April 29, 2010
Three experts weigh in on a church's budget crisis.
Mike Newson* and the rest of the leadership of Trinity Church were at a crossroads. It was January—midway through the fiscal year—and Trinity’s income projections weren’t looking any better. It seemed like cuts were inevitable. But the timing of this conundrum was especially awkward.
It was only back in October when Don Farfrae had stepped in as Trinity’s new senior pastor. The previous pastor had retired after a fruitful 18-year tenure. It was a seamless transition, with Don overlapping one month with his predecessor. The congregation was at peace—in fact, they were excited to welcome Don.
In November, Don launched a project to “refresh” Trinity’s mission. The church’s board would go through months’ worth of exercises, discussions, meetings, and retreats to evaluate the direction of the church. Mike, who was the executive pastor, was excited for the church to clarify and affirm its mission. So he, along with the rest of the board, was prepared to be patient and do this right; the process was expected to last a year and a half.
By January, however, the financial situation looked grim. The downward income trend they had seen for some time wasn’t improving. Out of the church’s $10.1-million budget, it appeared as though cuts in excess of $1 million could be necessary. This would probably include laying off as many as 20 full-time employees, as well as some part-timers.
As Mike and the rest of the board faced these numbers, they saw a new problem come to the fore. Cutting more than $1 million from the budget—no matter which staff or programs were affected—would significantly reshape the structure and focus of the church. And yet the church was only two months into their 18-month-long mission re-alignment. If the church made decisive changes now, would it short-circuit their long-term strategic discernment? No one on the board wanted that.
*Names have been changed for this case study.