What to do when there’s not enough money at church

money at churchWhen a congregation doesn’t have enough money, anxiety goes up. Then the church looks for solutions, usually to their pastor first. And when a pastor is uncomfortable talking about money, everyone is thrown off and is challenged. If the church’s lay leaders want to leave the pastor out, that adds a whole new layer of complication.

Here’s what I want to remind everyone of: every crisis is an opportunity for growth. If you can take it on as an opportunity, you’ll do better.

So, if your church is currently, or may down the line, go through a financial struggle, let’s outline what to do.

First of all, keep clear. You can do this in two steps.

First step to keep clear: Assess the actual situation. Gather with others to get the needed information.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What is actually going on? What do the numbers say?
  2. Is this the result of a long-term decline that has finally moved into crisis territory?
  3. Is it a sudden drop? Do you know some of the reasons? Stay in research mode.
  4. What is the history of this congregation in facing financial challenges?

Second step to keep clear: Determine your thinking. What would you like to say to the leadership about this matter? Remember, you don’t have to solve this alone, but you do have the responsibility to say what you think. It’s best to do some thinking before any meetings. Write it out, ideally by hand (it stimulates your brain)

Then, keep in touch. The key leaders are your greatest allies at this point. Look especially for those who can stay calm and who have a sense of resourcefulness. Practicing explaining your thinking, listening to their concerns, and attending to the relationship.

A quick side note: even if you have financial skills, don’t go it alone. Make sure you are partnering with lay leaders, even if you are not sure they are up to it. If your leaders are anxious or less skilled, work with what you have. Coach them to bring their best thinking to the challenge.

Next, keep in touch with the congregation. Work toward openness. When you know what you want to ask of the members, communicate clearly. They will bring a variety of emotions to the conversation. Your goal as leader is not to protect the congregation but to offer them the challenge of what it means to be a community of faith together. That helps everyone to grow.

Finally, keep cool.

In any crisis, if leaders can keep calm, the crisis is less damaging to the system as a whole. Keep your wits about you as much as you can, and remember this is not your problem to solve alone.

If you have to make hard decisions, you will face resistance. If criticism comes your way, remember that it is not about you personally. Instead, it is coming to you because of the leadership role you occupy. Don’t argue with people or defend yourself; simply thank them for their concern.

Sometimes you can appropriately push the anxiety back to them ”I’m just not sure what we are going to do about this.” You don’t have to be the savior. This church is theirs, not yours. And ultimately, it’s God’s church.

Big Question to Mull Over

Think back to any money challenges and crises in your own family of origin. How were they handled, and what can you learn for your current situation (either that you want to emulate or approach differently)?

Immediate Question to Answer Below

What gives you strength when your church faces a financial gap?

Take a minute and write your answer to the Immediate Question in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for thinking about this with me!

Note: this article is adapted from a recent module in my training program: Leaders Who Last.

3 Responses to What to do when there’s not enough money at church

  1. Lisa Drysdale says:

    I have worked very hard to make sure that my personal finances are stable. This has taken decades to achieve, and now I find that I am less drawn into the dilemma when the church is struggling with money. Knowing that I am ok helps free me up to lead them more effectively.

  2. Jan says:

    What do we do when the pastor is always thinking of ways to spend even when he says there is not enough money coming in and he is draining the trusts left to the church.. do we find a new pastor.. he is not listening.. and is trying to control the congregation.. always at every meeting including the womans fellowship..

  3. David A says:

    I am kind of torn about it as a pastor of a church with constant money squeezes. On the one hand, I think churches that stay in the black all the time, probably are not taking as many risks or doing as much as they could. After all, when a person gives, they are making an investment in God’s Kingdom — so why bury it in the sand (bank account) and not get it out there working and earning returns? (Jesus’ parable)

    On the other hand, stewardship is so important. So if we’re running delinquent on a bill or not paying our staff due to a few months of crisis, that sets an anxious tone.

    So I guess what gives me strength in a financial crisis is knowing that our church is at the center of ministry and that we’re in touch with needs, that we’ve not clung to our resources and shored them up for a rainy day. We’ve taken risks, stepped out, and invested. In the dry seasons, I can be joyful in knowing we laid everything on the line for our passions.

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