Heed the ‘warning signs’ of financial trouble

For years, Jim’s cardiologist harped on him to quit smoking, start exercising, lose weight and eat more healthfully, but he never got around to it. When the heart attack came, it was too late.

Why didn’t Jim take his doctor’s advice? Well, things were going okay. He held a nice, job, was a good father and husband, enjoyed his friends and a good, stable life. Tomorrow always seemed like a good time to starting being healthy.

The same syndrome of procrastination applies to a lot of congregations who find themselves in deep financial trouble because they ignored the warning signs of trouble.

Planting and nurturing a congregational culture of generosity and discipleship takes time and hard work. When a congregation is on the road to bankruptcy, there are no easy fixes or quick cures. A desperation campaign may tide you over and give you some breathing room, but it’s not a long-term solution. And it will likely work only once.

There are early warning signs. How often have you heard comments like these from congregational leaders?

  • Our giving generally keeps up with the monthly expenses … but it’s sometimes nip and tuck.
  • We have enough savings and investments to cover shortfalls … but it won’t last forever.
  • Thank God we got that latest bequest! We can keep going … for a while.
  • We haven’t made budget all year … but the Christmas offering will push us over the top!
  • We can’t give our pastor or staff a raise this year … again!
  • We’re doing okay … but heaven help us if the roof fails or the boiler blows up!
  • As we prepare our budget for next year we’re cutting denominational support and looking to save every penny.

Like Jim, our hypothetical cardiac patient who ignored the signs of ill health and wound up with a heart attack, your congregation should take early warning signs seriously and get moving on stewardship. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fast, but the payoff will be worth in long-term sustainability. Here are four steps:

  1. Form a team! Find at least three people who are dedicated to the church and enthusiastic about taking on this challenge.
  2. Learn! There are some excellent books out there on congregational stewardship. To name just three: Embracing Stewardship by Charles Lane and Grace Duddy Pomroy; Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate by J. Clif Christopher; and Generosity Rising by Scott McKenzie.
  3. Plan! Look for strategies not only to ask members to give more generously, but also (and as important) to make generosity and stewardship a key part of your congregation’s life.
  4. Implement! Put your strategy into action. Begin with small steps and follow through consistently and continually.

Congregational stewardship, like healthy living, takes intentionality, commitment and work. But it pays off. What is your congregation waiting for?

Photo: “Make sure you don’t do that.” by Aaron | Dan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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