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How Churches Can Make Changes in Tight Economy

The term “blue-haired lady” brings a knowing smile to most ministers’ faces. We know her well!
 

She has been in the church since Moses was pastor. She is faithful in her tithe, Sunday school class and criticism of all things 21st century. 

 

She wants to know, “What is wrong with the hymnal?” She can easily tell her pastor what is wrong with the video screen in worship. She hates two verses of a praise chorus but loves 12 verses of “Just as I Am.”

 

We say of the blue-haired lady, “She is afraid of change.” We sell her short. She is only afraid of a certain kind of change. 

 

She gladly changes to welcome new great-grandbabies into her family. She delights when grandchildren set wedding dates, and she ceremoniously gives the new spouse-to-be a good looking over – but eventually embraces and blesses ‘the newcomer.”

 

There is a “blue-haired lady” in all of us. We gladly change when it suits us, when it is in our perceived best interest. And we resist change for all we are worth when it is not in our perceived best interest. 

 

We are both advocates for change and profoundly resistant to change; we are human.

 

These are days of continual change in local church ministry. As the Exceedingly Long Recovery stretches on, many of our churches are running low on energy. 

 

The never-ending financial challenge is taking the wind out of our sails. I offer a few words of advice.

 

Take a Reality Pill

 

We live between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world; while our hearts and minds soar, our feet tend to be secure in concrete. In the hardest economic environment since the Great Depression, we all need to focus sharply on reality. 

 

Or to use a metaphor, one can fly a kite if there is no breeze – providing one is willing to run around the playground endlessly. The better approach is to let the kite rest until a breeze blows.

 

Churches need to pull in hopes and dreams and focus on just getting through the wilderness. Now is not a season for expensive endeavors. 

 

Rather, it is a season for doing more with less: Develop volunteer programs that strengthen the congregation’s life and enhance the fellowship without requiring significant outlays of funds.

 

Members may not have money now, but they probably have more time on their hands than they did five years ago. Put people to work for the Kingdom.

 

 

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Focus on Essential Business

 

In good economic times, every organization broadens its ministry and focus; more “important things” find their way into church budgets.

 

In hard economic times, everyone is more open to a “back to basics” focus. Use the congregation’s “back to basics” energy to strategically trim the church’s budget to focus on the essential tasks of ministry. 

 

Offer up a few “sacred cows.” Don’t waste a good crisis. As budgets get tight, eliminate budget items that are not essential to the mission of the church in your community.

 

If a church will take this “tough medicine,” it will position herself to take advantage of better economic times when they come.

 

In a financial crisis, it is best to change the church’s priorities; that is, protect some parts of the budget and completely do away with other line items. In this way, the church’s strategic priorities are altered and become more sharply focused on essential tasks. 

 

Plenty of people in congregations are accustomed to simply reducing every line item by the same percent; this is nothing short of a tragic mistake. In hard economic times, reshape the church’s budget priorities.

 

If the congregation’s budget can shrink down to essential functions, then when the money begins to improve the congregation is positioned to add dollars where they will make the most difference for the church – places that can spur the congregation’s growth and development, as opposed to re-funding tired priorities.

 

Finally, Do Not Lose Heart

 

Ministry is a marathon. We are in but a season of economic challenge. It will pass and a new season will emerge. It is really important to pace oneself and see the larger context.

 

In late December 1999, a blue-haired woman called me in a panic. In a few days the calendar would trip to the year 2000 and computers would stop working. (It was a big fear at the time.) 

 

She said, “I am not going to be able to get money out of the bank!” Nothing I said seemed to calm her until I said, “On January 1, if you can’t get money, call me and I will bring you a couple hundred dollars.” She was satisfied.

 

And I thought to myself, “Imagine, she thinks I have a couple hundred dollars laying around!”

 

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.