Trouble Meeting Your Budget? Try Pew Rentals

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Budget shortfalls are like death and taxes: you can count on them. Okay, maybe they’re not exactly the same level of doom, but for many churches, deficits feel tragically inevitable. 

If your church has a plan to close its budget gap, I’d love to hear about it! Even more, I’d love to help share it with other churches—so let me know! But sans any plans, here are a few potential strategies off the top of my head…

How about offering pew rentals each Sunday? Depending on size and location, you could vary rates or even designate a “golden circle” with premium rates!

Sounds crazy, except history buffs know this was common practice for churches in the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, pew rental rates at First Reformed Church of Albany, New York in 1790 ranged from $2 to $4 annually (again, depending on size and location).

Not a fan of “pay-for-pews”? How about a realtor license? In early America, the main source of income for cash-poor/property-rich churches was from lot rentals and sales. Although some churches today narrow their budget gap by renting classrooms, parking lots, and even bell towers, it’s a far cry from the pastor’s study doubling as a real estate office!

By now, it’s probably clear I don’t have any actual ideas for closing a budget gap. However, I offer you this insight from Kennon Callahan who makes this very provocative insight: It’s easier to raise money than to cut the budget.

This is counterintuitive since slashing line items on a spreadsheet takes only a couple of minutes. But Callahan posits that the endless cycle of shortfalls and then budget-slashing is organizational suicide. It subtly but powerfully communicates declining ministry which culminates in the inevitable conclusion of closed doors.

Which brings me back to raising money. What’s your plan? Unless a budget gap mysteriously closes itself, some basic measures should be pursued to close it. Callahan suggests five very basic steps:

  1. Set goal(s)
  2. Educate
  3. Motivate
  4. Invite
  5. Follow-up

This sounds like a lot of work—but any loss of time or energy pales in comparison to the cost of perennial budget cuts. Even more, it demonstrates an understanding of the reciprocal relationship between church finances and effective missions.

Specifically, those who lead for mission also actively work a plan to raise money for expanding that mission. Effective, mission-driven budgeting takes foresight, insight and courage – the marks of a strong, faith-led leader.

On second thought, maybe pew rentals and real estate aren’t such terrible ideas (though I’m confident you’ll come up with something better). Any purposeful pursuit of mission beats the doom of doing nothing!

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It seems to me that a budget shortfall happens for 1 of 2 reasons: either the people of the church are not giving in proportion to how God has blessed them, or the church is trying to do more than what God expects from them.

 

Our deacons are discussing plans to encourage giving this week at our monthly meeting. We are recognizing the responsibility of the deacons to be somewhat aware of those whose giving might not be in proportion to their income, as well as reasons for this giving shortfall. We are discussing how to best address these situations, whether through financial coaching, making direct requests for specific needs in the church, or other ways to broach this difficult issue.

We are also recognizing that giving is directly related to the heart. While in the past we could assume that membership in a church naturally included regular giving, we are aware that people today usually give if they can see some results from their donations. So, rather than simply posting the progress we've made in achieving our budget goals, now we share stories of how our giving is making a difference. If people know that their offering helped to create an environment where a family could find relief from medical debt and avoid being evicted, we hope they will be more likely to give.

 

Gary,

I like the idea about telling stories about how ministry is making a difference in the everyday living of folks who are connecting to your church. That is so spot on!

I recently read about a church which intentionally highlights its own practice of generosity within the community by telling stories of how time, energy and even dollars are being given away at different times during the year. This is an example of leading by example and demonstrating that church ministry is about both receiving and giving.