Margaret Marcuson: Three ways to handle a money crisis

As many as one in five churches and one in three mainline churches could close for good in the next 18 months, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna group said this spring, according to The Economist (“The Virus Is Accelerating Dechurching in America,” May 23). In a recent study in my own denomination, American Baptist Churches-USA, 60% reported decreased offerings as the pandemic got going.

What is the approach to giving churches should take through this time? Do you worry that yours could be one of these churches that close? Or, is your church doing well financially through the pandemic? In my own recent conversations with clergy around the US and Canada, some have shared that offerings have increased during this time. 16% of American Baptist churches in the study above reported increased giving. If that’s you, celebrate! However, even those who have increased giving are wondering what the future holds.

Here are three ways to handle a money crisis (or a potential crisis):

First, get clear. Get clear about the facts: make sure you know the numbers. What are the figures on giving and other revenue, and what are the trends, both before and after the virus hit? Then clarify your thinking about the facts. If things look bad, you will have some feelings to deal with about them. Let the wave pass over, and then think through your initial thoughts about what you might do next. Ask yourself (or even better, write down your answer), “What are my best ideas about what to do?”

Second, stay connected. Cultivate relationships with the key players—it’s important that clergy, business administrators and volunteer finance leaders work on their connections with one another. It’s harder when you can’t meet in person. I’ve heard from numerous church leaders who say that working out small glitches in relationships is much harder when they can’t get together in person. However, it’s still important. You can’t do the work you need to do to manage your church’s future without solid connections.

And of course, you need to stay connected with the congregation, and communicate the facts to them. Invite them to share as they are able to suppert the current ministry and make the church’s future possible.

Third, keep calm. This is the hardest part. Breathe, pray, and remember that solving the problem is not all up to you. It’s a partnership. Remember, thoughtful leaders are more able to navigate a tough time than leaders who panic. Reflect on the purpose of your ministry, the principles on which you want to make decisions, and the spiritual resources you have to support you as you make them. You are not alone.

For more detail on the above, click here for a special report on handling a money crisis.