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!
Amy Norman says
In the fall, we decided to start publishing our financial information on a weekly basis in the bulletin instead of monthly in the newsletter after we experienced a shortfall. This is a small boxscore that appears in the same spot in the bulletin every week. It lists attendance, previous week’s giving total, projected YTD and actual YTD. Last year, we announced we were going to have a special harvest offering that we highlighted in the bulletin and in announcements for about 4 weeks. Not only did we make up for the shortfall, but we ended the year ahead. Praise God!
Yvon Prehn says
That is great! I think keeping people informed week by week is essential.
We are always looking for ideas in communicating church finances to the congregation and the only effective way we have found that works for our church is a monthly bar graph in the bulletin. Numbers are omitted. The graph is a year-to-date bar graph that includes offering, budget and a trend line so that people can see the offering trend, and whether or not we met our budget for the month. A picture is always worth a thousand words. We also put a little blurb that the offering is used to help spread the gospel by supporting the outreach ministries in our community. Once we did this for 3 months there was an increase in offering. As a test we stop for 3 months and experienced a decrease in offering. We now realize we must keep something before the congregation at all times. For some reason the majority of our congregation do not attend church business meetings to hear the full financial business of the church. In my opinion church bulletins are more effective.
Yvon Prehn says
That is a FANTASTIC idea. Thank you so much for sharing it.
If you could send me a copy of your church bulletin –any format–PDF, Word, MS Publisher–I would like to make that idea into an article. I have seen many systems for finances, but not that one.
George Taylor says
This has layers of complication. In many churches, my own included, the after-church meeting would not work as most of our visitors come by invitation of members who then might be taking them to lunch — so to say “Bye-bye, I have to go to a closed meeting now” would not be helpful. However, a “public church” exists and a “membership (or constituency) church,” so there should be a separate meeting just for the “real church” (committed body of believers) — no visitors. At that time, leaders must be open to any and all legitimate questions, including the toughest one (which, in my experience, is almost never asked by leaders of the congregation): “How are we doing? Have any of you [regulars] decreased or adjusted your own giving for any reason(s) of less-then-satisfactory ministry? If so, and you feel free to share in this forum, please do. If you have such reasons and want/need confidentiality, please let us know ASAP.” Better yet, a written survey to committed members/constituents should be sent out periodically. Leaders must allow input and feedback, even anonymously and without reprisal, to find out if there is a reason among the members for the shortfall. If that is a factor, will leaders humble themselves and try to reconcile why they are being evaluated negatively? To call it “Rebellion” will not be helpful. It is the truth that sets us free, so leaders should seek truth in the inward parts even if painful.
If that is not an issue, then there might be a call for corporate prayer and fasting to seek answers from God. Are the programs too ambitious? Where can costs be cut? Finally (or first, preceding the crisis), church leaders should be committed to regular teaching on financial freedom, including giving, and do so without apology — right int he regular services, visitors and all — as that is God’s will. It should be done not to increase giving but for the glory of God and to help people toward financial freedom, including freedom in their giving.
Yvon Prehn says
GREAT Advice George, as always!
Thanks so much for taking the time for the wise counsel.
Thanks — just random thoughts, though the subject is very dear to my heart. Both our Lord and the NT writers spoke much about money and giving. If teaching is motivated toward helping to set people free from debt and slavery to money and “things,” the membership will receive it gladly and gratefully. I have known of more than one case where visitors have thanked the pastor for the message on handling one’s money to be (or become) financially free.
That doesn’t answer the question of a serious shortfall, but it does make people comfortable and trusting the teaching pastor(s) that the motive of such exegesis of Scripture is for the people’s sake not to fill church coffers. Also, leaders should try to avoid any sense of a gulf between clergy and laity, between “the Eldership” and “the rest of us” [no need for the capital “E” — the Bible speaks of elders and deacons all in lower case). I have written a piece, “When elders get into a ship” [my point: they “sail away” from the folks they are called to serve if/when they adopt a CEO mentality).
In our church we neither pledge nor pass offering plates (I do not argue that our method is superior; it is simply our method), and in our 9 years of existence, we have met our modest budget needs (I myself am not part of the official leadership team, neither elder nor deacon, though my wofe and I serve in various capacities). We meet in rented quarters, have two salaried servant/leaders (plus part-time admin help), and we give outside ourselves (though insufficiently, in my judgment). Our great corporate weakness, in my opinion, is insufficient disclosure, though books are open to anyone who seeks giving totals per time period. In Virginia, it is not required that churches have annual meetings or annual reports, and our leaders — though spiritual men and scrupulously honest, are careless in this regard. As your article suggests, this can create suspicion in newer members, perhaps, and makes it awkward for leaders to openly allude to or discuss budgetary needs.
That is my wife and I — not wofe! 🙂
Yvon Prehn says
I’m sure we all knew what you meant! Our little fingers sometimes fly too quickly over the keys!
Yvon Prehn says
Quick note here–on some of things you mentioned, I wrote an article a number of years ago on integrity in reporting giving–will have to find and republish that….gotta run…