Tis the season for year-end charitable giving.  In America, many businesses give Christmas/Holiday/year-end bonuses, and charities are ready to receive a portion of that largess, to help offset the tax implications of the large influx of cash.

Some of us receive meager bonuses, or special pay at other times of the year, so it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch from the outside.  But for the enterprising charity, it can be a windfall, and some have come to rely on this time of year to stay ‘in the black.’

Today I received one of the most effective notices I’ve seen.  It was the end-of-year tax statement.  Normally, these come in January, since most organizations don’t want to spend the extra accounting time calculating the receipt twice.  But this charity has found a way to make the effort pay off.

Team Impact is an impressive ministry.  About a dozen strong men travel around giving shows.  It’s easy to get a crowd to show off extraordinary feats of strength: bending frying pans, tearing phone books, breaking blocks and crashing through ice walls.  In schools they give a message of strength and humility, of good character.  And they invite the kids and their parents to the church for an evening repeat performance.  At the church house, they can give Christian testimony and offer an altar call.  It’s effective.

What they did today that was effective was to send the receipt for my token gift before the end of the tax year, along with ministry information and a donation envelope.  It puts them top of mind, reminding me of how I supported them back in April, with a gentle request for continued giving, inside a mailer they are required by law to send me.  They did not waste the opportunity.

The biggest take-away is to always give existing donors an opportunity to support you again.

How can your church provide value to your community, and get them in the door?  What community-based services can you offer for free that will also build your church’s financial bottom line?

According to CareerBuilder, 61% of workers surveyed said they always or usually live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet.  It’s a problem even among workers earning $100,000 or more, with 30% living with no savings.

A fifth said they have reduced  contributions to savings in the past six months to get by.  Some workers make ends meet by dipping into their long-term savings.   36% of workers said they don’t contribute to any kind of retirement savings plan, and 33% don’t save any money at all.

That’s a dangerous situation to be in.  If calamity happens, or they get laid off, there’s no cushion. And without retirement savings, they will probably be working well into their 70s, and die without an inheritance for the spouse.

If they are your church members, they probably are not contributing much, and almost certainly not tithing.  I know of one church that found church leaders unable to contribute more than token amounts because the household budget took all the income.

When your church teaches financial literacy, you remove stress in the marriages, and give them opportunities to be generous.  Church members begin to contribute more.  Those outside the church have disposable incomes to give to other charity, and build the quality of life in the community.

And the church gains a good reputation among its neighbors.  Maybe some will come back to hear the gospel.

Austin Rammel may be onto something.  Pastor of Venture church in Dallas, North Carolina, his church voted to sell the building and relocate to a school.  It gave them $80k in working capital and the flexibility to grow and contract as needed, in that the school auditorium and side rooms can accommodate between 500 and 900, without looking too empty or too full either way.  (With 2 services, the school gives him space for 1800.)

Moving to the school also helps with the community that distrusts churches, because the church truly is the people and not the place.  And the place is in the middle of lots of families.

What struck me most was his comment in the announcement message about when people liked to come.  Most churches want that core 11am Sunday time, but Austin says the 9:30 time slot actually has the greatest long term growth potential.  He’s working on 2 services,  since “having two Rocked Out Gatherings gives people a chance to serve in one and worship in the other … all while their children are taken care of!”

The church I attend has 2 morning services, at 9:15 and 11 (plus a smaller crowd at 6pm).  I sing in the choir and notice the 9:15 are the faithful regulars, and it stays 70-80% full, even on weekends when the 11am drops to barely half full (I guess irregular visitors take vacation those weeks).\

It makes sense to me.  I attend the first service and, after singing in the second, go off to the Bible study hour.  I find I enjoy the study time more after having worshiped.

(for those townspeople that need to work on Sunday, having a 9 or 9:30 service lets them attend before slipping on the apron to serve lunch to folks from other churches.)


This one caught my eye.  I was rummaging around the internet for church growth / church health ideas and came across Cindy Gregorson’s post on what we are really saying when we do what we do in the conduct of our church meetings.

Her example is the weekly coffee hour at church.  It’s important to hang out with one another, and it’s useful to give people something to do while they’re there.  We tend to use light food, especially for morning events.  Give them a cup of coffee and maybe something to go with it – a sweet roll, a donut, a bagel.  Gives the skittish newcomer something to do and an excuse for not shaking hands if both of them are full.

Cindy was at a conference where Nelson Searcy of the Journey Church in New York City said that ‘If we expect people to be generous in their giving to the church, then the church needs to model that generosity and sense of abundance.”

In other words, a ‘donation basket’  – or worse, charging – undercuts the message of a God who can take care of our needs.  If we add insult to injury, as with Searcy’s example of serving “day-old, halved doughnuts” then we say that either we don’t live in abundance, or that they are not worth spending money on.

Cindy also quoted Rev. Amy Jo Bur, pastor of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, in St Peter, Minnesota.  Her church offers a catered breakfast of egg bake and giant cinnamon rolls from a local restaurant.  She refused to even consider asking for donations for the refreshments.

In the first place, the donations would not cover the cost. Second, that would send the wrong message. One of their core values is hospitality, and this is one of the ways they live that out. Everyone is welcome at the table.

It’s expensive to run a church, and costs money to set out refreshments.  If the money is an issue, consider whether the event is core to your mission, and if it is, consider the message you want to send in the presentation.  It’s hard to preach generous living if you don’t even live it before the service begins.

This is one of the biggest concerns for smaller & older congregations:  how to pay the bills.  I wish I could give you a quick 1, 2, 3 list that will always work.  I can’t, but I can tell you some places to look.
Build and Maintain a Budget, and manage cash flow.  Look at the monthly costs of annual expenses; don’t just pay the bills as they come in.  You can’t go without insurance, or safety inspections. The pastor and staff want to be paid.  The utilities have to be paid.
Start with your expenses.  In one church I found we were paying liability insurance for a staff of 6 but were down to three.  Does the sanctuary need to be at 65 degrees all week long if it’s only used Sunday morning?  Maybe you spend a thousand to zone off the office area.  Add some insulation.  Replace some inefficient equipment.
Then do an accounting of all the special funds you have.  I worked with one church that had a couple hundred dollars squirreled away in the flower fund, and a hundred thousand in a future building fund.  The church held 300 but only had a few dozen each week, and wouldn’t need that 20-year-old fund for a new building anytime soon.
And look around at what you don’t need.  At one church, I wondered what was in one of the closets.  What I found was a 3-octave set of handbells, in great shape, with sheet music – it hadn’t been used in 20 years, and I got permission to sell them.  Only $3500, but it was a fair price for their age and condition, and it bought a laptop, a video projector and a screen, with cash left over. 
Ask for help.
Are there things you pay for that volunteers could do?  (Yes, volunteers.  I’ll talk about that next seminar.)  Maybe someone can handle the janitorial. Use a missions team to do needed repairs. Ask for more donations.
Give them something to give to:  state a vision bigger than the present.
I still remember the meeting 15 years ago when we were facing laying off a staff member.  Then we figured that $5 more dollars each week from each family could make up the shortfall.  So we asked everyone if they could give a little more.  $20 a month from 20 families was enough, but some gave more.  Kept us going. 
Find partners.  Maybe you make a bulk purchase for cleaning supplies or office supplies with other churches of your denomination or you neighborhood association.   Maybe you share a secretary.  Maybe you share your building with another congregation.
Teach money management.  That church recently instituted Financial Peace University. They found that people wanted to give more, but there wasn’t enough left over. When the church helped them get their personal finances in order, they started giving.  The congregation is now giving more than what they need to pay the bills, enough to spend more on ministry.  Pretty good for a church that was in danger of going broke just a few years ago.
Preach and Teach giving.  George Barna tells us that if the pastor preaches on giving once a year, people will avoid or ignore that message.  “Churches in which pastors preach a series of messages about giving are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to experience an increase in giving.

It’s a touchy subject.  How much is the pastor worth?  Or rather, how much of that worth will they receive in the pay envelope?

Monday Morning Insights reports that Crown Financial has come up with 5 criteria to consider.  (note that the link to the article is broken, but I trust them.)  The five criteria are:

  • Staff potential.
  • Position appreciation.
  • Fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
  • Rewards are earned, not given.
  • Fair and consistent treatment where there is no favoritism.

I think these are a good start and points to consider as you build a staff personnel manual.  For a church, as an employer,  should be run enough like a business that there are procedures on how staff are hired and removed, how they are compensated and evaluated, and what supplemental expenses will be paid.  It’s only fair for the staff.

The post is also instructive, if you take time to read the comments.  There is a lot of hurt and anger there, primarily from younger staff members who feel their wages are capriciously set and rarely adjusted.  There is an assumption that all hours spent in ministry should be compensated (making the wage per hour dip to single digits or fractions of a dollar per hour).

As you get ready to start the annual church budget (most congregations start collecting inputs in late spring or mid-summer, to have a reasoned budget for the fall), think on these things.

You might not agree with the comments, or come up with solutions consistent with Crown’s suggestions, but at least you can defend your actions if “brother takes brother to court.”

Eph 3:2 offers an intriguing benediction about the power of our God “who is able to do immeasurably more than you can think or imagine.”  What a great God!  More than you can understand. 

So what do I do with that knowledge?  Do I sit and marvel for a while, and then go back to trying to balance the checkbook, pay a few more bills, and wonder how I’m gonna pay for my kid’s college?  Maybe I take it at face value and expect an outpouring sufficient to make bills?

The Bible is full of stories of how God provided enough to live on.  Manna in the wilderness sufficient for the day; and although it would go bad at sundown any other day, for the Sabbath, it would last two days, so the people would not have to break the requirement to not work on that day.  Elijah in the desert, given food and water sufficient to make the long journey.  The widow and her son that Elijah stayed with during the famine, who’s one last loaf of bread was enough to last the year.  The one days’ oil in the Maccabee’s lantern that burned for 8, which is the background for Hanukah.  And on and on.

But the passage says “more”.  Consider Jesus’ feeding of the “5 thousand.”  Five loaves and two fish were enough for the five thousand men…and the women and children … with enough left over for a basket for each disciple to teach about God’s overflowing provision.

But I come back to the passage.  “More than I can imagine.”    Elijah told the woman to get every pot and jar she could find, and the oil continued until there were no more empty pots:  God provided until her imagination ran out.  How do I get more than my needs?  I suggest you dream bigger.  Consider Plato’s cave.  They who had never left the shelter of the cave had no concept of a wider world.

What about your congregation?  Are you feeling limited by finances, limited workers, or other resources?  Pray.  And dream big.

What special funds does your church have?  Some funds are needed, to save for certain future expenses. Building funds are needed when the church is growing and there are plans on the table for a new structure.  Temporary or revolving mission support funds to pay the expenses of church members going on mission is valuable to keep those funds from being comingled with regular giving, to honor the wishes of the donors.

But in my study of churches, I’ve seen the scholarship fund, the choir robe fund, the flower fund, benevolence fund, handbell fund, organ fund, and the someday future building fund.

The problem with special funds is that they get in the way of ministry.  If the church wants to set a benevolence fund, it should be budgeted, even if adminstered out of a petty cash drawer for ease of use.

For example,  the church I grew up in kept a small benevolence fund, and had meal vouchers at a nearby café. As a teenager, I remember an unkempt man showing up to the church one Sunday afternoon asking for a handout for a meal. The assistant pastor stepped into his office, wrote out a voucher to a diner 2 blocks awayfor the man for anything on the menu (“no beer, no cigs”), and asked him to come back to the service when he was done eating.  It was great that the church had budgeted for this, and had pre-arranged with the restaurant – in the spirit of the Good Samaritan – that they would honor any such bill presented.

But I’ve seen other churches ruin their budget with benevolence.  One church allocated all the loose cash (not checks or in envellopes) as the benevolence fund.  It became a problem when they had over three months’ estimated expenses in that fund and were struggling to make weekly bills.  A quick change to procedures put a limit on how much would be collected, but I would have rather had them allocate the funds as a budget amount and put the whole offering in the general fund.

And even more common (unfortunately) is the church that planned to build a new auditorium when they were maxing out sanctuary seating, but had an arguement and split in two, and never recovered from the trauma.  A decade or so later, struggling week to week with a membership one tenth the former size, they steadfastly refused to liquidate the building fund, even to do maintenance on the now outdated current building.

Special funds make sense when there’s a concern over comingling funds, or as a fundraising gimick to make a large capital purchase (new building, etc.), but there needs to be a sunset clause or escape provision built into every one.

The best approach is  to budget for the items and teach tithing and work everything through the general fund.

I usually filter most of the comments, although I read them all.  And when someone leaves me a note about something they’re selling, I tend to delete mercilously.  But Fred Ruckett’s comment caught my eye, and I made an exception.

Fred responded to the main page of “Hope for Struggling Churches“.  His comment advised me and my readers about a new service called

According to Fred, “We started this site for the sole purpose of helping churches sow their seed. This coupon site encourages saving and giving more to the church. We ask that you pass this method on to your congregations.”

We believe that the role of the faith community is to let people know that there’s always hope, that adversity brings about opportunities, that we must not surrender to fear and panic, but continue to trust in God and believe that a better day will come.

We as a community of faith need to embrace the opportunity to do what we are called to do. If that action is printing grocery coupons or store coupons in order for saving money and giving a little extra to our church or non-proftit, we think its a small sacrifice to make.

I haven’t used the service, and can’t personally vouch for the service.  Nor do I know the impact it will or won’t have on your congregation.  But it’s a worthy project.  I commend him for out of the box thinking.

And I encourage you to continue to consider ways to help your congregants be wise in their use of God’s money (both in the church and the home) so there is more left over to do God’s work at home and abroad.

Go look at  It might be right for you.

Many small churches struggle with money. For some, there aren’t enough congregants with enough income to pay all the bills and the maintenance upgrades – even if everyone tithed the full 10%. For the rest, the members often struggle with finances at home and are limited in what they can contribute.  Studies show most want to give more, but can’t.

The challenge for leaders is to teach their congregation about the spiritual nature of giving, about getting their spirit in order first, then adjusting  their lifestyle to match the spirit, and finally finding the freedom to give from “enough” God has given them.

Steve Sappington was a college classmate of mine, and has used his farming background to come to grips with this problem.    He has written a new book, Today’s WORD on Money, to help people understand what the Bible says about their finances.  It’s a 40-day workbook, suitable for private or group study.

Alan Ross, CEO of Kingdom Companies says:

In the midst of tremendous financial uncertainty, the most certain thing we have is our faith that the Father is for us so who can be against us. The 40 day challenge that Steve has laid out for us may well be the best use of our time, our energy and our focus. These meditations will not change our circumstances, but they will change us; in a way that may well change the financial circumstances affecting our lives. Steve has presented us with the word of God in a powerful and challenging way. Read it for 40 days and be blessed.

Read more about this resource at Steve’s website,

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