There are times in the life a congregation when giving and cash flow takes a dip. When this happens, leaders get alarmed, panic sets in, and the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth begins. The temptation is to take quick action to alert the congregants about “the budget crisis” and urge everyone to give more money immediately to mitigate the distressing circumstances. If that doesn’t work, the budget slashing begins. The leaders’ impulse, of course, springs from their dedication to the congregation and a strong sense of duty to maintain its financial health and well-being.
I have observed this pattern many times….
Resist those reactive impulses. Slow down. Gather more information about the circumstances affecting the congregation’s bottom line. Take a more strategic and thoughtful approach.
In his latest book, The Church Money Manual, church consultant and author of several excellent books on stewardship, J. Clif Christopher provides guidance to clergy and lay leaders, based on years of experience and insight.
Here are the highlights of Christopher’s wise advice:
- Gather membership, attendance and giving data from several years back to the present so that you have a better view of the facts.
- Notice any fluctuations in the giving patterns, exploring any circumstances that may explain the rises or dips. Were there fewer Sundays this year in September than last year? Did storms force a closing or lower attendance last winter? Were there special events two years ago that drew more families?
- Attend to relationships, noticing if you have not been seeing some of your loyal attendees or highest contributing members. Rather than speculate on the reasons why, make contact with these folks and find out what is going on for them. Are there hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or pastoral needs? Ask for their honest feedback, and listen with care.
- Clarify the congregation’s mission, purposes, and priorities. People give to an inspiring mission and vision for the future, so convey it in visible and engaging ways.
- Once your leadership team has compiled and assessed your findings, formulate a stewardship strategy for communicating with the congregation and individual donors using time-proven approaches outlined in all of Christopher’s and most fundraising books.
Seek always to align your congregation’s mission, message, and relationships–and the resources will flow!