I realized that I missed a few of the common Mistakes Leaders Make. Time to flip back and address this mistake of my own.
He tells the story of the church treasurer to discuss how financial frugality, instead of fearless faith, can cripple a church.
Balance is a tricky thing. I’ve seen churches, on the basis of faith, make horrendous financial decisions. They take on debt which ends up crippling future ministry because the church doesn’t grow like they hoped it would.
I know of a church that did a large addition that was essentially a visitor center with a huge waterfall. The pastor pushed it through without the support of the people (it was a Baptist church). Soon giving was down and staff members were having to leave. The last one to leave was the pastor who created the mess.
He tells the story of a church that started an ambitious building project. The shell of that building stood for years. It was never completed, and it killed the church.
So, faith is not to be used to excuse foolish financial decisions.
“On staff teams, people who want to make healthy financial-risk decisions are often in tension with those who see the same decisions as foolish and unwarranted.”
Sometimes treasurers begin to think that the church money is their money. They become very cautious and begin to squelch church growth. I’ve seen that.
Leaders have to walk that tightrope. We can’t afford to live frugally, as though God does not provide fur us to fulfill His purposes. We also can’t afford to live foolishly, by taking on too much risk.
“We need to be willing to take healthy risks, but it’s not always easy to tell the difference between good risks and potentially bad risks.”
I think a risk is healthy, in part, if you get buy in without having to sell it too hard. If God is bringing people to unity on the issue you are on better footing than if there is lots of conflict. Conflict will mean that giving will go down and that risk becomes unhealthy.
“Fear of failure might win over steps of faith! One of the reasons many churches stay small is that they are afraid to take faith risks and trust the One who can do the impossible.”
Fear can destroy a congregation because fear destroys faith. I’ve seen it happen. Opportunities are wasted and the congregation gets into a corner they can’t get out of any more. As Kraft says “the pocketbook was taking precedence over the people.”
Churches are not in the business of amassing money. Churches can save, and should, for a “rainy day” or probably a drought, and for special projects. Kraft offers this formula for church finances.
80% + 10% + 10%= 100%
Spend 80%, give 10% away and save 10% for the future. That seems like a wise way of looking at it. In our congregation we didn’t have much in the bank when I got here. The savings of years past had been eaten up. During the pastoral transition they were able to save some. Since I’ve been here we’ve been able to increase the budget. We recently set a goal of giving away 10% with a plan to get there over time. We have saved the excess giving. We have not formalized savings to this point.
“Borrowing is not the problem, but borrowing more than you can pay back is.”
At this point we all seem to be pretty much on the same page. Preparing for a future building program may test that. We will have to walk that tightrope between frugality and foolishness. We need both faith and financial wisdom.
Kraft lays out a few principles:
- Understand that the Lord himself is our resource. We are stewards of what he gives us. He can give us as much as we need, but only if we seek him and his purposes.
- Develop a philosophy of our standard of living (spending). Smaller churches tend to have little disposable income. As they grow, they need to figure out what they want to do with that. Develop guiding principles that reflect your calling.
- Balance income, saving, giving, and spending. Here he lays out 80+ 10 + 10 as an option. Most churches don’t save, and don’t give. Just like a family, they may need to limit the money they spend on themselves!
- Make financial decisions a team effort. This means you have to build consensus and talk it thru. Hopefully everything gets balanced out in that process instead of captured by either fear or foolishness. No guarantee, but more likely when one personality isn’t driving the whole thing.
These principles can help us stay away from the mistakes of either frugality or financial recklessness. This is no small issue, but one that can make or break a church.