In this fourth of a five part series on living with the financial pressures church-planting brings we move from considering the impact of financial stress on the planter and his family to its impact on the plant. How do you lead a church through the challenges of seemingly always needing more money to fund the ministries of a small but growing congregation? Essential to getting this right is seeing financial need as gospel opportunity. We grow up the church as we put the gospel to work in this area of church life.
It’s important to recognise that being in a church family with significant financial needs might be a whole new experience for members of a core-group or young plant. In fact some may never have had to live with financial uncertainty in church-life at all. Leading the church well involves recognising that some will be excited by the challenges ahead whilst others remain apprehensive. Over time if a plant remains in financial need, perhaps because growth means continually needing new resources, it could be that without good leadership some will grow weary of always needing to make up the money and others may even begin to resent it breeding disunity in the church.
Here are six principles to guide you in this area of leadership;
1. When will the plant be financially sustainable?
From the beginning be realistic and clear with the church as to when (if ever) financial sustainability is expected from the giving of the church alone. Some church plants get there in 1-2 years, most within 5, but others in more challenging circumstances or reaching more needy communities may always be reliant on outside support. Have a sense of how this might work out for your own plant.
2. Talk to the church about giving and do it regularly
Speaking as a British planter our culture makes us nervous, even apologetic, about talking money. But it is a big mistake to start a church where we do not regularly discuss giving.
It’s also a mistake to think we shouldn’t be talking about money in our public meetings simply because we expect and desire non-Christians to be present. It is not just believers who need to hear from the Scriptures how God, through the gospel, transforms his people into generous, joyful, sacrificial givers. What does need to be clear in our gatherings is that the plant does not ask or expect visitors to give financially to fund ministry.
3. Make vision the focus of giving
Vision is the place to keep your focus when it comes to financial planning. Don’t reduce any appeals to budgets and a list of what it might cost to meet your needs – rather envision people by painting a picture of what you hope to achieve through generous giving.
As a church this year we decided to highlight 12 things we wanted to do that would be possible through our Mission and Ministry Gift Day and we gave people good reasons as to why we needed them to give again on top of their regular giving. Some of the 12 things were new such as starting a youth program but other things were continuing ministries that God has chosen to bless that we wanted to continue. Asking for money for continuing ministries can be an important way of celebrating all that has been achieved through giving of previous years.
4. Turn giving into a sustainable financial plan
Whilst vision is crucial to raising funds it is also vital that you can demonstrate, if called upon, how you have arrived at your figures.
Know where you stand as a church and what your financial needs are… Budget well. What helps us in the task of budgeting for the future is that we ask every member as part of our annual Mission and Ministry Gift Day to indicate their level of giving for the year ahead. This is not a request that every member increase their giving in absolute terms, year on year, because we recognise every person’s circumstance will vary (eg some step out of paid employment to start families) but it is a request that we all prayerfully indicate what we expect to be able to give.
5. Use giving as a barometer that tests hearts.
It is a much bigger conversation than this blog post permits to answer the question should church leaders know what members of the congregation give? Our practise over the 15 years we have existed as a church is that only one individual, our church treasurer, knows the giving of each member. The advantage of this for me as pastor has been to help me avoid comparing members and preferring members simply on the basis of finances. It also ensures that I don’t avoid hard but necessary conversations with members simply because of its impact on their giving!
Having said that, how do I pastor a church member as to how Jesus is working in their hearts in their use of money and resources if I have no idea whether or what they give? Isn’t their giving a key aspect of their godliness? Should we not know who gives in our congregation? We would see it as our place to speak to a church member who stopped attending, or told us they never read their people or that they had started dating a non-Christian. Why not counsel them over their giving?
There is no easy way to resolve this tension. For now, my approach has been to ask our church treasurer to inform me if a member is not giving at all but otherwise to make my appeal for generous giving through preaching and vision-casting. God has honoured this approach and he has ensured we’ve always had just what we’ve needed.
6. Celebrate generous giving
When God has moved the hearts of your members to give generously, joyfully and sacrificially that is the gospel at work. Make time and take time to celebrate what God has done and use his provision as further ground for teaching and training the church.