Pastors' Forum


Dealing with a Pinch?

Our church has been feeling a pinch financially in the light of the current economic conditions.  Are other churches being affected by what’s going on economically as well?  If so, what types of things do pastors minister to encourage their people during these times, and what types of adjustments are pastors making to keep their churches healthy financially?


Pastor Reggie Scarborough—Lakeland, FL
Recently I heard someone say, ‘Flat is the new up,’ in reference to business. So I suppose that is true in church work as well. The nation is certainly being challenged for sure and that affects most of us in some way. Although we have seen modest forward movement in our church financially, it isn’t what it was before things started going ‘south’ in the economy. Since often we can’t do that much about a downward spiral in the economy, which again does often affect most of us, there is something we can do. We can do something about expenses. So to me, the biggest key is to possibly postpone expenditures until things begin to recover. No doubt we will recover, but it may be a little later rather than sooner and in the meantime, let’s operate in faith of course, balanced by wisdom.

Now may not be the best time to do some things we would like to do, and we probably should not. (However, should the Lord deal with us to advance, then certainly ‘where He leads, He provides.’ We just need to make sure He is leading if that statement is true). Therefore, my approach is to recognize the downturn [which isn’t the same as ‘walking by sight’ in my opinion], adjust to it and when the dust settles the bottom line will look fine.

Again, when we can’t do anything about the downturn, we can do something about the outgo and probably should.

Secondly, the worst thing I feel we could do is put pressure on our congregation to make up any lack. They are probably feeling the same squeeze we are and the church should be a refuge, not a pressure chamber.

Just some thoughts from an ole’ guy whose been around a while, and has gone through recessions before, ha. “Shall I look unto the mountain god for my help; no, Jehovah is my God who made the mountains and the heavens too. He will not allow my foot to stumble, slip, nor fall, for Jehovah himself is caring for me’ (from Ps. 121).

Pastor Bob Yandian—Tulsa, OK
At our church we have gone through a downturn in finances (about 8%). Our Christian School has also seen numbers of parents delinquent on their payments because of job cutbacks (housing, auto sales, etc.).

I am on a ministry board with Tommy Barnett and he told us his church also was going through a financially difficult time (down about 7%). He was in touch with other large churches across the country. Saddleback had let 40 staff go and Willow Creek had let 65 go. Focus on the Family has laid off over 200 employees. At times, it is necessary.

At our church, we have let a few employees go and looked at every area of spending to cut back. One of the best things we did was let the congregation know during a church business meeting, of the downturn, the budget cuts and layoffs we had made. Many of them were grateful to know we, as a church, had done what they knew they were going to have to do in their businesses and personal lives. Fiscal responsibility is important.

We all trust the Lord for increase, but God will not bless if we will not act in a responsible manner when necessary. After multiplying the loaves and fishes and feeding the multitude, Jesus still had the disciples pick up the scraps. Your next miracle may be in the scraps of the past one.

Pastor Tim Gilligan—Ocala, FL
As the church is made up of individuals and families, all of which are to some degree “feeling” the affects of the current economy, still others are “hurting.” As our people have been affected, so has the church’s income. To deal with this, there are several key issues for us to focus on. It is important to address these issues by principle and not just react to circumstances. To name a few: stewardship, trust, adjustment and encouragement. In times like these, we must handle things spiritually, emotionally and naturally.

I have been preaching / teaching a number of series to help keep the people encouraged and to put and keep their trust in the Lord—to live by principle and not by circumstance. Some of the series titles have been, “Tough Times Don’t Last,” “Goodness Gracious,” “Day By Day,” “Fresh Start – Strong Faith,” etc. I also, every service do a brief, encouraging, faith-building, never manipulative, offering teaching before the offering. This is to build an on-going awareness of the importance of proper stewardship. I constantly emphasize the 10-10-80 rule (give – save – live).

I sent out a letter to all of our givers at the beginning of this year to thank them, inform them and to encourage them to continue faithful stewardship. This was received wonderfully!

We offer both Crowne Financial groups and Financial Peace University classes to our body. These help people to get their finances in order using God’s principles and to get out of debt. We are about to start a Business Owners / Leaders quarterly meeting. And we are researching doing a church directory so that our people can be aware of businesses and services offered from people within our church. There are many issues to consider, such as a listing does not constitute an endorsement. The jury is still out on this one.

We have reviewed our stewardship as a church and have made adjustments accordingly. In 2008 our income went down 23% but we were able to reduce our spending by 29%. To keep our budget in healthy ratios, we recently saw the need to reduce our payroll percentage. This is the most gut-wrenching…these are people we love and work together with. But real leadership includes making the tough decisions. We laid off several positions and reorganized or shut down a number of areas of ministry that we felt were not vital and / or not exactly what we were to be doing as a ministry. Also, I asked several of our staff of retirement age to semi-retire, essentially cutting their pay in half, yet they could draw Social Security and retirement benefits as income not available to younger staff members. Further, I implemented a 7% across-the-board salary reduction, including me. The staff actually rallied and I couldn’t have asked for a better response from them. Sacrifice always releases power and we are fully expecting to see God’s power work on our behalf!

Along the same lines, it has been said that retaining incompetent or non-productive staff is the worst stewardship. I am currently reviewing our personnel and have issued a number of time-task audits to measure this. In the end, a new rule of thumb for staff size is, “The better, the fewer.”

Bottom line, for us this is a spiritual issue. We must, I must, approach it as such. On a personal level, I give every service. I prepare my offering privately, truly as an offering to the Lord and then I publicly place it in the offering, not necessarily to be seen, yet to show an example. I believe that God sees in private the heart and efforts of a pastor. Plus I try to do what I want all of our people to do.

We must be careful to never put the pressure on people, but to always keep it on God. To sum it up, we must do everything we know to do, on every level. Just as if we were fighting a fire or a disease…use everything available. In conversation with my mentor he once said, “We must pray and believe God like we used to, when we had to.” You guessed it…we have to! And really, if you think about it, that’s a good place to be.

Pastor Sam Smucker—Lancaster, PA
A couple things we have done:

1. We evaluated all areas of ministry and were able to discontinue several staff positions—the individuals affected were able to quickly find other employment.

2. We downsized our budget – income and expenses – by about 7% (however, our income has stayed steady). It seems like when times are tough, people come to church more so our attendance has increased a little.

3. I think it is a good time to evaluate all areas of the ministry to see what is effective and what has lost effectiveness and discontinue programs that are no longer effective. 4. Every week in our church services, at offering time, we share a minute or two encouraging people to keep their faith in God’s Word regardless of the circumstances.

5. It is important to stay within our means as a church – not spend more than you take in—which sometimes requires tough decisions to be made—and at the same time believe for increase.

6. For families that are going through a rough time because of a job loss etc., we give them food, several months mortgage payments, and help with electric bills etc., if needed. We have received a special offering to build up our benevolence fund so we are ready for more requests like this.

Pastor Mark Garver—Madison, AL
One of the unique things about being a Pastor is that we, along with the Board of Trustees, are responsible for the financial well-being of our church. There are some things that I think we should always do with the finances of our church regardless of the economy.

First, no matter the size of the church I believe you should always have a budget. I believe that a budget helps us to stay within the money that we currently have available. It is sometimes difficult to budget when you do not know the income for each month during the year. What I have done is take a 3 year average and also look at the trend of each month and set an amount. I also ask the Holy Ghost to help me. After I have arrived at the income amount, then I look over the expenses for the last year and set a budget for each area per month for the entire year. A budget is a good estimate of what each area needs. You do not have to be rigid with it, but just use it as a guide. Maybe it is because I used to be an accountant, but I think if we do not have a good system in place to watch over the finances that we have, than our stewardship is in question. As the one primarily responsible for the finances of the church, I have the final say-so on what money is spent and I am the one who has to make the choice of where to spend, and some things may just have to wait. If I do not have the numbers available to me in a budget form, how can I make a wise decision?

There have been times when the church was smaller that we would not meet the income that I had in the budget. Several years ago a family left the church and with them about 20% of our budget. What do you do?   Well, you believe God to bring more people in to help with the vision, but until those new people come, you look at the variables in your budget and you cut them back. Just like you would counsel a family in financial difficulty to change their spending habits on the nonessentials like eating out and entertainment, we all have things that are variable in the church budget, but you can’t keep up with it if you do not have the numbers in front of you. If you as the Pastor are not good with numbers, believe for a loyal person to come around you who will help you in this area. This is a very natural, yet important part of making it through a tough economic time.

One thing you should not do is quit ministering on finances. For the entire 15 years of our existence as a church, I have given a 5 minute message on finances before taking up the offering, keeping it full of faith and never pressuring the people. For the last few years, I have a businessman who ministers the Word on finances for 5 minutes before the Sunday morning offering is received. Whatever you do, give your people faith in the area of finances especially during tough times. I do not know what others do, but I believe in the spiritual law of the tithe and if it works for an individual, or a business, it should also work for a church. Since the very first offering was received 15 years ago, we as a church, have tithed. We have never been late on a bill because of a lack of finances. Did I have to believe? Of course I did. But because my church tithes and gives, I have confidence that the Lord will supernaturally send the money in and He always has and always will.

We must also be led by the Spirit of God during these times and not make decisions in the ministry based solely on money. I refuse to be dictated to by the circumstances of the day, but I endeavor always to be led by the Lord as He alone truly knows what is going on in our economy and what the future holds. I will give you an example of how the Holy Spirit has led me recently in the area of church finances. In March of last year we were able to purchase 17.5 acres of prime real estate in our city. Of course, we are all excited and the church is really excited about building. We would all like to go back to one service and not have to go to three services. So as I was seeking the Lord about building and the finances for the building and what to do, I could not seem to get any direction. So I just waited. The church members were pushing, because they were excited, but it just didn’t seem right to take another step right now. So I decided not to build yet. It has proven to be a good decision because of where things are right now. We could not possibly have known such an economic downturn was coming, but HE did. Some might say it was a lack of faith not to step out, but I have tried always to follow the leading of the Holy Ghost and I am glad that I did. We will build when we get the direction, but for now we are paying the monthly payment and putting extra in the building fund and we are at peace and have joy.

The early years of the church were very lean at times, but we came through it because of our faith and commitment to obey God and His call on our lives. During this economic problem in the world, I encourage you to stay full of faith, keep your people full of faith, and be a good steward of the finances that you receive.

Pastor Rob Wynne—Linden, AL
We are fortunately in a very good financial state, although I must admit we have always had money in reserve. Though our reserve is larger than it was when we started nearly 10 years ago. We have always tried to use good financial practices. I have never harped on money but have endeavored to impress upon my folks that tithing and giving offerings is, in reality, given to Jesus and not the church or to me. It is not that some of my people are in or have not had financial problems, but we have, for more than a year, been addressing financial health to as many of our folks as would listen. I cannot take the credit for any success though. I have been led since my conversion 27 years ago to be more cautious and to be prepared in case of trouble. Though I must admit there has been, and probably will be, challenges without me believing for them.

My first message was directed toward how important the Love of God is toward us—how essential it is. How it should be experienced and how extraordinary it is because it does not fail (1 Cor 13:1-8). I have now started on “All Things Are New.” Pointing out our new identity, our new destiny (mercy), our new walk, our new desires, our new song, our new covenant and the new year that we have before us to see God show His kindness toward us. I am also doing a series on Wednesday night on the “Peace of God.” How we should continue to let him rule us by being “In-Christ Conscious” (Col 3:15-17), to get our consciousness from the Word and the Spirit, keep our hope high, keep our faith high, keep around uplifting folks, keep striving for perfection, keep confident in prayer, keep our thought life positive and to generally focus on drawing near first to God, family and church. The things that are eternal have always deserved our utmost attention, when maybe they haven’t had it. I have found out from losing almost everything but my good credit standing, that it is easy to get more money and more things,  although it is harder to recover misused family and friends.

Pastor Mike Kalstrup—Oakland, IA
It’s always the responsibility of leadership to exercise prudent stewardship of the resources entrusted to them both in lean times and times of plenty. During times of economic difficultly, a history of careful stewardship can actually work to your advantage in times of leanness. I say this because, in times like this, resources become more precious to people. If I’m a member of your church having to decide where money is going to be given, I’m comforted and encouraged to participate in a ministry that has a track record of thrift, and one who acknowledges as an organization that you recognize their sacrifice and appreciate it. It goes a long way in providing a positive environment for people to be involved in. Secondly, a public commitment towards the assurance that their giving will be used wisely will help.

Our church happens to be in the budget planning stages of needing an increase for additional staffing needs and facility improvements; but none of that will happen without careful and thoughtful consideration. We do intend to move forward in those initiatives, [as a matter of fact, two part-time people have just been employed] but obviously we have to bring the congregation along with us in those endeavors.

2008 was a good year for our church financially, accomplishing many of the goals that we set out to accomplish. Being in the Midwest may have had some effect on that. But my view is simply, that even in difficult times opportunities do exist for advancement and blessing IF we’re prudent about the steps we take and follow the Holy Ghost. When times of leanness or challenge exist, it serves as a great opportunity for the church to shine and bless people if we do it right.

Pastor Brad Allen—San Mateo, CA
Our church giving is down a little this year and we’ve had to move to a less expensive facility in response. Overall, the move went well and we like the new facility better than the old.

One thing we’ve done in the past, that we’ve decided not to do again, is to cut the pastor’s salary in order to pay for other things. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable. But we’ve learned that if the pastors (husband and wife) aren’t paid properly, they have to look for other work, pastoral care declines, midweek phone calls decline, organization declines, and attendance and giving declines. So it’s a vicious cycle. We’ll cut back where we can, but we’ll do everything we can to pay the pastor’s salary because that’s one of the important avenues toward financial recovery.

I want to hold on to, (or increase) our current level of missions giving despite increasing pressure to cut back.

Pastor David Emigh—Sand Springs, OK
I have pastored for a number of years and it is important to understand that every church and ministry go through different seasons. I have seen times that our finances have fallen off and I have seen times of great abundance. At this present time we are actually doing real well. I believe one reason is that God gave me a prophetic word about America’s finances and I strongly delivered that to our church. It helped our people to be prepared and encouraged them to stay strong in their giving.

The most important thing to do is stay positive and real with your people. Let them know that you know problems are real but the Bible is their strong tower of refuge. Let them know that you understand hard times but you are standing on the Word. The Pastor must be a tither and the church must tithe. It is important that you minister the word at offering times and then teach on giving on a consistent basis.

You must steward the resources you have on hand. I am very diligent on what we spend and keep debt extremely low. You need to trim the fat, but build with vision and faith. If you do these things you will make it through every tough time.

Pastor Ray Almaguer—Glendora, CA
Like all of my Pastor friends, we are being very diligent with our resources. Many Pastors have had to lay off staff members and cut back on guest speakers. Some have been able to refinance their church loans to save on monthly payments. I think a Pastor needs to do whatever it takes it be a good steward. These things are mainly reactive. There are some things we can do to be proactive.

We have chosen to be proactive, not just reactive. There is a lot of fear out there. I have been teaching our church the basics on faith, trusting God, and sowing and reaping. Every service at offering time I share something from the Word to build their faith. A while back I gave out a copy of “Seed Faith 2000” by Oral Roberts to everyone in our church. I taught four weeks right out of this book.

During times like these, I think Pastors need to be careful in their preaching. Sometimes in our attempts to empathize with our people we end up talking doubt and unbelief and fear. That being said, of course we need to empathize, but we are called to lead them. We lead from the front. We lead them by example.

Dr. Dan Beller—Tulsa, OK
Here are my thoughts on the financial situation:  God’s promises are not based on economic conditions of a particular country but are available to all believers world-wide. Examples of these promises are as follows:

• “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed…Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20 NIV)

• “The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be forever…in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” (Ps. 37:18-19)

• “The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity.” (Deut. 28:11 NIV)

• “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (birthed…produced as a result of planting seed…created for you)” (Jn. 15:7)

The second part of my observation involves the method used in receiving the Lord’s tithes and offerings in the church services. The above Scriptures, along with many others, can be read before receiving the offering, and a prayer of blessing prayed over the congregation.

To help improve the method of receiving the Lord’s tithes and offerings, I suggest the following (as a Sr. Pastor, I used these methods and they brought a great increase to the income of the church):

• Consider offering time a vital part of the worship experience; do not treat it as a “time out” to do something less important. It should flow uninterrupted as a part of the worship service. At Evangelistic Temple here in Tulsa, we usually received the offering after the message and pastoral prayer time (about 11:45 a.m.). It was then followed by announcements, a special song, and the benediction.

• Organize the ushers to receive the offering in an orderly fashion to demonstrate its important role in the worship. Use attractive offering plates or bags to lend more dignity to this part of the service.

• Before receiving the offering, read a Scripture on the blessing of giving and Bible promises of prosperity. Examples of blessings and brief testimonials can be shared occasionally.

• The Senior pastor should pray a prayer of blessing just before the offering is received.

• Allow the congregation to remain seated preceding the offering and as the offering is received. It is easier to write checks or prepare for giving while sitting.

• Schedule appropriate instrumental music during the offering. Special songs or other activities may distract from the worship of giving.

• Make necessary announcements following the offering. If they are given before the offering, they might become a distraction.

Rev. Matt Beemer—Tulsa, OK
As a missionary we’ve ‘lived by faith’ for the past 15 years and in doing so we’ve had both very lean times as well as times of amazing blessing.

When in a pinch, it goes without saying that it is most important to ensure that the ‘pinch’ never gets inside your heart… Paul said it’s important to be content. However, it is vitally important to have a spirit of faith issuing from a heart filled with the Word—especially when things are tough. This affects everything you say and do and is both the starting point and the ending point for navigating financial turbulent times successfully.

There are also several natural keys that help:

Key 1: Make the tough decisions. Waiting to make the appropriate budgetary cuts, staffing changes, or cutting certain programs because you are afraid of how people will respond will result in more serious problems.

Key 2: Even more important than making the cuts, is ‘how’ you do it. It is possible to make cuts in a way that releases faith in people’s hearts.

Key 3: Explain that a church is like a family and sometimes families have to ‘tighten their belts’ – which most everyone understands.

Key 4: Teach your staff, team leaders & department heads how to use the ‘pinch’ to cut waste in their areas.

Key 5: Also, it is a good time for everyone to judge themselves to see if they are looking to the church budget for their supply, or if they are truly looking to our limitless God. I continually tell our Team Leaders that they are never limited by our church budget, but only by their faith and creativity. Many times everyone is riding on the leader’s faith, but this is a great time to challenge everyone to look to God for their particular areas.

Key 6: Ensure that everyone is speaking the Word in line with your vision. If you discover they are not, do not get upset, instead take it as a sign you need to spend time building their faith with the Word.

Key 7: If you have to make cuts, make sure they are deep enough so you do not have to keep ‘cutting’ and ‘cutting’ and ‘cutting’. Cut deep, and do your best to cut once. If you have a team-oriented culture, you may even put the ‘potential’ for cuts onto the table and see if anyone has a suggestion about how to either avoid or minimize the damage. It’s surprising how creative people can be when their jobs may be at stake.

As a missionary, I would like to add this little note regarding these times… After September 11th the tithe dropped 62% in one year, resulting in many missionaries being forced off the field. I’m very concerned that during this time, if we are not careful, we could see one of the greatest exodus’ of missionaries we’ve ever seen. So I would like to encourage all the pastors who read this to challenge their church members to participate in missions, even if only $10/month. Many churches give a percentage of their budget to missions. This means that when the church budget drops, so does the mission budget, and it is understandable that your church may be faced with temporarily cutting its mission budget. However, challenging your church members to fast fast-food once per month or go without that special coffee once per month and instead sow $10/month into the missions fund should protect you from having to cut your mission support too badly and will enable the missionary work that is vital to the return of the Lord to continue.