Pressure Points (June)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q: What were you doing in Cleveland, Ohio, May 19?

A:  I confess that I made up this question, so that I may address in this column what I was doing in Cleveland that day.  hartung.gif

Because of several recent “Pressure Points” that have focused on responses to financial issues brought on by the recession, I was invited to attend and be on the program for an LCEF — Ohio District-sponsored workshop there titled “Dollars and Sense: Ministry Helps in Troubled Times.”

I want to make two observations about this workshop and similar events.

One:  It is always good to call together people wrestling with similar issues and provide a safe place for them to discuss those issues.  When members of the body of Christ gather at the foot of the cross and in the power of the Holy Spirit, helpful support and consolation occur.

This happened in Cleveland with prayers, devotions, conversations, presentations, interactions over lunch, and sharing specific tactics that have been employed by churches and church workers — all part of this four-plus hours together.  It would be wonderful if circuits or other groups of our church leaders also gathered more often — similar to this workshop — to discuss common concerns openly and directly.

And, two: Workshop speakers, leaders, and participants offered specific helpful suggestions and encouragement. 

Here are some of those specific suggestions that I heard in Cleveland — both paraphrased and quoted:

  • Even in the midst of economic struggles, reach out to others in the community.  Anxiety about money can cause churches and workers to become more inwardly focused.  Counter that with an outer focus that explores greater needs in the community.
  • Invite congregation members or groups of members to “adopt a bill” — for instance, different groups or specific members might pay the church’s electric bill each month.  This provides specific direction and ownership for a particular part of the congregation’s life and frees up funds for ministry.
  • “Review every bill that comes in and ask yourself, ‘Is there a more cost-effective way to accomplish the same thing?’ “
  • “Is there a less expensive way to purchase — perhaps by working together with another church or two — a larger order [at] a discount?”
  • “Our congregational president made a very good presentation … explaining what our deficit was projected to be, what the leadership had done to cut expenses, and what would have to be done next [salary cuts] if all else stayed the same. He recognized that some [members] had lost jobs or experienced cutbacks and were not able to give as much as they had before.  He emphasized that no one has to pay to come to church, and that ‘if you can’t contribute anything, we still want you here.’  Then he asked if those who were able would increase their giving to help the congregation through this difficult time.  The response has been strongly positive.”
  • Switch from mailed printed monthly newsletters to e-mailed newsletters that also are placed on the congregation’s Web site. Those who prefer printed copies can still get them.
  • Review all church activities to focus on keeping the main vision and mission of the congregation central.  This may mean eliminating programs that are good, but not necessarily so central.
  • Church workers voluntarily take salary freezes or cuts, even before they are asked to take them.  “As leaders, we suffer with our people.”
  • Be proactive by developing overall strategies and tactics to review spending and the effectiveness of the ways your congregation conducts business.
  • Read and discuss material that offers responses to the financial crisis and/or utilize resources that focus well on stewardship issues during this time.  One recommended resource is “Good $en$e,” available from Willow Creek.
  • Review fees the congregation charges for use of its facilities by community groups. Make sure charges include the cost of lights, heat, cleaning, and incidentals.
  • Use bulletin covers printed in-house.  Simple clip art may be used, or a creative member can customize the front cover with artwork.

My listing these ideas is not necessarily an endorsement of each one.  But such a listing does illustrate the point that when folks in the body of Christ get together to work on a common problem, creative and healthy ideas can emerge. 

Why not give one or more of these suggestions a try, if they are applicable to your situation.  I believe that such ideas can go far in helping switch the focus away from difficulties by channeling energy to help deal with common problems.  And I think there are some very good ideas in this list.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Re-posted Sept. 8, 2009

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