How to Rebuild Your Church’s Financial Plan with Two Covid-Proof Documents

How to Rebuild Your Church’s Financial Plan with Two Covid-Proof Documents

When COVID-19 became a reality, it disrupted nearly every plan and strategy that existed in the church world.

The carefully constructed “2020 Vision” plan? Gone.

The capital campaign plan? Derailed.

The new ministry plan? Paused.

But perhaps the plan that was thrust into the most chaos was the finance plan. The budget that existed before March 2020 certainly won’t be the budget that helps us finish 2020.

Overnight, the forecasts and spreadsheets were outdated.

Our plans to spend money were halted as we tried to figure out how long it would all last. We hoped the adjustments we made would be enough to compensate for a drop in tithes and offerings.

As I’m writing this in the middle of 2020, churches are still uncertain about if or when things will return to any type of normal.

Even if we made quick adjustments, it’s time to revisit our financial plan. In light of everything we’ve learned over the last few months, our current circumstances, and where we prayerfully want to go as a church, we need to build a new financial model.

Money and the church is always a tricky subject.

It involves both financial experts and communications professionals. You have to raise, manage, spend, and talk about money the right way.  So even in the best of times, this is a tough topic to navigate.

Covid just made it crazier.

To help cut through the clutter, I want to encourage you to build (or rebuild) a financial plan around two key documents.

While no one can guarantee the future, these two documents are COVID-proof, meaning they will flex toward whatever comes your way.

Let’s take a look at the two documents that should make up your church's financial plan.

Document #1: The Spending Plan

In a normal year, the budget might feel like wishful thinking, a spreadsheet that’s built on the hopes of ministry leaders and pounded into reality by a finance team—neither of whom truly know what to expect.

For most churches, the budget is a written guess of what we think will happen. It’s a quasi-guide on how we plan to spend the money we hope comes in. We look at giving from last year, add or subtract a little bit based on a cursory view of a financial report, and then lock it down for the next fiscal year.

That’s a mistake in any other year. But this year…it’s a recipe for disaster.

More than ever, you need a plan for how you’re going to spend church money. In fact, I prefer the term “spending plan” to the term “budget.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but “spending plan” sounds like it’s rooted in ministry while budget feels like it’s rooted in accounting.

But no matter what you call this document, you need it. And you need to update it.

Before you crack open the spreadsheet, I want you to do two things. These are the difference-makers. This is how you turn a one-time, COVID-related adjustment into a healthy practice that will serve your church well for years to come.

First, clarify your budget philosophy.

There are three primary budgeting philosophies used by people, businesses, non-profits, and churches. You have to pick one before you do any work.

  • Incremental budgeting starts with what happened last year, then makes minor adjustments. Many churches choose this approach. They look at last year’s budget and say, “We believe we could do 3% better this year, so let’s lock that down and pray that God blesses it.”
  • Program-based budgeting is a variation, but instead of bumping everything up or down, it rewards programs and ministries that are more effective and eliminates line-items that are deemed less successful. It’ still a form of incrementalism but it’s tied to activity and results, not just the economy.
  • Zero-based budgeting effectively starts at zero every year and asks every program, ministry, department, or leader to build a new budget based on priorities and mission. Every expense for the upcoming budget period has to be re-justified.

Which philosophy are you going to choose? There are merits to each, but you should let a guiding philosophy drive your discussions.

Second, clarify your budget process.

Once you know the philosophy behind building your budget, you should clarify your process. I can’t stress this enough. It’s so important.

Before you start changing numbers on an Excel file or running reports, document your process.  Decide HOW you’re going to decide.

This is what takes the pressure off. This is what removes stress.

Your process should answer the following questions:

  • Who is going to be involved? Karl Vaters writes, “One of the biggest mistakes small churches make with budgets is designing them in a back room, then announcing it as a done deal to the people who have to live with it.” Make sure your process involves all of the right people.
  • What timeline are we going to follow? I have a suggested timeline for you below but create this once and you can use it year after year. After a while, it will become second nature.
  • How will we communicate to leaders and/or the congregation? Releasing the budget doesn’t have to be a boring necessity. You can actually use it to cast vision for where you’re going. It requires planning and creativity, but your budget process can actually be laced with exciting vision for the future.

And it might look something like this:

September (Preliminary work)

  • Ministry and program evaluation, including financial reporting
  • Review the previous year and discuss vision for the upcoming year at a pastoral leadership retreat
  • Update the Two-Page Plan (mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.)

October (Financial models)

  • Review reports, trends, and forecasts
  • Distribute budget request packets to church staff and leaders charged with budget responsibilities
  • Collect and analyze all budget requests and schedule any follow-up conversations

November (Draft budget)

  • Develop preliminary budget
  • Communicate approvals and preliminary budget with staff and leaders

December (Finalize budget)

  • Adopt the budget and communicate details with staff and leaders

You don’t have to follow this exact process, but what you should do is clarify your own.

When you have process documents, you can assign real dates each year. You can even include regularly scheduled budget reviews and updates throughout the year so you’ll have planned time for making adjustments.

Adjusting Your Budget When Things Change

COVID-19 might have caused you to take a fresh look at your budget. This has beeen a pretty significant adjustment period for churches.

But chances are, you’ll go through other adjustments.

A large group of donors might leave the church. Maybe the community around the church experiences radical and swift change. Maybe you start a new ministry with new expenses.

When you need to adjust your budget, I want to encourage you to start with these three areas.  These principles actually hold true for every budget season. They are just particularly helpful when needing to trim.

  • Start with your staff. For most churches, your staff is your biggest expense. That makes this the first place to look when you need to trim expenses.You might choose to make an across-the-board cost reduction. You may ask people to make voluntary changes. You may choose to reduce headcount.No matter what you choose to do, remember that clarity is kind. If you’re worried that staff changes are coming, you can communicate clearly about what would trigger an adjustment. You don’t have to have all the facts to start talking about change.
  • Look at your facility. Your building costs are probably the biggest or second-biggest part of your budget. So, when you need to cut costs, look here next. If you have a loan, talk to your lender about deferral options (don’t ask for forbearance; ask for deferrals). If you have unused space, talk through options for generating extra income.  Anytime you have a big expense in the budget, see if you can find ways to turn it into an income-producing line item.
  • Fund your keystone ministries first. If you’ve been through the Building Your Ministry Plan course at Church Fuel, you know how important this is. Honestly, this one exercise is worth the subscription. There are programs and ministries that drive growth in your church. And there are things that exist but don’t really help accomplish your mission. Wise leaders fund keystone ministries and work to simplify or eliminate everything else. This can be tough, which is why going through the course and talking with a coach is helpful.

When it comes to budgeting, embrace your role as the Chief Clarify Officer.

Nothing communicates a church’s priorities and mission more than the budget. It’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Document #2: The Funding Plan

Even if your budget needs tweaking, you probably have a budget.

And even if your process is a little tired, there’s probably a process.

That’s because budgeting is a very normal part of church finances. A lot of work goes into making the budget, the document that shows how money is planned to be spent.

But do you know what’s an afterthought in many churches?

Where the money is going to come from.

Churches are usually okay at creating spending plans, with decent systems in place to make sure the money is spent properly, with proper approvals, and decent reviews. But spending is just one side of the financial plan.

You actually need a plan to get the money.

Think about this as your other budget. It’s the funding plan to go along with the spending plan.

The funding plan is a month-by-month look at the income side of your budget. If you were a business selling widgets, it would be the sales forecast. If you were in real estate, it would be your rent schedule.

As a church, your income comes because people are generous.

But you still need a plan and you still need a strategy.

What would happen if we shifted some of the time spent on the budgeting process into time spend discussing funding options?

What would happen if your financial leaders took a posture of facilitating financial growth in addition to the posture of being guardrails to overspending?

What would happen if you were just as intentional about creating a funding plan as you were about creating a spending plan?

If you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find an Annual Funding Plan template and a coaching video you can watch with your team. We’ll show you exactly how to create it and how to navigate the tension between planning for income and waiting on God’s blessing.

But to get things started, here are some things that can go on your plan.

  • A stewardship or generosity message. February, May, or November are great times for this.
  • Financial education classes or groups. When are you going to strategically help people win with money, get out of debt, and understand total-life stewardship?
  • A digital giving campaign to encourage people to move toward automated, recurring giving. May is the best time of year for this and you guessed it…there are resources to help you, Church Fuel members.
  • A donor appreciation event. This is when you gather all of your donors (you can include volunteers, too) and just say thanks. Let your core leaders know where you’ve been, what they’ve helped accomplish, and where you are going. You can make it fun and keep it relational. Summer is a great time for this.
  • Donor communication. When are you intentionally communicating with your donors? We suggest monthly emails, quarterly mailers, and annual statements. Communication builds trust.
  • Special offerings. Once per year, you can lead your church to participate in a special offering. It could be for something inside the church or community-facing.

These are just a few of the “tactics” you can use to talk about money and be intentional about facilitating generosity in your church. As you can see, they aren’t about spending, reporting, or managing. They’re about increasing, encouraging, and fanning the flames of generosity.

These are funding activities, not spending procedures.

This isn’t the job of most finance committees, but there are probably people in your church who could help you here. Find people with a growth mindset to help you process ideas and make real plans to facilitate generosity in your church.

At a minimum, challenge your existing finance or stewardship team to spend some time on the funding side of the finances.

Working on a funding plan is an important exercise that will help you proactively meet or exceed the budget.

A Complete Financial Plan

The spending plan and the funding plan are the two key parts of your financial plan.

The first document will help you ensure that you spend resources wisely. The second will help you focus on how you’re going to receive the money.

Once you have both sides of your plan, build a regular reporting rhythm, adjust as needed, and manage the income and expenses with purpose.

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The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reopening
 

Three Reasons Your Church Should NOT Reopen Yet

Three Reasons Your Church Should NOT Reopen Yet

I've seen a lot of talk over the last week about when and how the church will reopen.

There are checklists, webinars, roundtables, and “expert” opinions.

We know it’s going to be different, but we want to meet again. We want to get back to “normal.”

If we're being honest, we've had enough of this isolation thing. It's taking a toll. The economic implications are starting to wear on us. And as believers, we have a desire to be with our people.

We miss gathering on Sunday. We miss that part of church. It’s more than human nature—there’s something theological happening here, too. The church is supposed to gather. Christians are supposed to meet.

But as states lift Executive Orders,  I actually want to encourage you NOT to open up too soon. Even though we want to. Even though our people want to. Even though there’s something inside pushing us to. 

Here are three reasons not to rush back to meeting.

Reason #1: You don’t want to be labeled reckless by the community.

 

Public perception is a big deal.

I’m seeing way too many churches and pastors in the news for the wrong reason.

Lawsuits, threats, protests. These are words I’m reading in news stories about CHURCHES.  The media is focusing on these negative stories (because that’s typically what the media does), not the stories about churches serving the community, meeting needs, and being socially responsible. If you’re labeled reckless, much of the good you’re doing will be glossed over.

And your story will contribute to a meta-narrative. We share in each other’s successes and we share in each other’s shortcomings. To the outside world, many churches are all the same. So, what we do affects the whole. This isn’t just a church issue: businesses, states, and programs that open up too soon run the risk of being labeled reckless.

Medical safety aside, there’s a big perception risk.

Even though you want to get back to meeting and your people want to get back to normal, this is not a race. There’s no prize for being first. In this case, those who go first might suffer even more of a public backlash.

Reason #2: You don’t want your church members to get the wrong idea.

 

The second reason I don’t think you should rush back is that this is not only the perception of the community but the perception of your church members.

For years and years, we have preached that the church is not a building. We’ve told our people not just to come to a service but go into the world. There are churches that have signs on their doors as people are walking out that say, “You are now entering the mission field” or “go be the church.” Even as we moved online, we encouraged our members to “be the church,” warning them against reducing everything to a livestream or online service.

So, what does it say if on the very front end when we can meet again—even when lots of people were advising against it and having questions—we rush back?

One of our ministry coaches, Matt, posted this in our Facebook group. He said, “Those churches that hurry back to worship will give members the perception that they need the public gathering to truly be the church. So all the things we've been telling them all along about church happening, wherever you are, we'll sound hypocritical now.”

I know we want to gather. I know we want to meet again.  And that's a good thing. But if you make it all about the meeting, then we are reinforcing the opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach.

It doesn't mean that the gatherings are unimportant or that they are not crucial to who we are.

But don’t give your people the wrong idea that we can't be who we need to be without gathering in a building.

Reason #3: You shouldn’t exhaust your resources solving temporary problems.

 

The third reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is you shouldn't exhaust your resources trying to solve temporary problems.

There is a thankfulness that will emerge out of this time as a lot of churches are rethinking what they're doing. They are looking at their strategy, their ministry, and their programming in light of cultural change. There’s a bit of a reset happening

Five years from now, when we look back on this time, we will realize we re-evaluated quite a bit.

We redefined the term “essential.” We built muscles we didn’t even know we had.  We learned a lot of things we didn’t want to learn but they turned out to be helpful.  We figured out how to expand our digital footprint.  We learned how to build a community online.  We learned how to be incredibly responsive.  We flexed an innovation muscle.

But what if we paused during this intermediate time and thought more deeply now? In the time between when we can legally gather and when we should gather, what if we leveraged our time to continue getting good at things that can help us for years to come?

These new skills and muscles we're developing will help us for years to come, not just the last few weeks.

Yes, we could rush back and quickly figure out changing guidelines, investing tons of man-hours and resources into solving a temporary problem. Or we could continue to build digital momentum, holding back the tide, until it’s not just safe but when it can truly kickstart momentum.

Build skills that you can use for the long haul; don’t just scramble to solve problems that only provide a quick fix.

We should view this pause as an opportunity to reset, not just rush back because we miss what we had.  Of course, we miss our gatherings, but let’s not just run back to what is comfortable and familiar.  Let’s embrace this time of learning and experimenting

Alan Hirsh said this…

 “If you want to learn how to play chess, you should start by removing your own queen. Once you’ve mastered the game without the most powerful piece, then put the queen back in and see how good you are! For the church, the Sunday service is our queen. We’ve been relying on it too much. Now that the queen has been taken off the board it’s time to rediscover what all the other pieces can do.”

When you gather again, you will have new skills.  You will be better.

It's not that we want to forever do church without the gatherings. We want to have those things, and we need to bring those things back. But it’s okay to temporarily build other parts of a healthy church.  It doesn’t make the queen unimportant, it just means it’s not all about the queen.

Maybe this time of waiting is an opportunity.

To reset.

To rest.

To reevaluate.

To refocus.

And to come back better.

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Kids Online Ministry: It’s Not as Difficult as You Think

Kids Online Ministry: It’s Not as Difficult as You Think

Most of us can't leave our homes. We're not allowed to visit friends, go to school, even going to park has it's restrictions. A lot has changed, is still changing, and it's not always easy to process why. Especially when you're a kid.

How can we as a church show up?

We need to step away, for a moment, and consider the bigger picture. Our relationship with Jesus, and being a part of the church, isn't intended to squeeze inside an hour on Sunday. So our content and our resources shouldn't either.

Consider taking your content and spreading it throughout the week. You don't have to eliminate your family experience on the weekends, but give families the ideas and resources to integrate their faith throughout the week too.

Programming

Just like you’re taking adult services online, pre-elementary and elementary aged children can also have online experiences. You can take pieces of your lessons, and make them digital. Tell a story, sing a song, it doesn't have to be done perfectly.

If you're not a large church with a video team and the ability to mass produce professional online experiences, we have great news. YOU DON'T HAVE TO. You probably know the names of each of the kids in your ministry, you can facetime them (with parents permission of course). You can hold a zoom call for everyone at once, and connect with them as one group. You can write letters back and forth. Kids love snail mail! Don't feel like you have to put all your eggs in the online experience, there are so many ways to continue the purpose of your ministry.

If you do want an online experience without having to make one yourself, the LifeKids team from LifeChurch is creating full-length video services that include interactive elements, pauses, and worship that can be streamed online.  (These experiences will be relevant for children from ages two through six grade.)  

These videos have no Life.Church branding and use license-free music.  CLICK HERE for LifeKids resources.

Resourcing Parents

We need to shift our focus from re-creating the weekend experience (which so much consists of interacting with other same-age kids) and resourcing parents to include their kids.

Consider creating a Facebook group for your kids ministry to post videos, share updates, and ask questions.

One of the biggest ways you can show up with your families is by providing practical and useful resources for parents.

So many parents are trying to balance working from home, being a teacher, and being a parent.  It’s really tough.

Step into their world by becoming a trusted source for quality and helpful information.  Ask your parents what they need and either find or create resources to help them during this time.  Take the time you would spend preparing rooms or creating lessons and funnel that energy toward resourcing parents. 

Here are some ideas of things you can do to resource and equip them through the week:

How to Work Remotely and Still Get Stuff Done

How to Work Remotely and Still Get Stuff Done

Working Remotely

Working remotely is being forced upon millions of people, and it's not all bad.

Many people in your congregation suddenly find themselves working from home, and it will be a big adjustment.  In addition, thousands of parents are unsure about how they are supposed to do their job from home while being a parent at the same time.  It’s a strange new world for a lot of people.

And you might be facing this challenge yourself.

Many churches are encouraging staff members to work from home. While there are some challenges, it’s a good thing.

Let’s talk about some ways to make it work for you. 

Technology

There are so many tools and services that make it possible for a lot of people to work from home.  Here are some of the most popular tools.

  • Slack – This is the #1 work messaging platform and it works great to stay in touch throughout the day.
  • Basecamp – This is a project management and communication tool.  Many people like the “all in one” nature.
  • Microsoft Teams – Chat, file-sharing, video calling, plus the Office Suite built right in.

There are plenty of others: Asana, Trello, Monday.com, and the list goes on and on.  The bottom line is there are tools and services to help you manage nearly every aspect of working remotely.

Experiment quickly with a few tools but go ahead and make a decision.  A lot of tools will work for you and the sooner you start mastering some, the more effective you will be.

Psychology of Working From Home

 The biggest challenges in working from home are not choosing the right tools but developing a new pattern.  Many people in your church are struggling through this. You might be facing it, too. 

Church Fuel began as a remote company and working from home is in our DNA.  Here are some best practices we’ve learned first-hand along the way.

1.  Set a schedule. 

Even if you don’t have to be “in the office” at 9am, determine a schedule and stick to it.  Work/home boundaries can be tough when it’s all the same thing so start with your schedule. Run your morning routine, get dressed, and go to work just like you’re working in an office.

2.  Create a work space.

Whether you have a home office or find space for a desk in the corner of a room, create a space that’s dedicated to your work.  Not only will this help you reinforce your routine, it will help others in your house understand when you’re at work and when you’re at home.

3.  Get support and buy in from others in your home.  

If you’re working from home and there are others in the house, you need to help them understand and support your work reality.  You need boundaries so you can focus on work and not get distracted with laundry, entertainment or projects. But others need to understand and support your space, too. 

4.  Stay connected.  

One of the toughest things for people leaving a traditional office environment to work from home is the feeling of isolation.  This is a very real thing.

Remember, the people in your church who are affected by a change in work location are also struggling to stay connected with people.  They are more isolated, which means they need connection to their church community even more.

Examples of Tools for Remote Work 

Check out the insanely practical tools that churches use to manage ministry teams remotely.
(What about you? Find and share mode ideas online at covid.church)

Our lives have changed rapidly, and with that so have our methods of living. But it’s not all for naught. We are forging new ground to go be the church outside of our own church walls. To bring the church to people, right where they are. 

Online Student Ministry

Online Student Ministry

When the news about COVID-19 began influencing large gatherings, all churches scrambled to figure out what to do when they couldn’t gather in person on Sunday.

That realization quickly extended to other ministries too.  We need to consider how we can continue not just our adults services, but also our students. And we need to create new opportunities for students to stay connected.

Students' lives have been significantly affected during this time – nearly every environment in their lives has been disrupted.  School, friends, work, and church are all completely different than they were a few weeks ago. If this is tough for you as an adult, it is exponentially more difficult for a teenager.

It’s important to provide a sense of normalcy. 

Here’s Kenny Cambpell, co-founder of Stuff You Can Use: A Youth Ministry Community

To be honest, “adult” church is actually way ahead of kids/student ministry when it comes to live streaming. 99.9% of youth ministries haven’t started live streaming until this week whereas adults have been doing it for years.

Kids/youth ministry online is new. There’s some people like Tj McConahay who have been killing it on social media (TJ specifically is great with TikTok), but those are more like bonus material. Doing kids/youth ministry 100% remote is new territory.

But we’ll be keeping our eyes open and paying attention to what people are doing in the Stuff You Can Use Facebook groups, and sharing all the new ideas that will be popping up in the coming weeks.

Examples of Live Streaming in Student Ministry

Check out the insanely practical ways that churches are using technology for student ministry. 

Most of the livestreaming advice that applies to church services will also apply to your student ministry.  But there are a few student-specific pointers that will help you serve students better.

Download Josh’s guide here.

Other live streaming options for students include…

  1. Twitch
  2. Google Hangouts
  3. Instagram Live

Staying Connected to Students 

If your student ministry has small groups, it’s not a huge jump to shift them online meeting using a tool like Zoom. 

It’s one of the more popular video call solutions and has been helping people work remotely for years.  But it’s also a great tool for online small groups.

Right now, they are extending their free trial, essentially removing their 40-minute limit.  One of the cool features of Zoom is breakout rooms. You could have a large group teaching time and then split students up into their respective small groups. 

Relationships, more than programming, have always been the driving force behind student ministry. As great as it is to provide an online service or digital gathering, it might be more important to stay connected throughout the week.  This just might be one place where student ministry is ahead of adult ministry.

Brian Lawson shares some great ideas….

  •  Send students personalized text messages. Let them know that you have not forgotten them and that even when they feel alone, they are never alone. 
  • Call your students! Yes, call them. It seems weird, and it may be awkward, but give them a good old fashioned phone call.
  • Use Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to video call several students at once. Most of these services are free and can have 10+ people on the call. Why not play a game with them? Pull out the classic games and conversation starters like Two Truths and A Lie, Never Have I Ever, or Good Thing, Bad Thing.

GroupMe is a great way to stay connected to students outside of events, even during times when you can gather.  Many students already use this for school, sports, or church.

Cameron Pedicord and Jonathan McKee have some great ideas for how you can help students grow spiritually and stay connected during this time.

Here are some good ones:

  • Post a short devotional video every day. Make it fun. Give a tour of your house. Show them that you actually have toilet paper.
  • Jump on Zoom or some other meeting app and take a small group through one of our free YouTube discussions (yes, these each have small group questions and scripture) or free Music Discussions (yes, Billie Eilish, Bieber, Mercy Me, For King & Country… they all have scripture and small group questions, and they’re all free).
  • Challenge your students to read the Bible in a month. Send a group text with comments about what you read.
  • Have your musically inclined students spend time writing new worship songs. Post them to YouTube and share them with the group.
  • Video Game Tournament. Ask your students… they’ll tell you how.
  • Short Story or Book writing competition. Seriously. They have nothing else to do. How much Netflix can one student actually watch?
  • Binge watch a Netflix, Disney+, Hulu show and discuss. Did you know we have a Bible discussion posted for every single episode of The Walking Dead and Stranger Things?
  • Coffee Time: Everyone brews a cup of coffee at home and hangs out virtually. Video conference and share your secret coffee recipe.

More than ever, students need caring adults to lean in and facilitate connections.  Students already live their lives digitally, but this is a new opportunity for the church, and a new opportunity for your ministry.