By Ken Braddy
None of us had heard of this dreaded virus just a short time ago. Now it’s likely to be added to the next iteration of the dictionary.
Like other events in our nation’s history that are remembered decades later, there’s no doubt COVID-19 will be listed among such events as John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11.
The effects of COVID-19 have reached every corner of our society. The church hasn’t been immune from it, either.
In the early days of social distancing, some churches scrambled to begin online giving. Others took their online giving and encouraged members to use this convenient tool for giving their tithes and offerings.
My church is among those congregations that had only dabbled in online giving, but we quickly warmed up to the concept. Now a significant amount of money is given each week online.
It’s impossible to say how long the church will experience a downturn in financial giving. It’s true that some congregations have either maintained pre-COVID giving while others have experienced an increase in giving!
I pray your church is among the latter group. If your congregation has experienced a downturn in giving, there are some things to consider as you search for ways to reduce expenses in your post-COVID-19 budget.
1. Remember scarcity brings clarity.
If you adjust your budget downward, keep in mind it’s not all bad news.
When resources are scarce, clarity follows. Individuals, families, and churches operate according to budgets, and they must determine which items in the budget receive funding.
When that happens, scarcity brings clarity. Some items continue to receive financial support, and others don’t. During a time of evaluation, some things that have received funding may disappear so that others may survive.
To be sure, these are difficult decisions that may have far-reaching consequences. Not only could a ministry be discontinued, there could also be hard feelings on the part of those who have worked in a ministry that was defunded.
2. Pray about everything you consider deleting or reducing.
It should go without saying that we should pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Decisions like budget reductions require special insight and wisdom, and God has promised to provide wisdom when we lack it (James 1:5).
Seek to understand God’s will as you pray about these incredibly difficult financial decisions.
After you pray and hear from the Lord, you can then honestly tell your congregants you spent time with God before coming to any decisions.
They may not always agree with your decisions, but they will respect you for being a person of prayer and for beginning the process by asking God for wisdom.
3. Make your decisions with input from others.
When I face a difficult decision, not only do I spend time praying and seeking God’s will, I always seek the counsel of trusted friends and advisors.
As a friend once told me, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
That’s very similar to the biblical teaching found in Proverbs 15:22 which says, “With many advisers plans succeed, for lack of counsel they fail.”
I love the way God has given each of us life experiences we can draw from, plus spiritual gifts He uses to strengthen His church.
When God-fearing people who are led by His Spirit come together to reason things out, mistakes can be avoided.
If I have the choice of making a decision by myself or with the help of a group of people who love the Lord, I’ll go with the latter every time.
4. Honor the leaders of any ministries that are defunded.
As you evaluate your church’s budget and make a decision to end a ministry, you must consider the leaders of those ministries.
They’ve invested untold hours in supporting something that has most likely become very significant to them. They will be hurt even if they fully agree and support your decision.
Find a way to honor them publicly, thank them for their ministry, and have a good ending. If people experience a good ending, they can move on in a healthy way.
Help them have a healthy end so they can find a new ministry and have a healthy beginning.
5. Scour every line item in the budget.
As you consider reducing expenses in your post-COVID-19 budget, take a look at every line item.
My church had a history of funding a radio spot on Sunday mornings for approximately $5,000 per year.
When we asked questions, no one remembered when we started that ministry, but more importantly, we couldn’t find one person in the church who listened to the sermon.
We discovered we could reach hundreds of people with Facebook Live without spending a dime, so we discontinued that $5,000 ministry and applied the dollars to other ministries we wanted to continue.
It’s not uncommon for a church budget to contain items no one has evaluated in detail.
My advice is to look under the hood of everything that’s budgeted and ask, “Is this needed? Does this help us accomplish our mission? Is this bringing more people to Jesus than it did last year? Is there a more efficient and effective way to accomplish this?”
You may be surprised at what you discover.
I hope your church hasn’t experienced a downturn in giving. In many conversations I’ve had recently with church leaders, God’s people have continued to give and support their church during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If your church does experience a downturn in giving, there are things you can do to reduce expenses until things turn around. And they will.
Ken is Lifeway’s Director of Sunday School and is a 30-year veteran of church education ministry. He is a blogger, author, and practitioner—serving a church in the Nashville area as its director of Sunday School and discipleship ministries. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School.