Recently my wife and I went to a restaurant for dinner. We don’t go out as often as we used to, and I found myself analyzing the situation more than usual. My wife, noticing my far-off gaze, asked what I was thinking about. I told her I counted seven servers, three hosts, four bussers, and I bet there were at least six in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes. If all these employees only made minimum wage ($15 per hour in California), then labor costs alone are $325 per hour. Tack on utilities, rent, and the cost of goods, and just to break even, they would need to feed about sixteen to twenty customers per hour. Not too bad, but what if only about 2/3 of the customers actually paid their bill? Absurd as that sounds, that’s what’s happening in the evangelical church; 37% of church attendees do not financially support their church.
Significance of the Church Budget
I get it; we cannot compare a church to a restaurant, movie theater, or any other form of entertainment. A church is a place to come and worship God, share the Gospel of Jesus, deepen the faith of those who believe, bring hope to the hurting, and demonstrate love to the world. It’s impossible to place a value on something so invaluable. That said, it takes money to accomplish the mission of the church. In an era where many churches see a decline in attendance and donations, are fighting inflation, and wrestling with wage stagnation, the burden of creating a solid church budget to keep the organization solvent and accomplishing the mission is even more significant.
Ways To Thrive
Here are four financial recommendations to consider for churches to go beyond surviving and start thriving in a post-Christian environment.
Create a Realistic Budget Projection: Creating an accurate income projection for the upcoming fiscal year can take up to five months and requires analyzing at least 12 months of data. Overestimating income may lead to tragic and catastrophic financial results, and underestimating income may limit the impact of the church’s ministry. Take the time to dig in and make the best projection possible.
Talk About Giving: For many churches, talking about money, especially during a church service, is difficult. Yet, data shows that churches that discuss giving every month reported financial growth of as much as 73%. Be creative and inspirational, showing the impact and value of every donation.
Be Generous: A hallmark of every Christian is generosity; churches must lead the way and demonstrate this character through actions. From the old testament (Zechariah 7:9-10) through the new (James 1:27), the Bible talks about caring for orphans, widows, and the poor. Make it a point to inspire the people through stories of how the church provides these benevolent functions.
Remove Barriers: Offer multiple ways for the church to give. Fewer and few people are writing checks and carrying cash. Making payments via an app, website, or texting is commonplace and expected. Providing these options eliminates barriers and can even promote recurring gifts. Take advantage of digital giving options.
At the end of dinner, the server turned around an electronic kiosk allowing us to pay our bill. The church should not “bill” those who come to worship Jesus; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 makes it clear that followers of Jesus should give cheerfully and from the heart. But, the church could learn a few things from for-profit businesses about how to adapt and pivot during lean times. Like solid budgeting practices, inspiring its “customers” through stories, demonstrating generosity, and making it easier to give, after all, the mission is much greater than some baby back ribs.