We live in challenging times and though our churches are about good news in Jesus, sometimes we have to communicate bad news and currently many churches have to communicate that the budget is not being met.
I recently got the email below from a church communicator asking how to do that. Below her question I’ll give some answers and I’d like to invite you to add your comments in the comment section. If you’ve never commented on an article before, please give it a try we all value your input!
Our church budget is experiencing a large shortfall. Is there anything on your website about how to/how not to communicate such information?
I dislike posting the information in the Sunday bulletin as I feel it is a real turnoff to visitors. Any advice or leads would be appreciated!
Suggestions on how to communicate budget shortfalls in the church
There are a number of communication issues in this question.
First, let’s discuss guideline suggestions for communicating about financial matters on an ongoing basis and then how to deal with a situation where members have not been informed.
Every church needs a way to keep members updated on the church finances.
Just like every family needs to be continuously aware of where they stand in relationship to the family budget, the church family needs to understand finances.
In most churches this means some sort of announcement in the bulletin. Though it is totally understandable that you do not want to present finances in a way that is a turn-off to visitors, a discrete notice, a sort of box score can be put in each week in a very subtle way, without comment. Many churches have something like this:
Last week’s offering: $XXX.XX
Weekly budget goal: $XXX.XX
Year-to-date total offerings: $XXX.XX
Year-to-date budget: $XXX.XX
With something like this, the congregation is informed and the Lord can speak to them about their response. When the congregation has no idea week-to-week if the church is slipping behind and suddenly they get a letter that the financial situation is desperate, that will cause far more problems.
What visitors dislike is a big emphasis on money, but everyone knows churches need money to operate. I’ll never forget an example (this is true) of one church bulletin I saw. Across the front it said in HUGE LETTERS:
THE DEBT is 3.5 MILLION!
HAVE YOU MADE A PLEDGE YET?
Now that would most likely be a turn-off to visitors. A little weekly box. . . . .I wouldn’t worry about that.
In fact, that is what our church has done for years. Members like it and we have never received any complaints about it. We are challenged right now, but as we go up and down, because the congregation knows each week what is happening, when the pastors do mention finances or present a gentle challenge, it is not a huge issue or surprise.
Suggestions for your current situation
- If your people are not up to date, no matter what form you take to inform them, here are some questions you need to consider in the content of your communication:
- Is there a reason for the shortfall that your congregation needs to be reminded of? Did a factory close or similar challenge in your area? Has your membership dropped significantly?
- How big is the shortfall? Is the church in danger of having to lay-off staff or make other very drastic cuts? Do you have a proposed plan to deal with the consequences if the money does not come in? You need to decide what you will do and present clear options and consequences.
- How long has it been since the church was updated on the financial status? If it has been a long time and the shortfall is serious, you must include reasons why the congregation is just now finding out about it.
- Present specific steps people can take to bring the situation to what it needs to be. Remind people of the current weekly needs. Tell them how much additional money needs to come in to meet the shortfall. Challenge people to give a certain amount for a period of time to meet the shortfall.
- Tell them exactly how the staff is handling the situation and what they will be doing.
- All of these facts would be good to clearly put down on paper (and later on the website) prior to informing your people.
How to inform your people
If you are in the habit of quarterly or other regularly scheduled letters to the congregation, one with the above information would be good to send. You would not want to go into all that detail in the bulletin and it would not be appropriate for visitors. This is a family matter and should stay in the family.
There are times however when a shortfall is too significant to be handled in a letter. In these difficult situations, few things are more painful, but more productive than face-to-face communication. If the shortfall is significant, people will have questions. To keep peace, you must communicate in a way that they can get answers to their questions. A church meeting can do that and will prevent numerous phone calls answering the same questions.
Many churches do this with a congregational meeting after church. You can take a 10 minute break, visitors leave and then the members of the church return for an update. At that time, you would present your situation, answering all the concerns above, PLUS providing your suggestions for a solution on paper. You need to do this even though you’ll verbally communicate it because some dear folks may not hear, they will be tired, hungry and ready for lunch. Some will be upset. But to not meet with folks can cause many problems with gossip and misinformation.
Suggestions on what to do at an after-church meeting
- Begin with prayer.
- Hand-out the printed information.
- Apologize—for not keeping more current in your updates if you need to do that and so defuse that issue.
- Present the situation and solutions.
- Ask for questions in a calm and Christ-honoring, peaceful way.
- Tell the congregation what you will do next, what you want them to do, and how you will update them.
- Provide email, phone, contact person for further questions.
- Ask for prayer; end in prayer.
Our church has done a similar thing at times where challenging information needed to be shared and it has always been much more peaceful and productive than first feared. We press ahead by God’s grace.
Those are my suggestions.
PLEASE add your comments, suggestions, or experiences below and thank you for participating!