Last-quarter planning

August 13th, 2015

Financial Basics for the Next Year

Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year, when we are getting ready for Jesus’s birthday party. It’s a very special time of the year.

Advent should prompt you to begin looking at your financial plans for 2016. What are your plans for financial stewardship for next year? What’s the biggest worry you’re most likely to have next year? What is it that your members say isn’t done well at your church? What’s the focus of the toughest meetings during the year? What keeps you up at night? In one way or another, for 90 percent of pastors it’s money for ministry that keeps them up. It was a struggle this year. It was a struggle last year, and, unless you make some real changes, it will be a struggle in the year to come. Many pastors will wait until late spring or even summer and then ask somebody in the church to head up a campaign in the fall, at which point the pastor will preach on money one Sunday and people will be asked to once again sign a card. Honestly, right now, do you really think your results will be any different than they have been?

Ask and answer these questions before January is over:

  1. Regarding the annual fund, when will we have a pledge campaign this year and what will the components be? When will it be most effective for me to preach about how money affects our lives and why we seem to love money more than we love God? Who are my most generous and faithful donors, and how can I uniquely thank them now for what they did last year? When can we start using lay witness testimonies in worship to share how lives have been transformed by Christ and the church? How are we going to effectively communicate our expectation of tithing to our new members this year along with the need to give of their time and talent?
  2. Regarding the capital fund, what vision are we espousing right now that a capital gift of stock, bonds, property, or inheritance might help us meet? What would we do tomorrow if someone gave us one million dollars today? Is that being faithful and bold? If it has been more than five years since any sort of formal campaign was held in our church, what can we do to encourage these gifts to come to us rather than another nonprofit?
  3. Regarding the endowed fund, are we prepared with policies and procedures for planned gifts? What will be our marketing strategy for planned gifts this year? Do we know today what we will be doing ten months from now to encourage these gifts? When will we start asking each person to put a tithe in his or her will for the church?

Yes, my friends, Easter will come along again next year. Christmas will also be held again. It’s possible, however, that your regular headaches over financial stewardship could go away with a bit of planning now. You might even find that you and your members enjoy Easter and Christmas a whole lot more when giving is more up than down.

New Year’s Resolutions for Every Year

A lot of my pastor friends find themselves consistently trying to keep the bills paid and members happy while watching the ushers pass lighter and lighter offering plates, year after year. A lot of them spend much of their time around Christmas e-mailing or frantically calling to try and salvage something in the year-end budget. I offer these New Year’s resolutions for pastors who would like to get a more positive result. These are not just for the start of a new year, of course. These are tactics and strategies that will improve your results at any time.

None of these resolutions will replace having a church that is changing lives with ministry that is meeting real needs in a real world, but adopting some of these recommendations should help give you a better outcome than last year.

I will thank people personally. This needs to be the year that you start writing those ten personal thank-you notes each week, taking one major donor to lunch a week, and making one appreciation call a day. A friend wrote me at the end of the year to share the difference his thank-you notes were making. He writes a letter to each family the first time they give and sends them a copy of a little book about joyful giving. This reinforces the importance that the church and pastor place on generosity and opens up a dialogue about giving early on in the year. It took some time at first, but this friend did not have to send out emergency letters in December.

I will get serious about planned giving. This should be the year that you get your endowment committee to do a year-round job of marketing for planned gifts for your endowment. At a minimum, make it your goal to grown an endowment equal to five times your budget. Draw up a plan as to what will be done each quarter to promote the advantages of planned gifts for the donor and for the church. As the pastor you should personally ask one potential donor each month to consider a gift (if your attendance is more than two hundred). If you will spend fifteen hours getting this started early on in the year, you will not have to spend fifteen hours the entire rest of the year on it.

I will preach on giving and generosity in January and in September. One of the constants that I continue to see is excellent per capita giving in churches where the members tell me that their pastor boldly and consistently preaches about tithing and generosity. It’s also true that in the churches where I get asked to help them grow in giving, the members report to me that they seldom hear a sermon on giving until the church is begging for more.

I will joyfully tithe. Giving is such a joy and brings so many blessings to our lives. If you have been afraid of that joy, this is the year to experience it. If it is, indeed, a new faith venture for you, then confess it to your members and ask them to pray for you and to join you on the journey. One of the greatest and most effective sermons I ever heard was from a pastor who confessed his sin of “loving things too much.” He said he wanted a more fulfilled life and was going to trust God with all. At the end of the service, it was like an AA meeting: one member after another joined the pastor in the confession and committed to a new life of generosity.

A Strategy to Increase Year-End Giving

At the end of the year, church leaders look at income and consider how best to communicate with their congregations about why and how to give more. A similar concern is heard in all the radio chatter about football coaches and whether they will be retained or not at the end of the year. I once heard a college football analyst discussing a certain coach and the decision the school was going to have to make. He said, “Look, there will be lots of discussion on both sides, but it will come down to wins and losses. There just have not been enough victories. He is winless in the conference and has not beaten the key rival in four years. Yes, the program has been free of major scandal. Yes, he is a good man with a fine family. From all accounts he works hard and with integrity, but he has not made an impact on wins and losses. Ultimately, people are going to fill the stands, spend money on the program, and give more scholarships when they see impact and victories. He has not convinced them. I imagine he will go.”

I would suggest to you that church people think much the same way. You can have a very nice person ask for support. You can tell people you have bills to pay. You can say that the church has been open for business each and every day, but ultimately support will be dependent upon victories. Church support comes when people see that they got results from their investment. If it’s a result they highly value, then they will give more support. But they want victories. They want to see the victory of people baptized at the altar. They want to hear the victory of a drug dependent person sharing how Christ set him or her free. They want to experience the victory of a child drinking from a clean water source for the first time. They want to experience the exhilaration of the Spirit as worship takes them to a new level in their relationship with Jesus. You give them victories, and they will give you support. You keep running up losing seasons, and all the begging at the end of the year will go for naught. Money really is not the problem—it comes down to wins and losses.

This year as you prepare to write that end-of-the-year letter, remind members of the victories the church had this year. Put the stories in first person as often as you can (“added ten people to the roll” is not an impact victory!). Instead of telling them you are a few thousand dollars behind, just put half a dozen testimonies on two pages where people share the victory they found in Jesus, and close with a note saying thanks for helping change lives. Then note that you want to change twice that many next year. The support will flow your way.

Think about it. Why do Alabama, LSU, USC, and Oklahoma have a lot more money and fans for football than Utah State, Indiana, New Mexico, and Rice? People fund winners both on the football field and in the church house. Did you have more wins than losses this year?

This article is an excerpt from Clif’s newest book The Church Money Manual: Best Practices for Finance and Stewardship.

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