Understanding your church's story in relation to money can help you lead in the present and move toward the future. Here are ten tips for paying attention to the past.
Read whatever history your church has produced. Look for hints about their approach to money over the years.
Ask the oldest members of the church for their understanding of how the congregation has dealt with money in their memory. Compare their stories with the written history.
Assess what is going on in the present for its connection with the past. Watch for similarities and differences. Is there growth or regression (not just in dollar amounts, but in the ability to deal with challenge)?
Tell the stories about the past, as you learn them. Do this in a light way, as you go about the ministry of money in the church.
Pay attention to particularly intense history, such as embezzlement, drastic budget cuts or a church split. The residue of that past crisis will be present in the church now in some way. Notice whether people never talk about it, or talk about nothing else (both a sign of extra intensity).
Look for strengths in the history: the founding of the church, successfully responding to a budget challenge, building a new ministry or the physical plant. Highlight these successes (without trying to be a cheerleader).
Notice how open the flow of information about money is. Paying attention to who knows what and when will give you data about how this church functions. How much secrecy is there and how much openness? Has this changed over time?
Observe the role of the pastor in the money life of the church, especially if you are the pastor. Does the leadership depend heavily on you, or leave you out? Research your predecessors and how they functioned in this area of church life (both what they say and what others say about them).
Research giving patterns over as much time as possible. Look for trends: what are the dollar figures? And what is the balance - are a few people carrying the load? Is one family rescuing the church at the end of the year? Does anyone withhold their giving as a control measure?
Stay as neutral as you can about this learning. Think of yourself as the unofficial church historian. Then allow the learning to inform your leadership.
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