3 Key Financial Strategies for Your Church in the New Reality – Episode 178 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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How to Build a Hybrid Church (Part 3)

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We’ve experienced some incredible disruptions—definitely in our society but more specifically for our churches.

Although these disruption have caused a lot of uncertainty for church leaders, in recent weeks, I’ve felt encouraged about the financial future of churches. I’ve had conversations with church leaders who express their giving is down 30%, and if you find yourself here, don’t get discouraged. In fact, 4 out of 10 pastors are finding themself in a similar situation.

But honestly? I’ve been having a lot more conversations with pastors who are telling me their churches are financially healthy and giving is trending upward. And my hope is that, because of this disruption, more churches will experience financial health and be prepared for another rainy day.

This week we’re continuing our series on How to Build a Hybrid Church and digging into Part 3 on financial health in churches. We’ve worked with more than 100 churches over the last year and we’re hearing firsthand about their financial strategies.

In this episode, Amy Anderson and I celebrate with the churches that are experiencing financial health, but also give some practical help for the churches that have been struggling financially in recent months.

Here’s a practical conversation around three key investment strategies for your church:

  • Three key areas churches should focus on investing in
  • Saving for a rainy day (like 2020)
  • Casting a vision for your team for the future
Four out of 10 churches have experienced a decline in giving over the last year. #unstuckchurch [episode 178] Click to Tweet Choose goals that are bold enough that you have to lean on God but not so bold they're de-motivating for your team. #unstuckchurch [episode 178] Click To Tweet More “goodwill” is established when churches invest in other community partners rather than trying to do it all themselves. #unstuckchurch [episode 178] Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it needs to be an unstuck church. At the start of the pandemic, most of us assumed it would be a challenging year financially for many churches. But now almost a year later, we’re hearing some unique stories emerging, not only of financial stability but radical generosity. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy explore why, and what we can learn from it. If you haven’t done it yet, or if you’re a new listener to the podcast, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’re going to get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you’re not going to find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:55):

Welcome back to The Unstuck Church Podcast. If you haven’t been with us the last couple of weeks, we are in the middle of a series of episodes celebrating the fact that 2020 is behind us, but we have to look forward to what’s next. So Tony, how’s 2021 been treating you so far?

Tony (01:10):

Amy, you know, like you, I’ve kind of hit the ground running. In fact, in the last week I’ve had conversations or engaged strategy process with leaders at Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida, Beltway Park Church in Abilene, Texas, Quest Church near Augusta, Fox River Christian Church in Waukesha. I always wonder if I’m saying that, you’re from that part of the country. Did I say that right?

Amy (01:36):

You are. I’m in the Midwest. Yeah. Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Tony (01:40):

Yeah, a church home in Kirkland, Washington, Next Level Church in Somerville, New Hampshire, Mariner’s Church in Irvine, California, Athens Church (Go Dogs!) in Athens, Georgia, The Hills Church in Fort Worth, Texas, South Point Community Church in Leonardtown, Maryland, and Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia. Amy, I’ve been busy.

Amy (02:03):

Wow. You haven’t been busy.

Tony (02:07):

But through all of those conversations, I’ve been learning a ton about the challenges and opportunities that churches are facing going into the new year. And this podcast series has been designed around some of those key themes that I’ve been hearing from church leaders in these conversations. In the first couple of episodes of the series, we talked about becoming a hybrid church and navigating staff restructuring. And by the way, I’ve heard a lot of feedback about particularly that second episode, Amy. So thank you for your contributions to that conversation as well. But today we’re going to be talking about financial health, and then next week we’ll discuss planning for the future in times of uncertainty. So you’re going to want to come back for that conversation as well. And by the way, we’re going into a deep dive on these four topics on February 4th, that’s going to be our first masterclass of 2021. We’re calling that masterclass, “You Survived 2020. Now What?”

Amy (03:11):

It makes me laugh every time.

Tony (03:14):

I think that’s clever branding.

Amy (03:15):

Yes. Yes. It’s very clear.

Tony (03:17):

I came up with that in about 15 seconds. In addition to hitting these four topics, we’re going to be talking with some folks who are engaging these challenges in the trenches. So you’re going to hear what they’re learning as they’re going through some of these topics that we’re discussing. And I’m going to share more at the end of today’s conversation, but you and your team can register for this masterclass on February 4th at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Amy (03:46):

Tony, you mentioned that today’s episode will be focused on financial health for churches, but before we dive into specifics, what’s actually your sense on how churches are doing financially at this point?

Tony (03:57):

Yeah, so I mean, we’re hearing firsthand from all the churches that we’ve engaged with in the last year. And it’s been over a hundred different churches that our team has worked with, but the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, or ECFA, you may know them as that organization, just released their state of giving for 2020. And specifically this included data that they collected from nearly 1300 churches. This was interesting. About 60% of churches that they surveyed were either experiencing the same or higher levels of giving compared to 2019. But what that means is four out of 10 churches have experienced a decline in giving over the last year. And it’s certainly understandable. I mean, we have experienced some incredible disruptions, not only in our society, but more specifically for churches. But even with all that information, Amy, I’ve actually been encouraged because in recent weeks, as I’ve been having more conversations with pastors, and you know, many of them have suggested they’re financially healthy, their giving is up, you know, they have more cash in reserves than they did before COVID, but on the other hand, giving was down by 30% in one of the churches that I also worked with in recent weeks, so it’s a real mixed bag. And I want to celebrate with the churches that are experiencing financial health, and they’re doing some great things, and there’s some great opportunities for them, but at the same time, that’s where the focus of this conversation is today. I want to give some practical help for the churches that have been struggling financially in recent months. And hopefully today’s conversation will help point them in the right direction.

Amy (05:50):

All right, well, let’s go there then. Tony, for those churches that are facing a decline in giving, what are some of their next steps?

Tony (05:58):

Well, Amy in the masterclass on February 4th, we’re going to be talking about three specific areas as it relates to finances, how as churches, we need to have an intentional revenue strategy, how we need to have an intentional expenditure strategy and then how we need to have an intentional investment strategy. And if you have an intentional revenue strategy and expenditure strategy, you’re going to create margin in your finances. And once you start doing that, you need to have an intentional investment strategy to expand your church’s kingdom impact. Guess what we’re learning? If you have that intentional investment strategy and leverage that margin for God’s purposes and then share stories about that, people seem to give more too. So it’s almost like, is it a chicken or the egg that comes first? Whatever the case is, these strategies can kind of build on each other to create momentum, not only for the ministry that you’re trying to accomplish, but for the financial resources that you need to support that ministry strategy. In other words, an intentional investment strategy will also help you expand your revenue and your expenditure strategies.

Amy (07:16):

Yeah, well, we don’t have time in today’s podcast episode to cover all three aspects of that financial health strategy. So let’s just focus on the intentional investment strategy. Can you unpack that a little bit more? What does that look like having an intentional investment strategy?

Tony (07:32):

Yeah. So today I want to talk through three different components of that beginning with making sure that we’re investing in savings. And so as you start to create margin, making sure that you’re setting aside those necessary funds so that you’re prepared for a rainy day. And needless to say, in 2020, we experienced lots of rain. It was a very rainy day. And because of that, we really encourage churches to make sure they have set aside two to three months of cash reserves to cover your normal operating expenses. And by the way, this is stuff that we practice at The Unstuck Group too for our organization. So I’m not sharing anything that we’re not practicing ourselves here, but what we’ve seen time and time again, when churches invest first in savings, when the rainy day arrives, it helps to buy some time. In other words, when the economic downturn hits, giving starts to decline, it creates some time, some space for churches to make some of the pivots and some of the challenging decisions that may be required for them to sustain through that financial decline. Essentially what you’re trying to do is avoid living paycheck to paycheck as a church. And we don’t want our families in our church to live paycheck to paycheck. We want them to have margin, and likewise, as churches, as ministries, we need to create that as well. Now I will say we’ve seen some churches through the years that have taken this to the extreme. I remember several years ago working with a church that had about a million dollar budget for the entire year, and they had about a million dollars in cash reserves. And I was thinking my goodness, all of that money that’s sitting on the sidelines rather than them leveraging that to further their kingdom mission. That though, Amy, is the exception. The more common challenge that we find in churches is they’re just stretched, and there’s no margin. And because of that, when the crisis hits, not only are they facing financial challenge, but then that immediately impacts ministry challenges in their churches as well. You know, our story though, like I said, we’ve been practicing principles like this for years. And so coming into 2020, we had those reserves set aside for The Unstuck Group, and when the crisis hit, and so like every one of our customers was shut down in March, if you remember that. So, I mean, there were some weeks there where we were wondering what’s going to happen, but it didn’t push us to make immediate difficult decisions because we had that cash set aside. So rather than having to immediately cut staff or cut salaries, we actually gave our staff team bonuses in that season because of all of the extra work that they were doing. And because we had the margin set aside to help with that. And even though revenue was down for us over the last number of months, because we had cash in the bank, we had time to adjust expenditures, to make pivots. And we did some brand new things in the last year that have really helped us, but more importantly, we are hearing feedback are really helping churches, and we avoided having to make any drastic cuts, especially around key staff. So here, I just want to encourage you, as you’re thinking about intentional investment strategies, the first place you need to think about investing in your savings. And by the way, I talked up front around this component that we’re setting aside cash for rainy days. It’s okay if you tap into that cash when a rainy day arrives. And I mean, 2020 is an example of that. I saw some churches in that season, you know, we have this cash over here, but we need to keep that in reserves in case it’s a rainy day. And I’m thinking how much more rainy can it get? This is pretty bad. This is a pretty heavy downpour. So in seasons like that, we should be willing to also tap those cash reserves as well.

Amy (12:05):

Alright, so that’s the first component, invest in savings. What’s the second component for an intentional investment strategy?

Tony (12:12):

So the second component is investing in future vision. And here’s the good news. If you have surplus, you get to ask the question, how can we expand our vision? And I mean, that sounds like that’s so basic, Tony, you don’t have to even express that in this conversation, but it’s so true. I mean, the other churches that we’re working with that are living paycheck to paycheck, they’re not thinking about future vision. Instead, what they’re thinking about is just how do we pay our staff? How do we meet expenses? And they’re thinking week by week by week rather than long-term future. So this is your opportunity. Once you start to create margin to dream, to pray, to talk about this with your team, to actually write down vision for the future, and then start to think about the funding plan from the margin that you are creating with your finances. So what does the future look like? How could God use your church to expand his kingdom and to impact the lives of people in your community? What might be possible? And as you’re thinking about that, dreaming about that, praying about that, I would encourage you get as clear as possible in your understanding of what God has for the future of your church. Be as specific as possible, be as bold as possible as you’re considering that, and really lean on God. And what I’ve learned in this is that you do, you have to be bold enough that you have to trust in God for that vision to become reality. But by the same token, if it’s too bold, it can become de-motivating for teams as well. So it is, it’s finding that right balance between big enough that we have to rely on God, but not so big that it would become demotivating for our team and for our church. And then you do, you have to keep that vision in front of your team and your church. And it’s going to sound to you like you’re talking about it too much, that you’re repeating yourself, but your congregation and your team specifically need that consistent reminder of this is where we are today, but this is where we sense God’s calling us to go into the future. And as you begin to experience some wins, you need to celebrate that. And what you’ll find is, as you share those stories, as you share those wins, and as you celebrate together with your team and your congregation, again, it’s just amazing. It will continue then. You’ll see the momentum begin to increase then on the giving that happens in your church as well.

Amy (15:05):

I love how you said to dream, to pray, discuss it with others, write it down. I’ve had so much fun with churches when we get into this vision talk, when they really do, they can just put down everything they’re already doing, and actually just go, all right, let’s just go out three years from now. What has your church done in your community? And what is your church done to impact the people around your church? And with everything that has changed so much, Tony, with so much of what COVID has impacted with how we’re doing ministry. It’s amazing the ideas that come from a team of people when they just take time and space to dream again, because the churches that are feeling really stuck, I think, are really paralyzed by, we have to just keep doing what we did before and now we have to add on this other component of online, and that’s not energizing. But vision and where would we be three years from now, and then deconstruct that, has been really powerful.

Tony (16:02):

That’s good, Amy.

Amy (16:03):

So you mentioned there’s three components to the intentional investment strategy. So what’s the third component?

Tony (16:09):

So yeah, the third component is about investing in your community. And it’s been fascinating just to hear stories from churches that have been again, very intentional about investing in their community even during the pandemic and all the other disruptions that we’ve seen in recent months. This is all about making a difference in people’s lives in your community. I mean, it’s your mission field. It’s where God has placed your church. And not only is he calling us, I think, to engage individually in the lives of people in our community, but this is an opportunity for us to express for our community as a whole, again, I’m borrowing the words from Jeff Henderson, who we’ve had on the podcast in the past, for really being for your community. And when you position your church in that way, it’s going to open all kinds of doors, not only for influence in your community, but it’s going to open doors for people that want to take a step towards who your church is and what your church is about. And so, one of my favorite passages from scripture, Amy, it’s Titus 3:14, it says this. “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others. And then they will not be unproductive.” And I think too many times we are concerned are we being about the gospel mission or are we just doing what all the other great organizations in our community are doing by meeting the social needs of our community? It’s the social justice needs of our community. It’s not an either/or. I mean, I see encouragement from scripture like this. And to me, this is a reflection of the gospel mission that God’s called our churches to when we’re meeting the urgent needs of people in our community. So that’s the key question here. What are the urgent needs in your community?

Tony (18:12):

And it’s going to look different from church to church because every community is unique. And so this is not where you want to look at what other great churches are doing and just copy that in your community. You need to do the hard work of trying to understand your community and the unique opportunities that God has for you. And this, again, it’s really about learning more about your mission field. It’s the place where God’s placed your church, and he has your church there for a reason. Let me just offer this, though, as it relates to meeting those urgent needs. We see often there is strength in partnerships. And so, this is what I always encourage churches to consider. You should do what you do well, and then let partner organizations do what they do well. And too many times what I’ve seen is churches think they have to recreate some of the services that are meeting needs in their community rather than just partnering with the organizations that are already doing that. And this sounds crazy, but what I’ve seen is there seems to be more goodwill in the community that’s generated when churches invest in community partners rather than trying to establish new ministries themselves to meet those urgent needs. And I can’t explain why that’s the case, but I think people in our community like to see those partnerships right now rather than seeing one organization just trying to consume all the responsibility.

Amy (19:52):

It’s so true. I’m excited for the masterclass because I just got done interviewing one of the pastors I’ve been working with for this last year. And they have been doing an amazing job of what you just described. And their people are just out in the community doing that goodwill, and it’s allowing them to help people take steps towards faith in Christ because of the way that this army of congregants are just out there in their community. So.

Tony (20:16):

I love that.

Amy (20:17):

Yeah. Well, that’ll be February 4th. You can hear it then. Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (20:26):

Yeah. So again, we only talked about one component of the strategy to pursue financial health in today’s conversation. We’ll do a much deeper dive during that upcoming masterclass. The focus of that day, as I mentioned earlier, is around four key topics that church leaders are talking about as we move into 2021. Specifically, what does it look like to build a hybrid church? How do we staff, how do we structure? How do we experience health as a team after what we experienced in the last year? How do we find financial health? Again, today’s topic. We’ll go much deeper. And then finally, how do we plan for the future in times of uncertainty? So if these topics are similar to the questions that you’re wrestling with with your team, I really would invite you to join us on February 4th. We would love for you and your team to participate, and you can register for that masterclass at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Sean (21:29):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, don’t forget to sign up to be a part of our upcoming masterclass focused on the new realities of ministry in 2021. You can learn more and sign up by going to theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass. Next week, we’ll be back to finish up the series. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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