Leading a Church Financially Through a National Crisis

As we all navigate through challenging and changing scenarios predicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sure of one thing: we really aren’t sure how much this virus will impact our world. We know it is having an immediate impact, but how longstanding will the fallout be?

While there are many challenging circumstances affecting our world (health, safety, security, fear, isolation, international storylines, etc.), I want to provide some tips for ministry leaders during this time.

One of the growing concerns is how to continue meeting ministry operating costs during uncertain times. I have talked with many pastors in the last few days who are concerned about how to navigate the financial challenges in an economic downfall.

With the potential of a recession or depression, the uncertainties of continuing to fund ministry work in unknown times are challenging.

We know that it is going to be challenging, but we don’t know how severe it will be yet. Here are some insights to consider.

16 Financial Items for Churches to Consider

  1. Trust in God’s provision. Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and he has promised to supply our needs (Phil. 4:19). Be realistic about what is happening, but don’t give in to fear. Pray. Trust. Rest.
  2. Remind your church to give. If you can’t gather physically, find ways to remind your people to give but don’t be sleazy about it. Show gratitude for their gifts that allow the church to continue the ministry and meet benevolent needs. Remind them to give, but don’t overdo it. Find a balanced approach to keeping them informed of the financial situation and their opportunities to give.
  3. Don’t burden your congregation. They know this crisis is challenging for the church because the situation is challenging for them personally. Be aware that every individual and every institution is struggling and unsure about the future. Be real, but don’t heap extra burdens on them. You set the example of how to trust in God’s provision for your people.
  4. Setup online options. If you intended to get around to online giving one day, you are now late, but you are not lost. You will not be able to pass a plate for the next few weeks due to social distancing, but are your people still able to give? Get a reliable system, make it available, and communicate to your people how they can give digitally while they are unable to meet physically. Even if you don’t have electronic options or some may not feel comfortable with it, remind them they can give at the church office or through the mail.
  5. Establish your weekly need. Take your annual budget, and divide that number by 52. This number should be the average of your offerings. Know that number so that you can be aware of where you are.
  6. Define your weekly span. If you utilize an online giving option or receive gifts during the week, decide when your week starts and stops. Our church marks every gift from a Monday to a Sunday night as a set week. Be consistent so that you know what your weekly average is.
  7. Watch for monthly trends. Don’t panic if your first few weeks are dramatically different. People are scared and unsure of what is going to happen. Knowing your weekly need, get an average for your month once these first few weeks pass and you will see how close you are to continuing your ministry operating expenses. Evaluate your high and low months from previous years’ offerings. Your December is probably higher than the other months, so you shouldn’t expect the other months to be 1/12 (or 8%) of the budget. Have realistic numbers to evaluate your monthly trends.
  8. Pause unnecessary spending. While this virus may pass and the economy may surge back quickly, there is too much unknown at this point. I would pause any unnecessary spending as a staff and operate on a lean budget for the next few weeks until the dust settles. Consider local vendors in your determination.
  9. Anticipate benevolent needs. If times of crisis, your tangible needs among your members will increase. Be prepared to have a system to know how much and how often you can help out members with financial concerns.
  10. Determine your budget buckets. If you don’t know the percentage of your big-budget items, you need to get the calculator out to assess your situation. I would recommend knowing what the percentage is of your personnel costs, facilities, internal ministries, and external missions. If your giving goes down by 15% in the months to come, you need to know where you can find that 15%. Depending upon your percentages, your options may be limited.
  11. Evaluate your reserves. Different churches operate according to different standards, but I have always recommended that a healthy church should have a 2-3 month rainy day fund. Take your reserves and divide that by your weekly budget requirements, and you will discover how many weeks you can operate if no one gives a single dollar to the work of your church. This number will help you prepare.
  12. Assess your debt situation. If you have debt, you need to consider how to continue your payments or negotiate a possible restructuring of your loan if it will limit your ministry opportunities.
  13. Pencil a revised budget. If your giving does go down significantly, you need to prepare a revised budget. If your giving is down 10%, where can you cut your budget by 10%? If things turn around, you can come back around to those items later in the fiscal year, but don’t be handicapped by unwise decisions. You probably will not go through the actual process of crafting and voting on a revised budget, but you need to have a penciled version in your mind of where you can cut if necessary.
  14. Support your mission partners. Your church is not the only non-profit struggling. As you operate on a lean budget, prioritize supporting those gospel causes that are effective works in the Kingdom. During a crisis, we cannot press pause on the mission.
  15. Lead or be led. If times do get difficult, have a plan. Gather the people who can help you, and consider a plan to go forward. If your ministry team doesn’t have a plan, someone will make one for you.
  16. Pray for the best; plan for the worst. I am not an alarmist at all, but I am a realist. This situation may not have devastating results as some expect, but they will change things for a while. Pray that God works despite the hard times, but also prepare for times of challenging circumstances.

Think through some of these items, and pray for direction. God will even use times like these to cause us to lean into him for wisdom, clarity, and direction. That’s never a bad thing.