All posts from “September 2010”

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September 30, 2010

Determining Which Ministry Gets What

One pastor shares how to best allocate church budget money.

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"Pastor, we don't have a budget. We just do what the Lord leads us to do."

These words were spoken to me soon after I agreed to be the preacher at a small rural congregation, which used seminary students to fill the pulpit. When the church voted to hire me, they called me "pastor," but I did not function in that capacity. I was at the church only on weekends, and they knew I would probably leave as soon as my seminary days were over.

As an idealistic young student, I liked the thought of having no budget; it created in my mind the picture of a congregation sensitive to the Lord's leadership, without the bureaucracy associated with a budget.

After a few weeks, I mentioned to one of the leading men that I intended to introduce a new ministry in the next church business meeting, which was held at the conclusion of worship. This man asked me several questions about the ministry idea.

Then he said, "Don't bring up your idea this month. Wait at least a month, until I've visited with some of the men of the church. Your idea has merit, but it may not fit in with what some members think."

I found out later that he had called two other men, and they had talked about my idea. They had looked over the church's financial condition and decided I shouldn't broach my idea in the coming business meeting.

I realize now that these three men were not stubborn or unreasonable but practical. My idea wasn't that great, and the church was in more need of other ministries.

What I especially learned, though, was that the church did have a budget! It was in the mind of the three leaders who in conversation determined the financial priorities of the church.

A church budget is simply someone's priorities for use of church funds. These may or may not be the congregation's priorities, or even the present leadership's, but someone or some group has priorities that determine how money is allocated.

Since every church has a budget, we are wise to recognize it and consciously shape it. It may be efficient when a select two or three determine the budget, but it is not healthy.

Of course, once you open up the process to the congregation, even through their elected leaders, you've got to answer the question, "So, how much should we give to each ministry and line item?" Answering that question is not always easy, but it is what setting a budget is all about.

Here are some principles I use in helping a church settle that question.

Continue reading Determining Which Ministry Gets What...

September 28, 2010

Case Threatens Pastor Housing Allowances

How a California court may alter a long-standing ministry benefit.

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Earlier this month, we covered eight federal issues that local churches should watch closely during the remainder of 2010 and into 2011, according to recent remarks from Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Busby, one of our editorial advisors, is based near Washington, D.C. His role at the ECFA includes advocating on behalf of ministry interests on Capitol Hill, so he’s uniquely positioned to see national tax and finance developments unfold that can influence church leaders.

We took notice when we heard the first item on Busby’s list: a California lawsuit, filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc., challenging the constitutionality of tax benefits associated with the housing allowances that churches provide to pastors.

The significance of housing allowances isn’t lost on church leaders. For decades, churches have used them to recruit and retain pastors. It’s an especially handy tool that churches with limited means, especially small congregations, can use to lure a gifted person. And at a time when the country slogs out of a multiyear recession, it’s perhaps as useful of a benefit as ever. The down economy has challenged weekly giving and strained budgets for many congregations, making pay raises remain small, even nonexistent in some places.

As Richard Hammar notes in his 2010 Church & Clergy Tax Guide:

“The three most common housing arrangements for ministers are (1) living in a church-provided parsonage; (2) renting a home or apartment; or (3) owning a home. The tax code provides a significant benefit to each housing arrangement … The rules … represent the most significant tax benefits enjoyed by ministers.”

Given the importance of housing allowances, we asked Hammar to give us a deeper sense for where the California case will land.

At the moment, the signs aren’t favorable. Church leaders should begin thinking now about a future in which housing allowances for pastors do not receive federal tax exemptions.

Continue reading Case Threatens Pastor Housing Allowances...

September 21, 2010

Sex Offenders in the Pew

8 in 10 church leaders say registered offenders can attend--with limitations.

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In April 2010, Christianity Today International (CTI) conducted a national survey of 2,864 people, including ordained church leaders (15 percent), church staff (20 percent), lay members (43 percent), and other active Christians (22 percent). Respondents were drawn from the readers of CTI publications and websites. The purpose of the "Sex Offenders in the Church" survey was to explore attitudes and beliefs on whether to allow sex offenders to participate in faith communities. The survey explored what practices churches use to keep their congregations safe when sex offenders are welcomed.

Pastors, lay leaders, and churchgoers overwhelmingly agree that sex offenders who have legally paid for their crime should be welcomed into churches. In fact, 8 in 10 respondents indicated that registered offenders should be allowed to attend church under continuous supervision and subject to appropriate limitations.

Ian Thomsen, church administrator for Arvada Covenant Church in Arvada, Colorado, says, "If we can reach out to sex offenders, and through our efforts change their lives for the better and take a significant risk away from society, we see this as a tremendous challenge—but what a wonderful challenge. We want to take it on."

"Jesus said there's no unforgiveable sin except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," says Mark Tusken, rector of St. Mark's Church in Geneva, Illinois. "Now that doesn't mean we want to condone sexual crimes. We're not out to hang a shingle that says Sex Offenders Not Welcome any more than we want to hang a shingle that says Come, Y'All. But my prayer has always been that St. Mark's would be a safe place—a place where people can come because they sense the refuge of Christ here.

"That means parents can come without even giving a thought about something happening to their kids, but also that somebody with a sex offense in their past ought to be able to come and fit in and not be judged." In the 16 years that Tusken has overseen his congregation, he has known of only one convicted sex offender attending.

Click here to continue reading Marian Liautaud's article from the September 2010 issue of Christianity Today.

Where does you and your church land on this subject?

To learn more, check out:

- The 2010 Sex Offenders in the Church Survey (a free executive report);
- Richard Hammar's "Sex Offenders in the Church" Feature Report;
- "Sex Offenders in the Church," a training resource for church leaders;
- "Juvenile Offenders in the Church," a training resource for church leaders;
- Reducing the Risk, 3rd Edition, Richard Hammar's training resource for church leaders to prevent sexual abuse.

September 16, 2010

10 Things Every Church Should Know about Expansion (in 140 characters or less)

Tips church leaders can use before their next project.

Cogun, a North Lima, Ohio-based company that helps churches with building, recently released the "10 Things Every Church Should Know about Expansion (in 140 characters or less)." Here are the first three (you can read all 10 in the brief electronic booklet offered here):

1. Clarity is king. Know who you are, who you're called to reach, and then over-communicate it. This is the rudder that will allow you to end up with the right expansion when it's done.

2. Expansion options abound. Churches can add ministry space in multiple ways--additional services, multi-site campuses, church mergers, building expansion/relocation.

3. Understand the budget. When you build new facilities, the amount for the building itself is only part of the total cost. Non-building costs can add up to 20% to 40% of your total costs.

Read all 10 things in Cogun's e-booklet. Also check out BuildingForMinistry.com, a partnership between Christianity Today International and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network, of which Cogun is a co-founder.

September 14, 2010

Can Finance People Be Ministry Minded?

Including ministry priorities in church planning and budgeting.

Why do committees so often act in a way that seems indifferent to and sometimes impedes ministry? The following practices may explain much of the problem:

—People making financial decisions are removed from firsthand involvement in ministry.

—People who are actually involved in the ministries have little or no input into the budget process.

—Little advance planning is put into the budget process.

—The focus is on the bottom line: How much did we take in? How much did we spend?

—Budget categories from previous years tend to dictate how money will be spent in subsequent years.

—The arrangement of the budget reflects an emphasis on maintaining a physical plant and paying staff salaries rather than fulfilling a corporate vision.

How can we avoid this approach? How can we move beyond seeing church ministry only in terms of budget numbers?

Continue reading Can Finance People Be Ministry Minded?...

September 9, 2010

Cash Reserves: Who Needs Them?

Why now is a good time for your church to build a safety net.

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Cash reserves. If you’re like me, your eyes glaze over when these two words are used together. It’s certainly not the most exciting topic. But, what we have found through the current economic downturn is that cash reserves are more important than ever for ministries.
Why do ministries need cash reserves? Consider these actual situations:

• During the past winter, I received calls from about 50 churches that were panicked by outrageous heating bills running two to five times their normal averages. Some churches in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia, where snow rarely falls, canceled services some weekends because of snowfall, and therefore took in virtually no offerings.

• The earthquake in Haiti created massive need. Many churches wished they could help but didn’t have the extra cash to do it.

• July was the hottest month on record in some parts of the country. Three churches I work with had to replace multiple HVAC units.

These are just a few recent examples of situations where adequate reserves could have allowed ministries to move forward instead of only wishing they could, or prevented them from having to pull funds from other parts of their ministry to pay unexpected bills.

Building cash reserves is actually not as daunting as it may sound. Churches can increase reserves by increasing revenue or decreasing expenses and not spending the difference.

Beyond that, here are four specific examples of ways a church can get on the path to building adequate reserves:

Continue reading Cash Reserves: Who Needs Them?...

September 7, 2010

Why Church Leaders Should Take the Risk of Embezzlement Seriously

7 reasons to protect against fraud.

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As hard as it may be to believe, churches are not immune from embezzlement. In fact, the widespread belief among church leaders that such a crime "could never happen in a church" makes churches an easy target. Economic downturns make the risk even greater. Here are seven reasons to prevent fraud from happening at your church:

  • Removing temptation. Churches that take steps to prevent embezzlement remove a source of possible temptation for church employees and volunteers who work with money.
  • Protecting reputations. By taking steps to prevent embezzlement, a church protects the reputation of innocent employees and volunteers who otherwise might be suspected of financial wrongdoing when financial irregularities occur.

Continue reading Why Church Leaders Should Take the Risk of Embezzlement Seriously...