Many churches, like other nonprofits, have to grapple with challenges of operating facilities, paying salaries, and providing funding for programs, schools and mission work. The economic challenges of recent years have impacted congregations raising questions new and old.
We talked with Robert Van Ess, Associate Pastor at Holy Trinity Community Church United Church of Christ about this. He has studied and written about church giving, changes in the economy, and generational differences related to money. We share his thoughts for your consideration.
“Many churches are struggling to meet the demand of their annual budgets. Hard choices are being made across the ecclesiastical landscape. Programs and mission projects are being restructured, downsized, or even eliminated. Churches are cutting down from employing full time pastors and making do with part time appointments. Building campaigns have been scaled back or put on hold. In a move to stave off budget busting expenditures many churches have begun to only insure their full time pastors exclusively, eliminating the previous benefit of insuring the pastor’s entire family as beneficiaries, in an attempt to cut down on the sky rocketing health care costs that along with a pastor’s salary can amount to 50% or more of a smaller church’s budget.”
As with other nonprofits, churches can only make so many cuts. There comes a point when revenue – or tithes and offerings – need to be reevaluated. Van Ess raises questions that for church leaders to consider. For example, how can churches encourage consistent tithing and giving by members who are committed to the church but who attend inconsistently? How can churches retain liturgical meaning and values that are expressed through tithing and giving, and at the same time encourage tithing and giving by younger people who may not own a check book or carry cash?
Is electronic giving an appropriate answer? If yes, how would it be integrated into the life of a church? Is giving with a debit card acceptable? A credit card? How does an individual who gives electronically participate in the liturgical aspects of giving? What does she or he put in the basket? What if the majority of a congregation moves to electronic giving – would services themselves begin to change?
Van Ess points out that young people have a different relationship with money and giving than that of people over 50. Many don’t deal with checks or cash. They pay for gas with a card, use electronic bill pay services for utilities, rent and other monthly expenses. Many never receive a “pay check” – their salary is deposited into their bank account on a specified date.
Change is constant. The question is how will congregations adapt to these changes and ensure financial viability? Creative and respectful experimentation may reveal how to integrate new ways of giving. Tell us what your church is doing and we’ll report back.
Robert Van Ess is a 2011 graduate of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis Missouri and serves Holy Trinity Community Church United Church of Christ in Memphis Tennessee as Associate Pastor.