When attendance and giving are up, creating a church budget is so much easier. Everyone is optimistic about the future and how powerfully God is working in their church, and words like “blessing” and “growth” are heard frequently throughout the process. But, what if the trendline is down? Declining attendance and giving may not necessarily be signs that God is no longer blessing your church, but they are indicators that require your action, including adjustments to the budget. Making budget reductions can be disorienting, leaving you wondering where to start, what to cut, and how to do it. Use these suggestions to help your church make the adjustments to continue pursuit of the mission.
Where to Start
Identifying a downward trend is rarely a fun or popular position. But, once discovered, ignoring this vital information is unacceptable as these events rarely resolve themselves. Having been through this process a few times, here are the steps I’ve found helpful.
- Don’t Panic – Demonstrate your inner peace with your outward expressions. A crisis is a perfect time to put your faith into action. And honestly, panic won’t help the situation, but it could make it worse.
- Verify the Numbers – A single month does not make a trend. Was there a situation that triggered the decline in attendance and giving? Start from that date and then determine the percentage of loss in people and donations.
- Create a revised budget target – Using the new data, determine a new budget target.
- Inform Leadership – Inform the leadership team of the trend and present the new budget projections. It’s always helpful to provide context and options.
What to Cut
After identifying the downward trend, carefully crafting a new budget projection, and informing the leaders, it’s time to take action. It can be hard to know the difference between trimming fat, cutting muscle, or hitting bone. It will look different for each situation depending on the severity of the cuts, but the following bullets are a helpful guide.
- Take a close look at current Capital Improvement projects – Determine if there are any new building projects in the budget to postpone or projects in progress you can put on hold. Be sure to perform a cost analysis before canceling any projects that are in progress. It might cost you more to cancel than to finish.
- Compare your budget to the healthy church budgets – This is the time to compare your church budget percentages to healthy churches. It may highlight areas in your budget to rein in.
- Determine what to stop – This sounds harsh but, this is the perfect time to take a critical look at all ministries in the church to determine which ones should stop. No one wants to end a ministry, but everything has a life span. Evaluate the number of staff hours required for each ministry and the dollars to pull it off against its effectiveness in achieving the mission. Putting an end to the cassette tape ministry in the digital world makes a lot of sense.
- Review contracts – Churches with property and facilities use vendors for a variety of tasks. Review the contracts to see if there are opportunities to cut costs while maintaining safety on the property and longevity of equipment. For example, work with your HVAC vendor to scale back on aspects of routine maintenance. Or work with the janitorial service to cut back on services that a team of volunteers can take on.
- Avoid across-the-board compensation cuts/wage stagnation – It may be easier to say everyone is taking a 5% cut in pay in an attempt to keep the team intact. Before you head down that road, there is a lot to consider. Like minimum wage staff, even minimum salary staff are not part of this plan. Or the impact the decrease in attendance has on ministries. Do those positions still warrant full-time or salaried compensation? At first glance, across-the-board cuts seem like a fair solution, but so many churches are already battling wage stagnation that a cut in wages to all on staff may have an unforeseen negative impact.
How to Cut
Once the financial team and leadership of the church agree on the cuts, delivering the news is the final step. Each step in this process becomes increasingly difficult and more painful. The best advice, be honest with the staff first and then share the news with the congregation. Walk them through the process of finding the trend, determining the size of the adjustment needed, and the best way to make those cuts. Show compassion because it is a loss. For some, it is the loss of their project, a ministry, or even the loss of wages or position. Then, show them the way forward. How these changes, as painful as they might be now, are temporary. In the world of plants, pruning stimulates growth. For churches, this is also true. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” Keep in mind that this is an opportunity for your church to bear more fruit.