Your Church Isn’t Poor, You Just Need to Align Resources
If your church is wrestling to balance funding with your current needs for ministry, be sure you assess the full range of resources in your portfolio. Many churches that think they are poor are actually undiagnosed church hoarders. The key to overcoming this problem is to align resources with impact.
A while back a song stuck in my mind, and I go back to it again and again. It’s a humorous song by Diamond Rio, titled ‘Stuff!’ (You can give it a listen on iTunes.) The chorus goes:
“Stuff, Stuff! Stack it on up
Stuff! never gonna ever get enough, Stuff!
Oh it’s treasure till it’s mine then it ain’t worth a dime
It’s stuff, Stuff! spreading like weeds
Dragging me under in an endless sea of stuff
Stuff! There ain’t no end
Got to get a bigger place so I can move in
From the first time I heard it, these lyrics reminded me of Luke 12:
[Jesus] told a parable, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
– Luke 12:16-21
This parable speaks to the issue of hoarding. We think it is just a personal problem, but churches face the same struggle.
Has your church become a hoarder?
Many congregations make a pastime of discussing how poor their church is. In some cases, this discussion goes on while the church retains significant resources in the bank, or has misdirected energy in ministry. Before you decide everything is going down the tubes, find out if your church has become a hoarder.
Explore any church with history, and you’re likely to find back closets and old artifacts of ministry days gone by. But church hoarding isn’t just a reality for congregations that still have upstairs classrooms with shag carpet; it is true for any church that is hanging on to resources, a program or idea whose effectiveness is long gone.
Is your church guilty of hoarding? Here are some questions to consider in order to better align your resources with impact.
Do you have financial sacred cows?
Is there money in designated accounts waiting to be spent on organ pipes, or stained-glass windows, or office equipment? Is this money routinely considered untouchable? Have any of these funds lingered in the bank for 20 years or more? Are there funds designated for any purpose that you have no plan for spending? Then it may be time to track down donors or their heirs and seek permission to release those funds for new ministry. Your denomination or congregational bylaws will provide guidance on this.
Your financial assets are blessings to be shared, not kept on account with no plan forward. Bill Easum taught the great truth: All of God’s blessings only come to us on their way to someone else. How can your church leverage dead-end designated funds to help new groups in your community?
Do you have annual programs or staff positions that need retiring or reworking?
One church recently retired an annual separate mission pledge and consolidated all giving into a single annual financial commitment. What had been a great idea, faded as directed giving declined and attendance and enthusiasm for a separate mission celebration waned. The change was to integrate the mission celebration into an annual stewardship emphasis and ask those making separate commitments to combine their giving. It worked! Overall giving actually grew, and new energy gathered around missions.
Does your church have programming that is just not working anymore? Are there staff positions that are a mismatch of resources and impact? These are delicate, detailed, and difficult issues, but failing to address them is one of the most frequent ways churches become hoarders.
Do your leaders operate from assumptions that limit the church’s mission?
Assumptions are ‘the way we think before we think.’ Finding your assumptions can be hard. What ministry has your church been unwilling to consider? What does your congregation assume you will do every year or every week? Discussing these questions does not mean you always take new actions or drop activities you value. But it does move you to clarify why you do what you do.
Without crystal clarity about how each ministry action supports the mission of the church, it can become a drag on the church’s long-term future. Of course, this means you need to have crystal clarity on the church’s mission and vision. Review your mission as a church in your unique setting at least every three years, and then plan how your ministry will support that mission.