use to all my life. Setting aside funds each month sets the example for the people to save in their personal lives, too. I agree with you about having a special offering at times, but having the extra money and knowing how to use it properly would be character building for the body. We must function with discretion, wisdom and understanding when a need arises. Having funds available will cause us to seek God’s face in every situation before we spend it. Each pastor or church will have their own way of handling money. If I were a pastor, I would use the money to exercise the churches faith whether it was saving/dispersing, special offerings or God’s miracle provision.

        I would stay away from all kinds of fund raising ideas. The church has moved in that direction and away from special offerings. Giving is not giving when something is received in return for payment. Kind of makes God’s house a house of merchandise. I think we need to look closer at giving and offerings.

  6. says

    My former church in the KCMO area that I attended while going to MBTS has a basic principle, x>y when x=total offerings and y=budget. Each year’s budget would be based off of the previous years offerings. If offerings were below budget, the new budget would be less. If offerings were about equal to budget, it stayed the same. And if offerings were over budget, they raised the budget. Each of the 3 years I was there, the church raised its budget three times, and each time took in more offerings than the budget. This also was in the middle of a building campaign which was strongly supported to the point where after the initial funds were raised and the building was selected and built, the 15+ year loan the church took out is on track to be paid in less than 10. The pastor’s philosophy was not to stress 10%, but rather simply say “Do not give out of any obligation, but rather give out of your relationship with the Lord.”

    I am grateful for the Lord allowing me to attend that church. I know that should the Lord allow me to lead a church of my own that will be a similar stance I will take.

  7. says

    My church does an outstanding job with the budget. We don’t have one :); therefore, we never meet the budget or fall short of it.

    There you go; fixed the problem.

      • Adam G. in NC says

        Maybe with prayer, discernment, open discussion, the leading of the Spirit, God’s direction in his Word…you know…the good stuff.

        just a thought.

        • says

          Our church budget is 450,000+
          If we sat around and discussed every expenditure, we would spend all our time sitting around discussing expenditures.

          • Adam G. in NC says

            Agreed. In your case, it is commons sense that a budget is important, but many (most?) churches have a budget that is only a fraction of that.
            I was just saying that a budget is not “essential”. What IS essential are those things I listed above.

          • Dave Miller says

            Yeah. I try to include the Word, prayer, discernment, discussion and the leading of the Spirit in the budget process.

            Those things matter, in either the budget process or in the management of church finances without a budget.

            Your point is well taken.

      • says

        They’ve operated this way since their founding, back in 1889 (I think). They don’t have any debt. If something is broke, then we fix it. We also give 16% to the CP, and another 3% to the local association. We pay our bills, and I’m the only paid staff member. Their goal is largely to break even each month. We’ve got around a year’s worth of expenses in savings as well.

        There are a few items they’ve voted on in previous business meetings, like $1500 for youth and children per year. That’s the only “budgeted item” I’m aware of.

        • John Wylie says

          Jared,
          That’s funny because my church was founded in 1889 and does not operate with a budget either. First of all you have to pay your bills, no need for a vote there. While we do vote of certain large expenses by in large the church give the pastor and deacons a lot of discretion.

  8. Brian Prucey says

    I’m the pastor at my church and I’m a trained accountant. Every church I’ve ever served as pastor has had horrible accounting, budgeting and financial control practices. Each church had a “budget,” but the expenses identified had almost no relationship to their anticipated income. There was also no controls over who could authorize spending. I’ve used my skills to help them develop realistic ministry spending plans that included provisions for debt retirement and future capital expenditures. I’ve led my churches to control discretionary spending when income falls short. The goal was to still keep income above expenditures even though we may not technically “meet budget.” At my present church, the books/accounting records were in such bad shape, I completely rebuilt their chart of accounts and assigned all spending accounts specific ministry areas. People can see at a glance how a particular expense furthers the ministry of the church. By the way, much church averages between 70 – 90 in worship. One of my “power phrases” when teaching/preaching on stewardship is “money is the fuel that runs the engine of ministry.” Take away the fuel and the engine of ministry stops.

    • Frank L. says

      Brian,

      That’s an interesting post. I think you are right on the money in regard to many church financial strategies.

      However, simply organizing the budget procedures to conform to standard accounting practices is NOT the same as Christian stewardship. I’m not saying this about you in particular.

      I have an accounting team with five accountants including a certified IRS type of guy, and two CFO’s of very large companies. They can “analyze until the cows come home,” but they need a lot of guidance when it comes to “mission-directed spending.”

      I feel a bit intimidated when they all look to me for stewardship guidance–I can’t even keep my checkbook straight.

      Having “accountants” on the stewardship committee (or whatever one calls it) can be a two-edged sword. You can suffer the paralysis of analysis without a strong foundation of Biblical stewardship principles.

      Again, I am not arguing against your post–I think it was right on and that many churches could benefit from the assistance of godly accountants.

  9. Christiane says

    Missions . . . it is never about ‘the money’ . . . it never was, it never will be

  10. says

    We are members of a church that is particularly noteworthy for its generosity, its charity, its caring, and helpful spirit. And we thank God for them. They try to meet needs in all directions, including missions, foreign and domestic. They help families that fall on hard times. Knowing something about the economy and the economic situation, I feel a certain sense of anxiety for the churches and the members. Three reasons can be cited immediately as to why jobs are scarce today and will probably continue to be scarce, namely, automation, computerization, and robotics. And then there is removal of jobs overseas or south of the border as the saying goes. One reason involved has been cheaper labor. Another is to break unions (which had records of some bad activities as do the companies…and I have been a member of 3 or 4 unions), to escape government regulations and protection of American workers. The right to work law is a good thing in one respect and a bad thing in another. I had a woman in one of my pastorates who worked back to back shifts for years. She had a stroke at about the age of 39. In another state they did not allow it, protecting mothers from abuse. (the woman had three children and and absent husband (in prison). In any case, there is a great change taking place, and most of our Southern Baptist members, unless they are in education, medicine, politics, law, or some such employment, they are wanting for employment. Even fast foods are no guarantees for the future.