All posts from “April 2010”

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April 29, 2010

A Case Study: When Shortfalls Cloud the Big Picture

Three experts weigh in on a church's budget crisis.

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The Scenario

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.

Continue reading A Case Study: When Shortfalls Cloud the Big Picture ...

April 27, 2010

Is Porn a Problem in Your Church Office?

The SEC's embarrassing news provides a sobering reminder.

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An eye-opening national headline emerged last week, providing a timely sneak peek into our upcoming issue of Your Church magazine.

The inspector general for the Securities and Exchange Commission--the organization tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations that govern the country's stock and options exchanges--conducted 31 probes of employee internet use during the past 2 1/2 years. The overarching finding? Senior staff members of the SEC spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers, according to a memo obtained first by ABC News.

Among the findings, according to an Associated Press story published Friday:

  • One senior attorney spent up to 8 hours a day looking at porn. Upon running out of hard drive space, he burned files to CDs or DVDs;
  • One accountant was blocked more than 16,000 times in a month by the SEC's internal filter, yet he still found ways around that filter using search engines;
  • In all, the SEC discovered 2 cases in 2007, and 16 in 2008 (as many will recall, the country's financial woes began to emerge midway through 2007).

Unfortunately, this isn't the first government agency to share disturbing news like this. Last fall, the National Science Foundation's agency inspector revealed he had to shift time scheduled to combat grant fraud to instead crack down on porn use by staffers.

So, what's the connection to church leaders and staff members?

Continue reading Is Porn a Problem in Your Church Office?...

April 22, 2010

Create an Earth-Safe Church

Green practices can be a testament to good stewardship and an outreach opportunity.

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Going "green" is a popular expression in today's eco-minded culture. Ministries are not exempt from environmental responsibility. In fact, green practices can be a testament to good stewardship and an outreach opportunity.

Under Construction

Go with the flow. Incorporate natural features, such as hills and slopes, into any new building designs to minimize disturbance.

Choose local materials. Whenever possible use materials produced locally. The energy saved in transporting the materials can be used elsewhere.

Continue reading Create an Earth-Safe Church...

April 20, 2010

Lawsuits in the Church

Ministry leaders must do more to peacefully resolve conflicts.

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By all accounts, America has become the most litigious society on the face of the earth. In the last decade, civil caseloads have increased by 33 percent, which is five times faster than the increase in our population. As a result, new case filings in state courts now exceed 16 million per year. This amounts to one court case for every 12 adults in the United States!

This surge in litigation is being driven by several factors. To begin with, a lawsuit is often seen as an easy path to instant wealth. In a recent survey, hundreds of Americans were asked how they might become independently wealthy. A generation ago, typical answers would have included, "build a successful business," "patent a valuable invention," or "inherit my uncle's estate." These answers hardly appeared on the recent survey. Instead, the two most common answers were, "win the lottery," or "win a big lawsuit." In other words, many people view an injury as a blessing, because it gives them a shot at a million-dollar lawsuit.

Another thing that drives litigation is the American preoccupation with individual rights. If we want something badly enough we begin to think that we have a legal right to it, whether it's a government entitlement or a particular job. And above all else, we think we have the right never to be inconvenienced or offended by others.

These attitudes are reflected in many of the ridiculous lawsuits being filed in our courts. For example, a poodle traveling in a pet cage was accidentally removed from an airplane in Tampa instead of its real destination, Miami. The error was soon discovered and the poodle was safely delivered to its owners only a few hours late. But the owners felt justified in suing the airline for $50,000 to relieve their "emotional suffering."

These kinds of lawsuits bring to light another factor in our litigation problem: the attorneys who are willing to advocate such absurd complaints. There are more than 1,1 million lawyers in America today. Although most of them are dedicated and conscientious professionals, there is far too many who will take almost any case in order to stay in business. Their low standards, combined with the greed and self-indulgence of certain clients, creates just the right mixture for a thoroughly clogged court system.

The Church's Failure

But there is a fourth significant factor that is often overlooked, which contributes to our country's problem with litigation: the failure of the church to carry out its God-given mission to teach people how to respond to conflict in a godly manner. In March 1982, former Chief Justice Warren Burger observed the following in an American Bar Association Journal article:

“One reason our courts have become overburdened is that Americans are increasingly turning to the courts for relief from a range of personal distresses and anxieties. Remedies for personal wrongs that once were considered the responsibilities of institutions other than the courts are now boldly asserted as legal "entitlements." The courts have been expected to fill the void created by the decline of church, family, and neighborhood unity.”

After serving as a full-time Christian conciliator for 28 years, I must agree with Justice Burger's indictment of the church. I have found very few churches that are providing systematic, biblical teaching on conflict resolution. Therefore, when disputes arise, Christians are often just as willing to file a lawsuit as are their unsaved neighbors. Worse yet, church leaders are all too willing to violate 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, as they also go to court to solve problems within the church.

Continue reading Lawsuits in the Church...

April 15, 2010

Blending Business Wisdom with Spiritual Wisdom

The corporate world says "get the right people on the bus"--but spiritual leadership requires something more.

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"We need more structure in our decision making. Without that discipline, we'll never accomplish anything."

"We're a church, not a business. We need to rely on God. We can't operate like the corporate world."

Ever been on one side or the other of this argument? Or perhaps in the middle? The tensions are present in most churches in America today. As corporate "best practices" are applied to church life, church leaders struggle to make sense of it all.

Continue reading Blending Business Wisdom with Spiritual Wisdom...

April 14, 2010

Create a Child Abuse Response Plan

Preparation can make all the difference.

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(Editor’s Note: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. We're digging deeper into the issue of "Reporting Child Abuse" with Richard Hammar during a special one-hour live webinar on April 14. Don’t miss out on this important learning opportunity for your church.)

No one likes to acknowledge that child sexual abuse is a reality. The trusting environment of the church makes it a prime target for abuse to occur. Recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse and responding quickly can make all the difference in the victim’s life. Learn how with a few tips from ChurchSafety.com.

Continue reading Create a Child Abuse Response Plan...

April 13, 2010

Dealing with Sex Offenders Who Attend Church

How do we protect our members from known sex offenders?

(Editor’s note: Since this post first published, Christianity Today International completed "Sex Offenders in the Church," a comprehensive research project exploring the attitudes and beliefs among church leaders regarding integrating sex offenders into the faith community.)

Question posted through "Ask the Experts" on ChurchSafety.com:

There is a female, registered sex offender who wants to attend our Sunday services. We want her to attend, but what guidelines should we have in place to safeguard our children?

Answer by Richard Hammar:

When the senior pastor, or any member of the church board, is informed that a registered sex offender is attending the church, there are steps that can be taken to manage risk. These include the following:

Continue reading Dealing with Sex Offenders Who Attend Church...

April 8, 2010

Re-thinking The Ways We Hire Church Staff

What happens when we let gifts and relationships define our organizational structures?

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The single most powerful organizational step your church can take—at least on a human level—is to be organized around the gifts of the Spirit. That means that a church is to be led by people with leadership gifts, taught by people with teaching gifts, shepherded by people with shepherding gifts—the whole nine yards. And that vision is about to change my life.

I'll tell you how in a minute.

I serve as a senior pastor. But I'm not one of those multi-mega-gift guys. I can do about one thing right—and that's on a good day. Whatever gifts I have are primarily centered around communication. So I have been looking and praying for a partner who has great leadership gifts to do ministry with. I love the era in which we get to work. I think it is a time of great innovation in the church. There is something God-like and energizing about creating.

Ron Johnson, the guy who started the Apple stores, says his favorite phrase is "In the beginning … " Part of that innovation involves the people leading in a church. When I was growing up, a group of people forming a church would hire the 'minister' who would do the 'ministry.' But no one would ask what his (it was always a 'him') actual gifts were. The pastor's job description was so big that only Jesus could fulfill it. And I'm not sure even he would want it.

Increasingly churches are recognizing that shepherding and teaching and leading and administrating rarely come in the same package. We have to break old models of church leadership—not to go to new models, but to go back to an even older model—organization around gifts.

Continue reading the full version of this article on our sister site LeadershipJournal.net, where it first appeared.

April 7, 2010

Learning from Lean Staffs during Lean Times

What churches might learn from those that spend less on staffing than the national averages.

With many congregations facing tighter budgets as they weather the worst economic recession in decades, a recent survey of U.S. church leaders shows that a small percentage of churches are able to continue doing ministry while keeping staffing costs—the single-biggest expense for nearly every church—well below national averages.

The “Lean Staffing” survey was conducted in January by Christianity Today International's Your Church magazine and Leadership journal, and Leadership Network. It was taken by 735 leaders of Protestant and evangelical churches.

The results show that 1 in 7 spends less than 35 percent of its annual budget on staffing costs. Historically, churches in recent years spend, on average, about 45 percent of their total budgets on staffing costs—and sometimes more.

The “Lean Staffing” study separated 539 respondents to generate the "lean staffing" comparison: 15 percent of that group spends less than 35 percent on staff, while the rest spend between 35 percent and 65 percent. The study used 35 percent or less as a benchmark since it represents a sizable decrease from national averages and it helps with statistical comparisons, said Warren Bird, director of research at Leadership Network.

Besides identifying churches that spend less on staffing, the study also found “lean-staffed” churches typically spend more on ministry efforts outside of their walls, Bird said.

“There are churches that seem to be healthy and outreach-minded that do, indeed, have a lower percentage of their budget going to staffing costs. It can be done,” Bird said. “That was very affirming.”

You can read the full article, which details the survey’s key findings, and you can read the full, 46-page report for free (note: free registration is required).

Also, you can listen to a 12-minute podcast between Warren Bird and me (note: free registration is required to download the podcast), and read Warren's blog post about the research (and the next steps to further research the topic).

April 6, 2010

Loss of a Church's Financial Records

There are several reasons why all hope is not lost.

Follow Richard on YouTube.com: http://www.youtube.com/richardrhammar

Learn more about Protecting Electronic Data at ChurchSafety.com.

Manage your church's finances year-round with The Essential Guide to Church Finance.