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Thread: Church Finance question

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Church Finance question

    Let's say that your congregation has an immediate need for an HVAC system replacement and there is not a reserve fund sufficiently funded to pay for it.

    Obviously a financial appeal will happen in short order; most of which will consist of one-time financial gifts...hopefully totaling the amount needed to pay for the HVAC system.

    Here's where it gets interesting. One of the primary givers (representing 10-15% of all annual giving) suggests that they 'advance' 1-2 months of their giving, originally planned for the latter months of the year, toward the HVAC system replacement. So when those latter months come along, they consider themselves 'paid up' for those months.

    What do you think of such an arrangement? On one hand, it is a means of 'borrowing' money interest free. On the other hand, when those months come along, there will be a substantial shortfall due to money having been given and spent already.

    Would you accept the offer and hope to somehow make up the shortfall later in the year?
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis

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    Naznet Owner Dave McClung's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    Let's say that your congregation has an immediate need for an HVAC system replacement and there is not a reserve fund sufficiently funded to pay for it.

    Obviously a financial appeal will happen in short order; most of which will consist of one-time financial gifts...hopefully totaling the amount needed to pay for the HVAC system.

    Here's where it gets interesting. One of the primary givers (representing 10-15% of all annual giving) suggests that they 'advance' 1-2 months of their giving, originally planned for the latter months of the year, toward the HVAC system replacement. So when those latter months come along, they consider themselves 'paid up' for those months.

    What do you think of such an arrangement? On one hand, it is a means of 'borrowing' money interest free. On the other hand, when those months come along, there will be a substantial shortfall due to money having been given and spent already.

    Would you accept the offer and hope to somehow make up the shortfall later in the year?
    Billy, I don't think there is an ethical issue. For some churches, there is an ethical issue with being in debt. Accepting a donor's planned gifts earlier than planned does not create debt so it shouldn't be called "borrowing." It might be wise to do both: Explain to the congregation that funds are available to do the project, but there is a need to replace those funds. You might raise more by giving people an opportunity to spread out their giving over several pay periods.

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    Re: Church Finance question

    One consideration might be that there are people who will give for an immediate, visible need who might not be willing to in-fill the budget. Other than that, I certainly don't see any ethical issue here.
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    Re: Church Finance question

    I would make the financial appeal - emphasizing this is not to replace regular tithes and offerings (we have had people designate normal giving for a special need which obviously does not help) and use the advance if necessary to complete the project. Perhaps the financial giver can reduce giving for the remainder of the year so that there is not a month or two with no giving.

    Alisa

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    Host Book, Movie & GA forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    I'd have a lot more questions about the person and the money. If this is a wealthy person (as I would probably assume given the few facts you presented), I may ask them to do both - depending on what their actual financial situation turns out to be. It's a tough situation to really address without knowing all the relational aspects.
    ...just my $.02.

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    Senior Member Brandon Brown's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    In the realm of entirely not hypothetical; my church just faced this very issue a few weeks ago. Our emergency fund was about $4k below what was needed to repair three broken HVAC units. The appeal asked everyone to view this give as a supplement and not a replacement for regular tithes and offerings. That is how my wife and I viewed this when giving. Neither of us had even considered giving in lieu of tithes, etc. I certainly can't defer any other financial obligation when something unexpectedly comes up at home or with family.
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    Naznet Owner Dave McClung's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Scott View Post
    I'd have a lot more questions about the person and the money. If this is a wealthy person (as I would probably assume given the few facts you presented), I may ask them to do both - depending on what their actual financial situation turns out to be. It's a tough situation to really address without knowing all the relational aspects.
    Asking the "wealthy" giver to give more isn't always the healthy thing to do. This family already gives 10% to 15% of the total giving. Asking them to give more without asking the others to chip in risks making them feel like the church is taking advantage of their generosity. When a church becomes overly dependent on one family, it isn't a healthy situation for the church or the family.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Craig Laughlin's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    Let's say that your congregation has an immediate need for an HVAC system replacement and there is not a reserve fund sufficiently funded to pay for it.

    Obviously a financial appeal will happen in short order; most of which will consist of one-time financial gifts...hopefully totaling the amount needed to pay for the HVAC system.

    Here's where it gets interesting. One of the primary givers (representing 10-15% of all annual giving) suggests that they 'advance' 1-2 months of their giving, originally planned for the latter months of the year, toward the HVAC system replacement. So when those latter months come along, they consider themselves 'paid up' for those months.

    What do you think of such an arrangement? On one hand, it is a means of 'borrowing' money interest free. On the other hand, when those months come along, there will be a substantial shortfall due to money having been given and spent already.

    Would you accept the offer and hope to somehow make up the shortfall later in the year?
    Probably not, but I would thank them profusely. I would have to know a little more about the situation but I'm guessing there isn't enough extra in the monthly operating to pay for the unit in a couple of months. If that is true then basically without some other income they are going to be short in their operating. I would most certainly come to the congregation. (I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't) and (Nicely) tell them this is their problem and ask them to give, sacrificially if necessary. I would then publicly be the first to give over and above regular giving an amount of money that represented sacrifice in my life. (leaders go first)

    I might accept the offer if we pledged the full amount to come in over the next couple of months. I would let the congregation know if the pledges didn't come in what would have to be cut. (In a small church probably my salary. - In which case I would let an influential lay person share that) Then it would simply be a no interest loan with pledges to cover it. I would not just take the upfront money while sacrificing the operating.

    After it is all said and done, the board and I would look at whether or not we had sufficient cash reserves to maintain the building. Older buildings require more cash reserves because more expensive things go wrong and you don't want to be coming to the congregation every couple of months for extra. Plus it feels really great when something goes wrong and you can stand in front and say we have planned for this sort of thing. We are fiscally disciplined and careful. It also boosts the congregation's confidence in leadership and probably increases giving.

    My facility just turned 26 and we have been pouring money into it because everything is wearing out. Did the same thing in my last church which was at the 50 year mark! Pain in the you know what but a financially disciplined approach makes it easier. And focusing the church's attention on it helps a lot.
    It is not enough to be right, you have to be like Jesus.

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    Thanks Billy Cox, Mike Schutz - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jon Twitchell's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    The following doesn't really answer your question, but may provide an idea.

    Back at my church in Maine, the board had self-restricted $10,000 as a Capital Fund. When a need or a capital improvement came along, we did a Capital Campaign pledge drive. Once sufficient pledges were made and money had begin to come in, the board would authorize the expense out of that Capital Fund, with the pledges being used to bring the Capital Fund back to $10,000. No other (non-emergency) project could be begun until the fund was back to $10,000. Larger (2 year, ~$25k) projects would be broken down into phases, so that each phase could be started once the Fund level returned to $10,000. Essentially, this functioned as an internal line of credit, with an 0% interest rate.

    So -- in this case, we would have solicited pledges for the cost of the HVAC. Let's say it cost $8k (I have no idea what an HVAC system might cost). Once we had $8k in pledges and the money had started coming in, we would simply replace the HVAC, and then the funds from the pledges would just go back into the Capital Fund. If we didn't have a complete pledge fulfillment, then we would have to get the fund back to $10k before we started spending money on the next capital improvement project.

    I know that doesn't exactly answer your question -- but a similar mechanism could be used in this instance.

    Deferred maintenance issues are significant in many of our churches. I wish more churches built a maintenance fund into every building project. Imagine if a church was building a $1Million dollar building, but raised $1.1M and put the surplus in a maintenance fund or even a restricted endowment. Then, instead of raising more money 5 years down the road when something breaks, there are already funds available to cover it.
    Grace and Peace,

    Jon Twitchell


    "We... must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord." - Psalm 78:4 (HCSB)

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    Host Book, Movie & GA forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave McClung View Post
    Asking the "wealthy" giver to give more isn't always the healthy thing to do. This family already gives 10% to 15% of the total giving. Asking them to give more without asking the others to chip in risks making them feel like the church is taking advantage of their generosity. When a church becomes overly dependent on one family, it isn't a healthy situation for the church or the family.
    That's why I'd want to ask a lot of other questions first. I've been a part of a congregation that included many members of a wealthy family - while they were generous and sacrificial givers, it wasn't always to the local congregation. If this hypothetical involves a person who has and regularly gives much more than what comes to the congregation, I don't think I'd have a problem asking for more in this particular instance. If it is, as you said, that they're already giving generously and sacrificially to the congregation, it's probably not a good idea.

    This feels like a good example of why those relationships matter - and why it's bad planning for a pastor to only talk about money when there's a need.
    ...just my $.02.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Gary Creely's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    Let's say that your congregation has an immediate need for an HVAC system replacement and there is not a reserve fund sufficiently funded to pay for it.

    Obviously a financial appeal will happen in short order; most of which will consist of one-time financial gifts...hopefully totaling the amount needed to pay for the HVAC system.

    Here's where it gets interesting. One of the primary givers (representing 10-15% of all annual giving) suggests that they 'advance' 1-2 months of their giving, originally planned for the latter months of the year, toward the HVAC system replacement. So when those latter months come along, they consider themselves 'paid up' for those months.

    What do you think of such an arrangement? On one hand, it is a means of 'borrowing' money interest free. On the other hand, when those months come along, there will be a substantial shortfall due to money having been given and spent already.

    Would you accept the offer and hope to somehow make up the shortfall later in the year?
    As a general rule, I am not a fan of trading tithe monies for directed giving.

    I would recommend doing a 12-month term loan. Many HVAC companies have 0% interest options available.

    I am not among those who believe a church can't borrow on occasion, particularly when you need an HVAC system mid-winter.

    G

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    Senior Member Gary Creely's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Twitchell View Post
    The following doesn't really answer your question, but may provide an idea.

    Back at my church in Maine, the board had self-restricted $10,000 as a Capital Fund. When a need or a capital improvement came along, we did a Capital Campaign pledge drive. Once sufficient pledges were made and money had begin to come in, the board would authorize the expense out of that Capital Fund, with the pledges being used to bring the Capital Fund back to $10,000. No other (non-emergency) project could be begun until the fund was back to $10,000. Larger (2 year, ~$25k) projects would be broken down into phases, so that each phase could be started once the Fund level returned to $10,000. Essentially, this functioned as an internal line of credit, with an 0% interest rate.

    So -- in this case, we would have solicited pledges for the cost of the HVAC. Let's say it cost $8k (I have no idea what an HVAC system might cost). Once we had $8k in pledges and the money had started coming in, we would simply replace the HVAC, and then the funds from the pledges would just go back into the Capital Fund. If we didn't have a complete pledge fulfillment, then we would have to get the fund back to $10k before we started spending money on the next capital improvement project.

    I know that doesn't exactly answer your question -- but a similar mechanism could be used in this instance.

    Deferred maintenance issues are significant in many of our churches. I wish more churches built a maintenance fund into every building project. Imagine if a church was building a $1Million dollar building, but raised $1.1M and put the surplus in a maintenance fund or even a restricted endowment. Then, instead of raising more money 5 years down the road when something breaks, there are already funds available to cover it.
    I deal with a fair number poor people, both here (USA) and some in Romania (substantial poverty), as well as financially poor churches in the context of my business (they always assure me they are rich in spirit). Over the years I have made an observation that all these financially challenged groups have in common. It is a concept I coined "the false optimism of a better fiscal tomorrow". Essentially they spend and borrow as if their financial picture will be better tomorrow than it is today, however, there is no foreseeable change in their financial picture. Essentially this the line of thinking is the very reason payday lenders thrive in low-income communities.

    Churches on the financial edge can't typically afford to put the money aside, and believe a financial break through is just around the corner.

    I think your approach is great, and I like it. The challenge is to be in a circumstance where you have the ability to generate $10k in a fund that is over and above regular expenses, as well having the will to do it when you believe a better financial future is just on the horizon.
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    Senior Member Jon Twitchell's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Creely View Post
    I deal with a fair number poor people, both here (USA) and some in Romania (substantial poverty), as well as financially poor churches in the context of my business (they always assure me they are rich in spirit). Over the years I have made an observation that all these financially challenged groups have in common. It is a concept I coined "the false optimism of a better fiscal tomorrow". Essentially they spend and borrow as if their financial picture will be better tomorrow than it is today, however, there is no foreseeable change in their financial picture. Essentially this the line of thinking is the very reason payday lenders thrive in low-income communities.

    Churches on the financial edge can't typically afford to put the money aside, and believe a financial break through is just around the corner.

    I think your approach is great, and I like it. The challenge is to be in a circumstance where you have the ability to generate $10k in a fund that is over and above regular expenses, as well having the will to do it when you believe a better financial future is just on the horizon.
    It's a lot like personal finances, isn't it? How can I set aside an emergency fund with 3 months worth of salary if I'm barely able to make ends meet?

    In that particular case, the fund came about after a successful real estate transaction. The foresight to create a plan for that fund (beyond just spending it) has created a pattern that allows a small church to not simply be one offering plate away from closing. (By the way, I don't take credit for the successful real estate transaction or for the plan that I outlined -- I may have codified it, but I think the idea was developed and nurtured over time by others.)

    There are good arguments to be made against simply stockpiling funds instead of using them for ministry. But there are also *REALLY* good arguments to be made against running a church with no reserves at all. Somewhere there must be a happy medium. (And this is probably the point where this is a discussion for another thread.)

    I like your phrase: "the false optimism of a better fiscal tomorrow." Perhaps the solution is to dream and cast vision with that optimism, but to budget and plan as though it may not come about.
    Grace and Peace,

    Jon Twitchell


    "We... must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord." - Psalm 78:4 (HCSB)
    Thanks Gina Stevenson, Marsha Lynn, David Troxler - "thanks" for this post

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    Re: Church Finance question

    We are a small church running 20 in SS, and 25 in MW. We have $24,000 that has been in savings at the Bank drawing very little interest. This savings came from a sale of a parsonage. My question is "Is it proper to invest in an investment that would produce a capital gain?" We have always believed in being a good steward. Shouldn't the Church be also. We are told not to bury our talent. P.S. we haven't learned how to start a new thread yet. We still like to learn.

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    Senior Member Jon Twitchell's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Lynn Blakely View Post
    We are a small church running 20 in SS, and 25 in MW. We have $24,000 that has been in savings at the Bank drawing very little interest. This savings came from a sale of a parsonage. My question is "Is it proper to invest in an investment that would produce a capital gain?" We have always believed in being a good steward. Shouldn't the Church be also. We are told not to bury our talent. P.S. we haven't learned how to start a new thread yet. We still like to learn.
    I think that every church has to work through the question of risk/return. I think answers will probably differ based on economic conditions, size of the congregation, vision for the future, and even eschatological leanings.

    Having said that, I think that it is good to ask the question. We are not only stewards of finances, but of our churches, of the Gospel, and of what we pass along to future generations. If your savings aren't keeping pace with inflation, then you're actually losing money. I think that we have often been guilty of forgetting that the parable of the talents is, first and foremost, a story about finances. We (correctly) apply it to all sorts of other things -- but we should remember that Jesus starts by telling a story about money, risk, and return -- and condemns the desire to avoid any risk at all, preferring to leave the money under a rock. (Having said that, Jesus does say that he could have at least taken it to the bank where it would earn interest.)

    You may know this, but the Nazarene Foundation (for which I work full time as a Nazarene pastor), offers Investment Management Accounts for Nazarene churches and ministries (districts, schools, campgrounds, etc.). These accounts are easy to set up, and fairly simple to make additions and withdrawals. Depending on the fund chosen, annualized historic returns are around 5%, net of fees. (Historic performance cannot predict future results, and all investment carries some risk). When you invest with the Nazarene Foundation, you also support our mission of inviting individuals to make legacy gifts to their church - helping provide for a sustainable future for ministry. As an additional benefit, we have a low minimum investment threshold.

    You (or anyone else reading this) can message me for more information, or send me an email at jtwitchell@nazarenefoundation.org. I'd be happy to provide you with more information by email.
    Grace and Peace,

    Jon Twitchell


    "We... must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord." - Psalm 78:4 (HCSB)
    Thanks Marsha Lynn - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Twitchell View Post
    I think that every church has to work through the question of risk/return. I think answers will probably differ based on economic conditions, size of the congregation, vision for the future, and even eschatological leanings.
    In the spirit of the Screwtape Letters, if I wanted to wreck a congregation accustomed to living on the edge of insolvency, I would give it an amount of money equivalent to their annual giving. A sudden shift from survival thinking to strategic thinking is typically a shock to congregational leadership.

    I'm impressed with a congregation that has held on to $24,000, when someone surely suggested that they spend the money on a youth pastor salary, 'to get the young people in'.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Thanks John Kennedy - "thanks" for this post

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    In the spirit of the Screwtape Letters, if I wanted to wreck a congregation accustomed to living on the edge of insolvency, I would give it an amount of money equivalent to their annual giving. A sudden shift from survival thinking to strategic thinking is typically a shock to congregational leadership.

    I'm impressed with a congregation that has held on to $24,000, when someone surely suggested that they spend the money on a youth pastor salary, 'to get the young people in'.
    I went through one of those (in another denomination) when we had a pastor who was obsessed with the idea of 'staffing for growth'. In some respects, the church has never recovered.
    Thanks Billy Cox - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kennedy View Post
    I went through one of those (in another denomination) when we had a pastor who was obsessed with the idea of 'staffing for growth'. In some respects, the church has never recovered.
    I think that 'staffing for growth' is a legitimate strategy IF the pastor knows how to hire qualified and proven staff members and has the presence of mind to consider the cost. In my experience, pastors tend to roll the dice on inexperienced newbies, and we all know that gambling doesn't pay.

    Here is a typical conversation:

    pastor: We're going to hire an associate pastor to juice our growth
    me: Great! Has the person done this before?
    pastor: No, not really, but he/she has a great heart
    me: Is the person trained/educated?
    pastor: We plan for on-the-job training
    me: Why aren't we hiring someone with qualifications and experience?
    pastor: We can't afford to pay what someone with qualifications/experience typically needs to earn
    me: But we *can* afford to pay someone who may not be able to do the job?
    pastor: Yes, but it may turn out that they *can* do the job and then think how much money we will have saved.
    me: I will probably be thinking about how much money we spent and got nothing in return; and how many opportunities we missed out on because our money was tied up in a non-productive associate salary.
    pastor: Yes, but it may turn out that they *can* do the job and then think how much money we will have saved.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Thanks Craig Laughlin, John Kennedy, Dale Schaeffer - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Craig Laughlin's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    I think that 'staffing for growth' is a legitimate strategy IF the pastor knows how to hire qualified and proven staff members and has the presence of mind to consider the cost. In my experience, pastors tend to roll the dice on inexperienced newbies, and we all know that gambling doesn't pay.

    Here is a typical conversation:

    pastor: We're going to hire an associate pastor to juice our growth
    me: Great! Has the person done this before?
    pastor: No, not really, but he/she has a great heart
    me: Is the person trained/educated?
    pastor: We plan for on-the-job training
    me: Why aren't we hiring someone with qualifications and experience?
    pastor: We can't afford to pay what someone with qualifications/experience typically needs to earn
    me: But we *can* afford to pay someone who may not be able to do the job?
    pastor: Yes, but it may turn out that they *can* do the job and then think how much money we will have saved.
    me: I will probably be thinking about how much money we spent and got nothing in return; and how many opportunities we missed out on because our money was tied up in a non-productive associate salary.
    pastor: Yes, but it may turn out that they *can* do the job and then think how much money we will have saved.
    This is painfully true of many staff hires. It can become about filling the slot. I decided awhile back I would rather go without than have the wrong person. I've spent 2 years looking for a Children's pastor (all my friends are tired of hearing about it) and it looks like we have finally found the right person for us. (Coming in next week for an on site weekend visit which is the last step) Fresh out of school but exceptionally talented, well trained and mentored as well as a passion for kids that started early. (Not someone who has a vague call to ministry and wants to try out children)

    We are hiring for growth in that we see our children's department as one of the biggest barriers to growth. (I think about barriers to growth rather than what will make us grow) It's not bad now, in fact it is good programmatically but it needs to go the next level and that will take full time, passionate leadership.
    It is not enough to be right, you have to be like Jesus.

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  20. #20
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Laughlin View Post
    I think about barriers to growth rather than what will make us grow
    -epiphany alert- What if we stopped trying to induce growth and started eliminating barriers to growth instead?

    I think there is something here.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Thanks Craig Laughlin, Dale Schaeffer, Gina Stevenson - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Craig Laughlin's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    -epiphany alert- What if we stopped trying to induce growth and started eliminating barriers to growth instead?

    I think there is something here.
    This is the way I have always thought of what is called the church growth movement. McGavran was a 3rd generation missionary in India. He saw that many of the barriers to the church's messages were related to the difference between the culture in the church and the culture of the people we are trying to reach. His basic premises was take down the cultural barriers in the church and speak in ways that connect with the culture of the people you are trying to reach. -- Can't for the life of me see what is wrong with that... other than it means we have to change and sacrifices a few sacred cows along the way.

    --- I know, I know, not everyone got the message this way. Some turned it into a "Get big quick" scheme but that was never the intent. Effectiveness for the Kingdom was the real purpose. Okay climbing down off my high horse
    It is not enough to be right, you have to be like Jesus.

    Strength Finders - Futuristic, Strategic, Self Assurance, Individualization, Ideation
    Meyer's Brigs - ENTP
    Thanks Billy Cox, Dale Schaeffer, Rich Schmidt - "thanks" for this post

  22. #22
    Senior Member Dale Schaeffer's Avatar

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    Re: Church Finance question

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    -epiphany alert- What if we stopped trying to induce growth and started eliminating barriers to growth instead?
    This!
    Thanks Craig Laughlin - "thanks" for this post

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