Our Ticking Time Bomb

Our Ticking Time Bomb

A year ago, I issued a stark warning to a group of Southern Baptist leaders: without immediate action, thousands of their churches could vanish by 2030. This year, the warning was tragically confirmed. In April, Lifeway Research reported that the Southern Baptist Convention lost 1,253 churches in 2022. This is not just a Southern Baptist issue but a crisis facing all denominational and non-denominational churches. As I stated in my previous Coach, “Previous Lifeway Research analysis found approximately 4,500 Protestant churches were closed in the U.S. in 2019 while only around 3,000 were started.”1.

I believe God has laid it upon my heart to help, for free, as many churches as possible raise the funds they need to position them to sustain their ministries into the 2030s and beyond. Starting with this Coach, I’m starting a series I’m calling Giving Away the Farm. For the next few months, I will be writing on the basics of how to raise over and above funds so you will be prepared for future ministry. Basically, for free, I’m giving away advice that would cost you thousands of dollars. Hence the title, Giving Away the Farm. This Coach, entitled Our Ticking Time Bomb, sets the stage for what will follow.

Every church is facing what I call The Great American Giving Shift. Our key donors, Baby Boomers, are aging out, and we have not yet replaced them with younger donors. We are, in effect, sitting on a ticking time bomb that will soon explode. By 2030, Boomers’ giving capacity will be greatly diminished, and most will be living on fixed incomes, leaving little room for giving above and beyond.

Let me stress why I believe this by quoting myself from Issue 18 when I wrote, “On average, the typical church sees 15% of their donors give 50% of all that is given. That is what I have discovered from over twenty-five years of looking at church-giving data. For multiple million-dollar budgets, the average runs typically around 10% or less. When it comes to capital campaign giving, our data reveals that half of the 15% commit 50% of what is committed to the capital campaigns. The remaining half of the 15% commits around 40%. Clearly, a few give the majority of all that is given.” That majority is getting older making financial stability more of a challenge.

I am asking all my clients the question: How many of those 15% are above 60 years of age? Ten years ago, I was asking how many were 50 years and above, but with the aging of Boomers, I have raised my benchmark to 60. For the typical church, the majority of their donors are well above the age of 60. They give faithfully, but even if they remain 10% tithers, their 10% is far less than what it once was. And, with fears of outliving their money, they are hesitant to pull money out of their 401K’s to help you build for the future.

I project that Capital Campaigns will be greatly impacted by this, leaving many churches in danger of not being able to sustain their ministry. The sooner we realize this and act, the better our chances of fully funding our churches so they can be financially stable for whatever the future holds. To help secure a church’s financial future and thus avoid losing more churches, we must begin raising capital to meet the ministry’s needs now and in the next decade. We must use the window of opportunity left with Boomers to head off the financial time bomb coming our way. That is the first ticking time bomb.

The second ticking time bomb is outdated facilities to meet the challenge of the next decade. I project that one leading cause for church closures will be the inability of congregations to manage their declining facilities. I have been writing on this for some time. Here is what I wrote last year, “Aging facilities will make it difficult for many churches to survive. Inflation and supply chain issues will continue pushing prices up, and rarely do they go down once they have gone up. Additionally, interest rates are on the rise, so the money you borrow will cost you more to repay. As I always say, “Your project will cost more than you think and take longer than you like.” Delaying your next project might make it impossible to afford.” This is why I say…

Now is the time to get “God’s House” in order. I’m talking about structural order. You might not be able to do much about your outside curb appeal or where you are located, but you can work to make your interior space as ministry-effective as possible. I once worked with a church in an inner city, running thousands out of an old strip mall. Everything inside was state-of-the-art and first-class. That’s what was needed to be ministry effective in their setting. Are you ministry ready for the next twenty years? We should make it a goal that by 2030, all churches will have updated HVAC systems, roofs, etc., to maintain ministry for the next twenty-five years. I will share more about this in my next Coach, but look around your church plant, and my guess is you will see multiple areas that need attention. Refurbishing, redesigning, and redecorating all cost money. Let me show you how to raise the money you need to bring your facility up to speed for present and future ministry.

Build now what you need for the future, and pay it off quickly. While every church needs updating, some churches are experiencing growth that is mandating additional space. Delaying moving forward with those plans will only cost you more when you finally must expand. Presently, interest rates are high, but they are nowhere near the 18% we saw in the 1980’s. As soon as rates go down, you can always refinance at a lower rate. However, given the future declines in giving, my advice is to borrow wisely with a plan to pay that loan off quickly. In the next few weeks, I will show you how to do this.

Endow the future. My final advice here, is to set up an endowment that will help meet future needs. With the greatest transfer of wealth occurring presently, churches must develop and implement an estate plan that endows the church for the future. Less than 10% of churches in America have an estate plan, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that less than 10% of bequests go to churches. We must change that.

These are our ticking time bombs that will, if left unanswered, blow up churches across America. We have a limited time left with our key donor group, the Boomers, and it’s crucial that we make the most of this. Last year, the SBC leadership ignored my warnings. They are still talking about doing something rather than doing something. What about you? Are you ready to stop talking and start raising the funds you need? I’m here to help you for free. What is your excuse then not to move forward? I’m prepared to give away the farm to you if you are willing. If you are willing, let me know.

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach

OnlineGiving.org, the leading online giving processor in America, sponsors my writing. Find out more about their services at https://www.onlinegiving.org/.

  1. https://research.lifeway.com/2024/04/02/southern-baptists-lost-more-than-1200-congregations-in-2022/

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