I was listening to a church budget discussion a couple of weeks ago in a Budget & Finance Committee meeting. For those who are not Southern Baptist, most SBC churches have a some sort of committee or team which is largely responsible for putting together and presenting a yearly church budget to which the congregation votes on. They are also responsible for looking at expenses and giving trends throughout the year.
This particular church has noticed a trend line that is tracking toward a $100k shortfall for the year. One of the vocal leaders, who happens to have a MBA in Accounting and 45 years in corporate management, said these words which have hung heavy on my heart for weeks.
He said (paraphrased),
“Everything we pay for is getting more expense. From vehicle, property, and liability insurance, to all the food for the various meal, to the gas for the church bus, to medical coverage for the staff, to printing costs, literature costs, to toilet paper and paper plates. We have been asked to give more to missions, support church planting, and update all our facilities to be eye-catching and seeker-friendly, yet the giving keeps doing down.”
In other words, the cost of everything the church spends its money on is getting more expense and giving continues to decline. If you created two trends lines, the expense line would be going up and up and the giving line would be going down. All the while the church has maintained its average attendance over the past 5 years.
Why is giving going down? Many have pointed to a changing demographic in charitable giving.
It is largely generational with younger Gen. X and Millennial believers unable, or unwilling, to give at the same rates as Boomers and Builders. When Boomers retire and Builders pass away, church contributions will never be the same again.
It is also simple economics in the home. If the cost of gas, food, mortgages, insurance, and the like are getting more expense at church, the same is happening to families. Individuals and families with significant student loan and credit card debt are absolutely strapped.
It is also a discipleship issue. The idea of tithing or stewardship have lost their ability to be heard in our culture. Everyone loves a Cold Water Challenge or a 5K Run/Walk for Cancer, but there is a hostile attitude toward consistently, sacrificially giving with no strings attached to the local church.
What solutions might there be for this giving paradigm shift?
I believe cross-vocational ministry is going to be key. The single major expense a church normally has is personnel and staff. If we could embrace a cross-vocational ministry approach to lessen personnel cost, there would more ministry funds elsewhere.
But cross-vocational ministry is challenging, especially for churches over 200 in attendance.
- How is the church supposed to survive if no one is in the office 40 hours a week?
- How is the church supposed to survive if all the pastoral staff work in other places alongside of their pastoral ministry?
- How is the church supposed to survive when a church members needs have to be put on the back burner because one of the pastors is at work…their other work.
I hope to answer these questions more in the days to follow.