How would you respond to a 25% (and growing) budget gap?

by Mark Johnson, ECCU Executive Vice President
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

What’s top of mind right now for church business administrators and executive pastors? We had the chance to explore that question last week as we participated in the annual conference of the National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA) in Long Beach, California.

While connecting with leaders from across the country, our conversations inevitably turned to the economy. It was easy to see that, as anticipated by forecasting in most 2009 church budgets, giving is down. But not much hand wringing or gloom-and-doom perspective surfaced with these folks. It was encouraging to see that mission and life impact are still in sharp focus, and most leaders are simply recognizing the present economic challenges and responding positively.

One example is Life Bible Fellowship Church (LBFC) in Upland, California. LBFC’s Pastor of Administration and Leadership Development, Russ Parker, told their story at a NACBA breakfast for ministry leaders hosted by ECCU. Russ spoke with transparency about how LBFC experienced a decline in income as a number of attendees lost jobs or saw their income significantly reduced. Yet he was also able to show how their staff and lay leadership responded to the challenge of their evolving economic circumstances. With empathy for their church body, one of the first things LBFC did was cut staff salaries by 10 percent. They also developed a communication plan so they could be as transparent as possible with their members about the church’s financial condition. This laid the foundation for conversations about their mission, stewardship, and generosity that would not have happened otherwise.

LBFC clearly has reliable financial reporting systems for regular review of current and historical information, which they used to evaluate the impact of the downturn in giving and forecast for the future. Because they had built their cash reserves, they had time to ask some tough questions and develop meaningful answers. As a result, they were able to make prudent cuts to their operating budget.

Based on LBFC's experience, Russ encouraged his ministry colleagues at the NACBA breakfast to:

  • Develop appropriate financial tools and processes that provide a view of the financial big picture for church staff and elders.
  • Regularly review financial data and giving trends, both within and outside of the church.
  • Consistently and transparently communicate with the congregation about the church’s financial condition and its impact on the church’s mission.
  • When faced with declining income, be willing to ask the hard question: “Is it really the economy, or is it us?”

Russ said that one of the biggest challenges for his church during this time was to embrace the tension between their analysis of the numbers and their faith that God would provide. Through the journey, they discovered the story that the data was telling and were able to respond by prayerfully considering the role that God wanted them to play in his story. I simply can’t imagine anything better for you and me to keep top of mind today!

Watch LBFC’s story continue to unfold at www.lbfchurch.com.

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