Dealing with Tough Financial Times: Money, Morale & Momentum, Part 1

money-churchMy congregation’s giving is under budget. Tuscaloosa is actually much better off than many communities. I imagine there are many churches in near-desperate circumstances. And so I thought I’d share some financial advice from Mark Driscoll, at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church.

Driscoll is an interesting personality. He’s been extremely successful at building a maga-church in one of the most unchurched communities in the country. He is theologically conservative — a neo-Calvinist — and yet methodologically on the cutting edge.

His church is ambitiously evangelistic, through multiple campuses and church plants

The Acts 29 Church Planting Network now has over two hundred churches in the U.S. and many more overseas. Our goal is to be at five hundred churches in less than three years and over one thousand church plants in less than ten years, running a total of 250,000 people.

Additionally, Mars Hill Church is currently running eight thousand people in twenty services spread across seven campuses. We are pregnant with our eighth campus, and are exploring options to start two more in 2009. Now our goal in ten years is roughly one hundred campuses running fifty thousand people.

And so, anyone who has planted 200 churches and runs 20 services a weekend knows something about leadership. It’s not surprising that he has some thoughtful ideas to share about financial management during a recession. After an introduction of scriptural principles, Driscoll offers some very concrete suggestions

1. Spending

Spend money on those things that grow the ministry and not simply on those things that make it easier on your staff.

One is investment and the other is expense. There is always pressure from the staff to spend money on such things as improved working conditions and new technology. But with times being lean, all money needs to go toward welcoming as many people into the church as possible.

As an example, we outgrew our very limited office space at the Ballard campus and rather than renting nice, new, well-lit office space that was built next door, we have chosen to make due with what we have, which is not great. For example, my office is on the complete opposite side of the building from any bathrooms, has no natural light or fresh air, and is about 10 feet by 7 feet. It’s not big or pretty, and I lack my own private bathroom, sitting area, and eating area, which are common in megachurch pastors’ offices, but it works. Others on staff are making due in similar ways.

If we spend money on facilities, it has to be for increasing seating capacity so that more people can meet Jesus.

2. Pruning

Financial crunches are good seasons in which to make the cuts you have desired but have not had permission or timing for. Some will hear this as cruel, but it is in fact true. All of life and ministry is about pruning and then harvesting and then pruning again.

Without pruning, a ministry is wasting energy, time, resources, and leaders on proverbial branches that are no longer bearing lots of good fruit.

Because times are lean, there is no waste to be tolerated. Any ministry or leader that is not bearing much fruit may need to be pruned so that the proverbial tree can survive and continue to reap a harvest. Having consulted with a great number of ministry leaders, I can assure you that most—if not all—leaders know what needs to be cut. But they fail to act with courage because they anticipate fallout, people leaving, and hurt feelings. Sometimes God uses hard times to compel his leaders to make the decisions they need to make, and this is one of those times.

3. Core

Don’t make cuts on your core essential ministries but rather on your secondary and auxiliary ministries.

Tough times call for tough decisions. One of the toughest decisions is actually listing what your core ministries are. Those ministries need to be funded first and cut last.

Remember, this advice is coming from a minister. I don’t think I could have gotten away with saying no. 1 myself, but Driscoll walks the walk — and you can see the results that his attitude produces.

As to nos. 2 and 3, read the Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, a great book on how to decide between core ministries and those ministries that support little more than tradition or Christian consumerism.
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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Dealing with Tough Financial Times: Money, Morale & Momentum, Part 1

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Jay:
    This is good advice. But what do you say to the average church of Christ of about 80 something members just struggling to hold on barely affording one or two full time ministers and a building and maybe a van. How do you trim back in this scenario? I think the economy is speeding up the process that was already active in the small traditional church. Once they get to where they can’t afford a preacher or building the next step is to disband. So I would suggest that instead of disbanding that these churches consider merging. Then I would suggest that instead of paying a full time preacher they pay somebody to come in on the weekends or have the men take turns. Sell the building if you can and put the money in the bank to draw some interest. Rent a local office or something to meet in, this will actually help with outreach efforts as people associate church buildings with failed traditionalism. Stop giving to external para church organizations and brotherhood institutions. Take the new funds generated and use them to do actual ministry like feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and visiting the sick.

  2. Matthew says:

    Joe,

    I like the idea of renting a space instead of maintaining a permanent structure with lots of overhead and operational costs. The upside is the savings and the ability to be where you want to minister, more flexibility, and a missional posture.

    Matt Dowling

  3. Sam Loveall says:

    Renting space is fine if it actually saves money. Can't just knee-jerk the church out of its building, tho, if, like ours, the building is totally paid for. Renting a place would cost way more than utilities and maintenance are costing. Our challenge is to find more ways to use the space we have right now, even tho it's already not enough.

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