We have been going through our email inboxes of questions when we received this. “We are at a difficult time at our church due to a major employer in our area laying off and cutting salaries. We’ve lost core families, and our financial base is much smaller.” That pastor’s thoughts are on the mind of pastors across America. Covid-19 forced many businesses to downsize their employees and cut their budgets to survive. This always produces a ripple effect in the churches in that community. We are hearing similar responses from other church leaders facing similar situations. What do you do when giving is in decline?
Here are a few thoughts and actions we would recommend for the times when giving is in decline.
First, don’t panic. That’s easy to say and hard to do, but when church leaders respond out of panic, it never goes well. Responding out of panic produces knee-jerk reactions that often make matters worse. For instance, we have seen numerous churches in similar situations send out desperate-sounding appeal letters or emails begging for increased giving. This makes you look desperate and weak. Donors don’t respond well to panic-driven appeals. If you sound like you are drowning, few, if any, will give money to a sinking ship.
Another panic action often taken by pastors is to preach a fire-breathing tithing sermon. Because we all know that if everyone would tithe, we would not be in this dilemma. While we do advocate regular preaching on giving and the value of the tithe, this is not the time to run your members through the guilt gauntlet. If General Motors suddenly left your town, a tithing sermon in and of itself will not solve the problem of the decline in giving that always produces. Whatever you do, don’t panic. How do you avoid that?
Spend time in prayer and the reading of the Word. This is our first recommendation, but all too often, we can’t see things clearly because of the panic pressing upon us. When panic grips us, we need a spiritual time-out to pray and hear from God. In the history of Christendom, do you think you are the first and only leader that has been faced with difficult times? Of course not. Spending time praying and reading the Word will remind you of how God saw through those in biblical times, giving you a renewed sense of confidence that the same God of the Bible is alive and active in our lives today. Never give up on the power of prayer to meet your needs but also to give you wisdom and insight into a way forward.
Develop a plan of action, making hard decisions sooner rather than later. Too often, church leaders put off doing anything. Inaction is not an option. You need a plan of action. In March 2020, as churches across America closed due to Covid-19, we faced an immediate decline in giving. Here is what I wrote then that is applicable any time giving declines.
My immediate advice for churches:
- Cut spending. Immediately, all non-essential spending should be frozen in place.
- Cut your budget. You are not going to hit your budget numbers. Why keep a budget that is impossible to meet? How much? I would start at 20% at least and be prepared for more cuts.
- Turn the thermostat down! Seriously, have you reset the thermostat throughout your now-empty buildings? My point is to eliminate any waste possible. Even minor things can save you money.
- Think 30, 60, 90, and 120 days out! Right now, you need to think about survival. The next few weeks and months will be the worst. You must take care of the immediate, but don’t lose sight of the future.
- Protect your Assets! Your facilities are a vital asset not only for doing ministry today but for securing a stable financial future for your church. If you have a loan, do whatever you need to do to stay current on that loan.
The above advice worked for Covid. While the question that led to this post is a bit different, the principles listed above will work in any declining times of giving. You can’t fiddle while Rome burns, as the longer you take to act on the above, the deeper the hole you will be in!
Think, act, and plan for the long term. The above actions are immediate and shaped to meet a crisis. As dire as things seem now, you will get through this. And, while you might not like to hear this, you will face future times of declining giving. How can you prepare for future difficulties? We gave the answer in the October 10th issue of the Journal. We made this comment, “Let us close by saying that the church that survives into the future is the church that prepares for the future today. One of the best ways is to set up and empower a Stewardship Committee at your church.” See more at https://stewardshipjournal.com/our-best-advice-for-developing-a-stewardship-strategy/.
Taking these steps can help you when giving is in decline and help you build a culture of stewardship that will lead to increased generosity. And, if you think the above doesn’t apply to you now, take notes for the future. Recession or not, we are in uncertain economic times, and every church will feel its impact. Don’t wait. Act now to reverse and avoid future declines in giving.