Saturday, December 11, 2010

Church Office Life Stories

I've got a great idea for a sitcom - church office life. Problem is that I could collect all these stories and try to sell them to Hollywood but Hollywood would never believe these actually happened. So I'm going to share with my readers (all two, so far!) some funny and amazing stories of church office life. Here's the first one - I've got a bunch more. And if you're reading this, please contribute your own church office life stories.

Best story I heard this week:

A church changed its email and its URL. They had to. A church member (who is about 80 years old) owned the URL and would not release it to the church. In fact, when the church administrator went to Mrs. Smith's house to talk with her about this, Mrs. Smith very proudly showed the administrator her three computers. When one of the computers had a new entry on its screen, Mrs. Smith invited the administrator over. "Look, here's a new email. Let's open it." Mrs. Smith not only had hijacked the church's URL and the email but she was reading all church email!! The administrator quickly left the house and realized the church had to change its URL and email in order to protect itself from Mrs. Smith!

Lead On!

The Church At Play

I really wanted to address two separate but related issues: church staff and the church itself.

What I mean by "at play" is very simple - how do church staff (and members) do fun things together on company time. Here's why: years ago I had a boss who said that the only time he gets worried about his staff is when he did not hear laughter in the halls of the church office. Laughter is an indication that the staff is having fun together and not taking life too seriously. If you don't hear laughter, you're going to hear gossip. Laughter is much better.

Most church staffs do church together. Nothing else. That is not healthy - they need intentional times when the church approves (and funds) the staff going out on the company clock to do something memorable together: bowling, watching a movie, painting pottery, playing golf (if you like chasing a little white ball) or frisbee golf, playing softball or flag football, going fishing or sailing, etc. You get the idea. Do something that does not involve church. That will the staff something to talk about for months (years?) to come that does not involve "talking shop." Give your staff something else to remember - not just last week's worship and Bible study. After all, church is very stressful - giving your staff permission to play will reduce the stress and give them good memories and a pleasant shared experience. You'll never regret it.

That leads to the church at play. I know a couple of churches that intentionally shut down their doors on Sundays for the entire church to go on a retreat over Labor Day or Easter. It's the same principle as above - give the church members something to remember, an experience to share that is out of the ordinary. Going through seminary I worked for a large hospital company - 7000 employees. Each year during the state fair, the company rented a large tent, provided free food (served by top management), and gave away free admission tickets to the state fair to all employees and their families. Many churches do a picnic once a year and that is very healthy.

Most churches know that fellowship is a key component of a healthy church. Most churches view fellowship as punch and cookies after a Sunday music function or the Wednesday supper. Sorry to burst your bubble, that is not fellowship - that is a church program (church programs are quickly becoming a "four-letter word" to me - more in another post). The best fellowship invovles getting away from the church buildings - do something out of the ordinary and out of the four walls of your church. Get out, go away, make memories, take pictures, and have FUN!

Lead On!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Churches as Businesses

Every so often someone will tell me that "the church is not a business and shouldn't operate as such." Just as frequently, I get the comment, "the church really is a business." So, which one is correct? Well, let me say unequivocally, both are right. Here's why and why not.

Churches are businesses in that they have the same basic building blocks of a business - every church has:
  • operating budgets
  • staffs
  • "products" (in churches it is "intangible religious benefits" in IRS terms)

Churches are not businesses in that they have a different purpose
  • Their goal is to give to people, not get from people
  • Their goal is empower people to give away more to other people
The foundational structure of every church is business-like. The programming of churches is not necessarily business-like. However, I need to clarify one area there where churches should be more like a company: evaluation.

Churches shy away viscerally from evaluating their programming. They hide behind the phrase "but if it helps just one person, it was worth it." After 35 years in church work (I worked in a Christian bookstore as a teenager), I feel that churches must evaluate almost everything they do. They can't hide behind the trite phrase of helping just one person - I do not believe God honors that (or better said, God blesses even more those ministries that are regularly evaluated and improved). The church today must evaluate its staff, buildings, and programming.

Staff: many churches do an acceptable job of evaluating staff but it is frequently a look back and not setting goals for the future. Staff (from the pastor on down) need to be assessed on what they did in the past 6 or 12 months against goals that were established for those staff. Too infrequently bosses fail to set expectations for staff so that there is nothing against which to measure the staff. Then you have the hard part, staff that is not performing need to be encouraged/mentored if they have potential. But if there is no chance that a staff member is going to succeed in your church's environment, then that person needs to be terminated. Termination is very hard on everyone but in the long run it is beneficial to the rest of the staff and the church. In the words of Spock from Star Trek, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Pruning is hard, but it leads to greater growth in the next season.

Building: this represents sunk costs. A church has already built and paid for those bricks and mortar. But the evaluation should be, "is what this building was originally built for still a viable option or should we change the building to meet future needs?" Buildings can be retro-fitted (for a price, yes) for needs that the church leadership feels is coming up. Do not be wedded to the past "just because we've always done it that way." Years ago I learned how the new anti-termite pesticides work: the chemical inhibit the termites from shedding their old skin when they outgrow it. Thus, the termites strangle inside their old skins. Don't let your church do that - change your skin as often and necessary to keep the church from killing itself.

Programming: by far, this is the most politic- and emotion-laden area of church work. People have invested their own blood, sweat, and tears in their pet ministries and feel that any mention of cutting them is a threat to them personally. Evaluation is not acceptable and they play their trump card almost immediately - "God is using this ministry." My grandparents decided that a car was better than a horse and buggy; my parents decided that telephones are better than letters; my generation decided that computers are better than typewriters; the next generation is totally committed to the internet (which is replacing just about everything!). Change is painful but evaluation is an absolute necessity if a church wants to grow or not lose ground.

Evaluation is a matter of opinion - not everyone will evaluate the same program or person the same way. Church leadership needs to determine how the evaluation will occur and how the results will be implemented. That cannot be explained in a blog - every church has a unique culture and that culture must form part of the decision-making/evaluation process. But please heed this note of warning: to do nothing, to not evaluate things on a regular basis, is to ensure that the church will continue its present track with no heed to the future of the church. If you want a biblical example, read Acts 15 when the church in Jerusalem struggled with whether or not to permit Gentiles to be part of the church. Enough said.

Lead On!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Do Churches Continue to Exist?

I can prove that God exists: Is there a church in your neighorhood? If so, then God exists.

Let me explain. Most churches (about 90% and maybe higher) are so poorly run that if they were a for-profit business, they'd go out of business within a matter of months.
  • churches don't have a business plan,
  • the leaders don't generally understand finances,
  • CEOs don't want to know who their major customers are,
  • the employees typically give things away rather than ask customers to pay for things,
  • even the customers expect to be given things just because they say they're a member,
  • and so on - you get the idea
Churches are bad businesses. They don't get the concept of running like a business and most don't want to even have the term "business" associated with them. Churches have all the trappings of a business: employees, customers, and transactions (tangible, intangible and financial) between the parties. But churches still don't want to operate like a business: market focus, strategic staffing, and ROI on physical assets.

See, if God did not exist, almost all churches would go belly up within six months. Because God exists, God keeps churches afloat despite all human endeavors to mess things up by operating "like a church." So, because churches continue to exist, God exists. Case closed.

Lead On!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Resources, Insources, and Outsources

Several years ago, Dr. Al Sutton of the 6th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, spoke to a group of church administrators. D. Sutton used the biblical text of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men (or about 25,000 men, women, and children). It was getting late and the people were hungry. The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowd away. The disciples wanted to outsource the problem but Jesus insisted on "insourcing" the situation. Then the disciples said they didn't have any money and Jesus replied, "what resources do you have and lets see how we can use that." Dr. Sutton thanked us administrators for putting up with pastors who want to imitate Jesus by insourcing problems and by telling the finance people to just use whatever you've got (without fully knowing what there is to begin with). I'm not doing Dr. Sutton justice with this brief paragraph, but you get the idea.

Every day Christians (and non-Christians) ask God to make personal problems go away. If the issue will only disappear, then there won't be a problem, right? We even throw Jesus back at God, "If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, God will solve everything."  God wants us to deal with issues - not run from them. God wants all of God's disciples to get involved, to get our hands dirty, and to "insource" problems. God doesn't outsource - God uses you and me. BTW, I'm not talking about medical, ethical, or legal problems - those have tangible consequences and are a matter of much prayer; sometimes God does intervene in human events in miraculous ways to cure diseases and take care of situations far beyond our powers and require divine resources. But what is within our control, God wants us to confront and deal with directly - not push aside.

Next, Jesus asked about the resources available. All too often we tell God that we don't have enough; that if he'd only provide more we could do more; that the problem is too big for our meager resources. Jesus isn't about what we have - he's about what God has. I don't like it one bit when God tells me to start out on a project when I know that I don't know the way or have the material goods to finish - I even tell God about the parable of the king who went to war without counting the cost. Invariably God tells me to keep going and trust him. I know it sounds corny and trite, but it is true (about trusting God for daily needs - not daily wants).

So here's my stewardship lesson for all who read this - all Christians must get involved using every bit we've got. Asking God to take the issue away won't solve anything. Problems are opportunities for God - stop telling God to take some issue away that you don't want to deal with. Next, use all the resources (time, energy, money) to address the opportunity at hand. As you're in the middle of the issue, you may be surprised to see God at work and multiplying resources more than you thought possible. Or it may be like the disciples, only after the event is over and some time (hours, days, or months) has passed, will you be able to reflect on that event and see how God was at work. But rest assured of this, God is always at work!

Lead On!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Legal Software on the Cheap

I found a neat website the other day (actually, it wasn't me - my wife told me about it after she went to a class for grantwriters; if you're interested in her services, contact provides 501(c)(3) organizations with dirt cheap software. MS Office 2010 for $24 (Excel, Word, Outlook, etc). That's a lot cheaper than anywhere else I've seen. They have a whole host of other software products such as Blackbaud, Adobe, etc. (probably about 30 different titles).

Check them out and see if you can get some current software on the cheap for your organization. They'll think you're a hero (and you can thank me later).

Lead On!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Personnel as a Percentage of the Entire Budget

Every year the question comes up, "Is the personnel budget too big?" Some people actually mean, "Are we paying the staff too much?" and that is a question that hurts. In reality, it shows the ignorance of the person asking the question more than anything - they have no idea what their staff does. But more often than not, the intent of the original question is concern over the size of the staff (number of employees) and is that cost appropriate for our church. Here are some figures that I gathered from my local colleagues regarding their church's 2011 personnel budgets:
  • 40.00%
  • 53.58% - does not include food service or custodial personnel
  • 48.00% - does not include custodians; church also pays $400,000 in debt service
  • 54.00%
  • 47.80%
  • 52.60%
  • 55.76%
From this data, you can tell the personnel team, inquiring church members, and curious onlookers that a range of 40%-60% is within the "normal" range. Feel free to use this info and share it with others - it might help you from those who feel the staff is paid too much or the staff is too big.

BUT, the real question is, "How much staff do we need to do what we want to do?" That is a completely different question and it is too deep to unpack here. However, I do want to wade in ankle-deep.

Most church staffs grow organically - that is, stafff members are added progressively every year or two as the church grows. This is the normal and customary route. Oh, we need someone to help the youth minister, hire a part-time middle school coordinator; our seniors are feeling neglected, hire a retired minister (he can use the income) to take care of the seniors; our current custodians aren't cleaning the building well, hire another one.

Let me suggest a better method - strategic growth. Strategic growth is more painful in the short run but far more productive in the long run. Because of the time needed, cuts in staff that result from this, and the ensuing time needed to educate members and implement the new structure, I suggest that churches only do this at most every five years.

Strategic growth, in a nutshell, is when church leadership (ministry council, elders, etc.) looks at the "five-year plan" that every church should have. Simultaneously, the council gets a conservative estimate of income for each of the next five years. With those two pieces of info, the council decides what is the #1 goal for the next five years (that thing, without which, the church would cease to exist) and then funds that with staffing, programming, and building money. The council then decides what is #2 and funds it appropriately and so forth until the estimated money runs out.

When the council has run out of money to fund its strategic plan, all other items on the priority list are cut. That means that some staff will be cut, some buildings may not be built or may be renovated, and some programs and ministries will no longer be done. That is going to please some members and anger others - this is where the hurt and pain come in. You're not going to please everyone, but you will please God as the church uses its resources (staffing, building, and members' time for ministries) in a strategic method.

A lot more can be said about this but I think you get the idea of where to go from here. I do feel that if strategic staffing and programming is implemented, you'll be able to look back and be amazed at how far how fast the church went.

So, next time someone asks, "How big is our personnel budget?" return the question with one of your own, "Are we spending personnel dollars in the right way?"

Lead On!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fishes & Loaves with

Last Christmas the church staff did not give each other white elephant gifts. Instead, the money that we would have spent on buying knick-knacks for each other was pooled for a total of $450. We then went online at the Christmas party to which is an organization that makes micro-loans (loans of $1,000 or less per person) to people in third-world countries. These individuals have been screened by a local organization to determine the worthiness of what the individual plans to use money for - usually to fund a small business whose profits will repay the loan, provide income for the person's family and reinvest funds back into their business. The default rate on these loans is less than 2% which is far less than loan defaults in the US. At the party we selected some individuals to receive our gifts and sent the money on its way.

Periodically I get an email from informing me of the status of our loans: the person is now fully funded, the person has begun repaying the loan, or the person has completely repaid the loan. In the seven months that we've had money with, all of the money that we originally loaned has been repaid and we've loaned others some money. In the past seven months we've had money paid back to us which we then loaned to others so that we have now loaned a total of $875 - yes, that is a "fishes and loaves" story.

This is a neat way to appeal to younger generations to get them involved in specific generosity events. They can actually see a picture of a lady in Ghana or Paraguay who received the money and track how she is using it and repaying it. is not a church or religiously affiliated organization, but they are changing lives around the world. BTW, all of the recipients of our church staffs' money have some form of religious connection in either their name or in their bio - this is our small way of helping Christians around the world.

Lead On!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Business Books

Why don't ministers read more business books? There are some classics out there by gurus such as Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, and Jim Collins. There are lesser known authors or newer authors such as the Heath brothers (right now I'm reading their book, Made to Stick - great stuff). Popular business books from the past few years are very readable and enjoyable.

If I could, I'd challenge every minister to read one business book for every two books he or she reads on theology or church life. Think outside the box! After all, a minister is the CEO of a corporation. An aside, a minister once told me that the church is the only organization in the world where the customers (who pay the bills) are also the stockholders (who control the company) which leaves the staff in the middle.

So, please read some business books. Here is a sample:
  • Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer (story of the rise and fall of Veggie Tales)
  • In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters (a management classic)
  • Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath (communicating your message)
  • Switch also by the Heath brothers (how to bring change to your organization)
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins (and the 30-page monograph dealing with non-profits)
  • How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins (how to detect and stop the decline of your organization)
  • Y-size Your Business by Jason Dorsey (not read it yet but gets rave reviews about including the next generation of 20-somethings)
  • and too many others to count but this list will get you started
Lead On!

Getting around the FDIC cap on insured bank balances

About three years ago, a new financial service came available which addresses the issue of the FDIC cap of $250,000. This service, known as CDARS (pronounced like the tree), is explained in full at Some banks have purchased this service and some have not; check with your bank to see if it participates. In a nutshell, this is how it works:

• Your church buys a certificate of deposit (CD) for a little less than $250,000 (in order to have any interest earned included in the $250K cap).
• The CD you purchase is actually a CD in First National Bank of Peoria (for example). In turn, First National Bank of Peoria buys a CD from your bank for the same amount. These two banks are cooperating in the CDARS program and have just exchanged money that is fully insured through FDIC.
• You buy as many CDs as you want, all from different banks around the country, to cover your financial assets. The maximum amount you can invest in CDARS is $50 million (I don’t think that’s a problem for anyone).
• The CDARS program does several things:
   o It insures as much money as you want to have covered
   o It invests the church’s money through one financial institution so you get one bank statement (which means you don’t have to deal with a dozen banks and their statements)
   o You earn interest at the going CD rate (which is very low right now – about 1% per year – maybe it will go up soon?)

This is how my church puts this in practice
• My church has a cash balance of about $1.8 million (not unusual for a megachurch)
• We purchased 12 CDs for $100,000 each (that $1.2 million plus the $250K insured through our bank covers the bulk of our demand deposit balance)
• These CDs are laddered so that one comes due every month.
• All interest earned is put into the church’s checking account (which is added to the church’s financial statement and pays for the operations of the finance office)
• Each month our bank notifies me by email and I sign and email bank a document approving the next CD purchase – it is all handled electronically
• This church has a line of credit of $1 million. Because there are severe penalties (invasive of principal) for early withdrawal of a CD, the church will tap its line of credit should there ever been a financial need. Then, we’ll pay back the line of credit as CDs mature each month.
• My finance committee members were not aware of this program and several of them took it to their companies!

If you have questions or want someone to talk with me about this, I’ll be happy to help.

Lead On!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Change on the Ground

In an earlier blog, I referenced that a predictor of the economy is the amount of loose change you can find on the ground. Good news - in the past two weeks I've found 36 cents! (a quarter, a dime, and a penny)

Does this indicate the economic turnaround is here? Does indicate I've got good eyes? Does this indicate people are careless with loose change? Does this indicate I've got good luck in looking down at the right time? All of the above is the answer - probably more dumb luck than anything!

Lead On!


I heard it last week from my financial assistant: of the reported revenues for the prior week (total of $56,000), around $29,000 came in the offering plate. That means that about $27,000 came to the church outside the offering plate: in stocks, online gifts, mailed in offerings, etc. This is a change: for years churches felt that the offering plate was their primary source of revenues. Well, I can document that as of last week, things are noticably changing - only 52% came in the offering plate.

That is huge for churches. Church financial leadership must understand that the way of giving and supporting church work has already changed. If churches are not on the "change bandwagon," then they are leaving some financial gifts "on the table" and not in their offering plates.

So, what are you doing to facilitate giving to your church? Are you making it easy for people to give in new ways? Or are you still relying on the offering plate to provide 100% of your revenues?

Lead On!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review

Just finished reading "The New Context for Ministry: Competing for the Charitable Dollar" by Lyle Schaller. He wrote this at the end of 2001 and it was published in early 2002. In the book, especially in the last handful of chapters he makes some predications about the future of church economics. It is uncanny how accurate he was and is.

Schaller gives all churches (and non-profits) a warning shot across the bow about the way they've always done church finances versus the new economy and how they need to re-shape their church's finances. It is also hard to acknowledge that the church is not prepared for the future. What is worse, is that no one seems concerned about the future enough to do anything about it.

About once a year someone pulls the fire alarm in my church. It is always a false alarm. Everyone knows it is a false alarm. So, no one moves the exit; no one gets the kids out of the building; no one runs to investigate the source of the alarm. In this book, Schaller is pulling the fire alarm for churches because there is a real fire. Unfortunately, churches believe that "God will provide" the financial resources they need. Well, God will but the church must actively work and search for it.

I recommend the book (even though it is not particularly readable) with an emphasis on his recommendations at the end of the book.

Lead On!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Penny Saved ...

I just filled up my gas tank (for future history, today gas was selling at $2.759 in Richmond, VA). Whenever I get gas, I look around the ground for pennies. I didn't find any today. I haven't found any pennies (dimes or nickels) for several months. This is one of my indicators of the economy.

A few years back, when the economy was doing quite well, I almost always found loose change when I filled up with gas. It seems that in those days, it wasn't worth the effort to pick up pennies or nickels and people just left them when they were dropped. Not any more.

About a two years ago I noticed that there were fewer and fewer coins on the ground. About 18 months ago I noticed they were almost all gone and officially, in spring 2009 there wasn't any more loose lying around. Here's my prediction, when you fill up with gas (or go through a fast food drive through) and you see coins on the ground, then you'll know that the economy is back and healthy. Here's my second prediction, you really won't see those coins on the ground until about six to nine months after the economy has turned the corner.

What I'm talking about in the context of churches is this question, "When will people feel generous again?" For church economics, two things have to change:
  1. The economy has to turn around in a visible, tangible way. Actually, as of right now (barring a major economic or terrorist event), the global economy is making steady headway out of the mires of 2008-2009. In about 3 months (summer 2010), the US and other first world countries will be on the financially-healthy rebound. But just because things are better financially does not mean people will be charitable or generous.
  2. The second thing is that people have to feel financially-healthy in order to be generous. The feeling of angst that people have right now (will I have a job tomorrow?, will I have enough to pay my bills?, etc.) must be eased a lot before they will respond to church pleas to give more. Churches need to help educate members to get in a more personally financially-healthy place (Crown Ministries and Financial Peace University). When churches do that, then their members will feel more generous. It takes people about 6-9 months after the economy has turned around for them to feel charitable.
Two questions for you:
  • Are you helping people get their financial house in line with God's plan for their financial house so they can be more generous faster?
  • Or are you waiting till you see pennies on the ground as your indicator of when people are feeling more generous?
Lead On!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jewish Philosopher Maimonides' View of Charity

This comes from Louis Jacobs' the Book of Jewish Belief, page 185. One of the most reknown Jewish philosophers, Maimonides, listed eight levels of charitable acts. It is interesting to see how these are borne out by individuals and by churches today.
  1. A man gives, but is glum when he gives. This is the lowest degree of all.
  2. A man gives with a cheerful countenance, but gives less than he should.
  3. A man gives, but only when asked by the poor.
  4. A man gives without having to be asked, but gives directly to the poor who know therefore to whom they are indebted, and he, too, knows whom he has benefited.
  5. A man places his donation in a certain place and then turns his back so that he does not know which of the poor he has benefited, but the poor man knows to whom he is indebted.
  6. A man throws the money into the house of a poor man. The poor man does not know to whom he is indebted, but the donor knows whom he has benefited.
  7. A man contributes anonymously to the charity fund that is then distributed to the poor. Here the poor man does not know to whom he is indebted, neither does the donor know whom he has benefited.
  8. Highest of all is when money is given to prevent another from becoming poor, as by providing him with a job or by lending him money to tide him over a difficult period. There is no charity greater than this becasue it prevents poverty in the first instance.
So, how is your church not just helping the poor, but preventing poverty?

Lead On!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Retirement - how much

How soon you are able to retire depends on how much you have invested in your retirement fund. Whether you want to retire depends on whether and when you want to retire.

Cut to the chase - how much do you need?
  • Take whatever you believe you need to live on and divide it by 5%. The thinking there is that if you have $2,000,000 saved up, you can tap 5% of that per year to get $100,000 to live on (presuming that is the figure you want/need). Figure out what the figure you need to live on, then divide by 5%.
  • Remember that the figure you need to retire is going to be different than what you need in 2010 dollars - both to the good and to the bad.
    • When you retire your taxes will be lower (if you retire at or after age 65).
    • When you retire, you will hopefully have paid off your house and not have a mortgage to pay.
    • When you retire, remember that inflation will increase the amount of 2010 dollars you've calculated you'll need - project that out at the annual average inflation rate of 3% for the number of years left till you retire.
Okay, how much should you sock away each year? I've heard three different figures:
  • 10-15%
  • 14-18%
  • 15% of your own money plus whatever your employer puts in. This is what Dave Ramsey says. Dave also says that you shouldn't count on Social Security and I agree with him. And what is the downside, if Social Security really does happen for you, guess what, you got some extra money!
  • Bottom line, put in 15% of your gross annual wages each year plus whatever your employer chips in.
If you can afford to put in more, do it. Put in as much as you can. After all, when you get your statement from your retirement fund, at some point I hope you'll be able to go to your boss and tell him that you're retiring and he can find someone else for your job - you're new job is watching the waves come in on the beach!

If you can't get to the 15% this year, then start and work your way up every year. When you get your pay raise, go straight to the Human Resources office or officer and increase your personal contribution to your retirement fund by 1%. After several years of doing that you'll be at 15%. Yes, it will affect how much you can have now to spend but you will also not pay taxes on those monies you're investing.
What funds to invest in? I'm not going to tell you. I'm pretty aggressive in my personal investing and so far it's worked out well. I did bail on stocks at the early stages of the 2008 recession and got back in to equities in early 2009 so I dodged some (but not all) of that bullet. Rule of thumb, invest your age in fixed income and the rest in equities. I do about half my age but as I said, I'm fairly aggressive and I monitor it regularly.

Who to use? Any one of the big boys. I personally like Vanguard but that is a personal decision because years ago I was at a meeting in Philadelphia. During the lunch at a local church, I was served tea by the wife of the founder of Vanguard. I was so impressed that a woman worth hundreds of millions would willing serve tea and water to guests of her church - I just knew that said a lot about the company her husband founded. So, I use Vanguard but other companies such as Fidelity, T Rowe Price, and Tiaa-Cref are also very good.

As Dave Ramsay says, "Live now like no else so that later you can live like no one else" - meaning, you'll be able to retire while they are still working!

Lead On!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Group Decision-making

I was asked to speak to our church's "Emerging Leaders" class about decision-making by groups. Specifically, there are three questions to answer:
  1. Why teams or committees in the church make decisions?
  2. How teams make decisions?
  3. How and why decisions are made by teams or committees get passed on for further approval?
First, full-disclosure: I work in a Baptist church. Baptists believe in democracy - my mom said that the truest expression of democracy, warts and all, is in a Baptist church. Members (actually, only those present) get to voice their opinion regardless of how much they've contributed to the church financially, how informed they are on the subject, or how much the result of the decision will affect them and their family. Everyone gets a voice - and that is very good and very bad.

Rather than digress into an explanation of the very good and very bad (which pretty much everyone can figure out for themselves), let me speak to these three questions.
  1. Why do churches have committees to make decisions?
    1. The Baptist church is a democracy: as explained above, decision-making is shared by the church. Now, the entire church cannot decide everything so it delegates some decisions to committees. Some decisions are made by the committees and some are passed on (see question #3). Sharing the burden (or blame) helps unify the church.
    2. "The Wisdom of the Crowds:" providing a venue for people with different life experiences to share their wisdom can help make decisions more informed and thus have better results. I frequently remind my committees that "right now we're operating from a basis of ignorance and getting more information will help us make a better decision." Decision-making from a base of ignorance is never good - get as much knowledge and wisdom as possible.
    3. Corporate buy-in: having as many people as reasonably possible in the decision-making process will mean that later on, those decision-makers can be "emissaries" to others who question the decision. It also means those decision-makers will support the decision verbally and financially when the time comes for them to speak out (or else they'll be viewed as hypocrites and not trusted by other members).
    4. CYA (cover your ass): this is not a polite term in church but it is exceedingly true. Smart leaders will use officially sanctioned committees to make decisions that might cause heartburn in a handful of individuals. Those individuals who have their own agendas will find it harder to fight the group. An individual decsion-maker can be hounded (sometimes mercilessly) by a person with an agenda. Individuals who question the group decision in a public arena can be asked why they did not go to the committee rather than air their grievance to the world.
  2. How do teams make decisions?
    1. The best decisions made by groups are by consensus. Sometimes a vote necessary for an official record. However, shy away from official votes when possible. Ask the members of the group if everyone is in agreement. Then, when you do need to take a vote, those official votes will have that much more power because members are willing to put their opinions in the record.
    2. Decision that are made by split or almost split decisions are not valid. Decisions should have a clear majority (at least 66-33) in order for them to have full support of the committee. Then, the committee must share and explain their decision with others so that there is further and continued buy-in.
    3. Point of clarification: some decisions should be made by a person for one of several reasons
      1. Expediency: there is not enough time to have an official meeting. In those cases, if the decision is minor then the leader can make the decision. Sometimes a leader may want or need to consult one or two others for their input but ultimately the decision will be made by that person.
      2. Leadership: "follow we" is not what Jesus said. Leadership is given to us by God. Sometimes leaders just need to make a decision and get out there and lead. Leadership is not "finding a parade and jumping out in front of it." Leadership is realizing that sometimes people are following you and sometimes people are chasing you - sometimes at the same time! Leadership is a topic for another blog.
  3. How and why decisions that are made by teams get passed on for further approval?
    1. Authorization: some committees are not authorized to have the final say in an issue. A team will pass on their decision with a recommendation to the next group in line when they are required to do so. The next group may or may not follow the prior group's decision and/or recommendation.
    2. Publicity: having a decision made by the entire congregation or a very large group provides the opportunity to "sell" or "market" the decision. That way, more people will be aware of the decision, can tell others about it, and when the time comes, can support it financially.
    3. Tricky issues: matters which could affect a member or group of members might need to be dealt with in an official capacity (depending on the matter and the people it affects). Some people accept negative news better than others; those who do not accept bad news are well-known and when a decision involves them, a group decision can help (see CYA above).
All that being said, let me tell a story that happened in a church. A certain member had a major contract with the church which annually cost the church over $40,000. I wanted to put that contract out to bid and I was authorized to do so but I knew how news would be received. I asked the church's Finance Committee to "order me" to put this out to bid (see CYA). Four companies bid on it and that member's bid came down 35% even though it was the same contract and two other bids were almost identical. I was authorized to make the final decision but I asked some elders in the church to help with the decision. They realized this was a tricky issue and they asked the Finance Committee to make the decision. The Finance Committee wrestled with this for over an hour before giving it to the member. The result is that about a dozen church leaders felt that this member was taking advantage of his church and his influence waned. The right decision was made, the member was put on notice that his prior actions were unacceptable, and the church got a $14,000 discount on an annual contract.

I need to go now, the contractor for a small renovation project needs me to make a decision. I'll handle that one myself - no committee need get involved!

Lead On!

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010 Church Economic Recovery?

All indications are that in spring 2010 the US economy will begin to show positive economic signs after almost two years of constant negative news. Of course, if there is a major event (terrorism, natural disaster, etc.) then all bets are off.

This news of a long-hoped for economic turnaround is good news for churches. But churches and other non-profits must be aware that their economic turnaround will not happen in spring 2010. It may not even happen in 2010.

When the US economy began going south in early 2008, people began to protect themselves financially. They paid off stupid debt (that's everything except mortgages, student loans, and reasonable car debt), cut up credit cards, began saving more, and gave less to charity, including churches. People have been in this financial belt-tightening mode for two years now. They've gotten used to eating Taco Bell and not Ruth's Chris (well, maybe they'll splurge once or twice a year for a special occasion). We've learned what we can cut out of our lives and still have a life. And those cut backs include giving to church and other charities.

So, when the US economy does begin to turn-around and people begin to feel a little more financially flush, will they be generous with charities. No, not immediately. I think we're dealing with a required change not only in the economy but also in the American psyche. It will take time for people to feel comfortable in donating to non-profits. People are going to have to feel secure in their jobs and in their financial well-being in order for them to feel generous.

I estimate that the church's economic turn-around will occur about six to nine months after the US economy. That means it probably won't happen until Christmas 2010. That means that churches are going to still struggle financially during 2010. That is a great reason for churches to tighten their own belts and cut out things they are not vital to their mission. You know, get rid of all those "sure would be nice" ministries that only use up financial and human resources and add to a church's "mission creep" (when you lose focus on your main thing and get sidetracked).

So, buckle up for a bumpy 2010. I hope I'm wrong. If I'm wrong and you did buckle up, guess what, you'll have some financial leftovers ready for 2011! Happy New Year, 2011!

Lead On!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Financial Resolutions 6

The last set of financial resolutions for churches from Brad Leeper at

9. Human need trumps brick and mortar
Pastors tend to like ministry and facilities large. People like church to feel small and relational. Pastors understand how facilities are tools to reach more people. Most people, however, are less concerned about the facility and more concerned about human need. It is the new normal now to include the human element in vision expansion projects. Church planting, multi-site, a clinic in Africa, homeless ministry in the community, and similar high human touch elements are increasingly expected in major projects. Human investment validates the construction.
A colleague worked with a clients vision expansion project that had nothing to do with any construction undertaking. Every investment dollar flowed boldly to planting churches around the city. The multiple of annual income raised was incredible! A clear connection on how personal giving reduces human need throws gasoline on generosity.
10. Free yourself from the past. Your church members have
The recent Barna report on giving in 2007 repeated the same theme from prior years. Just 5% of American adults tithed. The most generous segment, evangelicals only topped the charts at 24%. The numbers have remained steady over the decade. We are anemic as a church in prompting generosity.
Trends in giving, however, are shifting more radically than ever before. For those of us passionate about the local church, Barna sends up a bright warning flare. People are changing how they relate with the church. No longer content with standard church interaction, they are expanding their circle of Christian relationships beyond local church boundaries.People increasingly give their money to organizations other than the church.
I served a client this past year that had small groups unofficially connected with their church in multiple states. This strategy was not intentional nor were these groups even supported by the church. The groups emerged from a meaningful interaction with the church podcast ministry. These groups gave generously to this church without a hint of request by the church.
There is an increasingly sophisticated donor in an ever increasing competition for the faith dollar. A challenging economy will accelerate the competition. Many donors fail to connect how their attendance at your church translates into giving practices to your church.
If inspired, motivated, and simply prompted, however, people would still rather give to their church. Our silence leaves them uninspired, unmotivated, and believing that we have no need of financial resources. The church that shifts generosity dialog and practices to better match the shifting patterns will receive substantial resources.
As we consider ministry plans for the new year in the midst of economic uncertainly, understand the urgency of making adaptations to your giving practices. You will find the process engaging, energizing, and incredibly meaningful to your people. They will be transformed with an amazing collaboration with their investments and Gods call on your church.

Lead On!

Financial Resolutions 5

The next set of financial resolutions for churches from Brad Leeper at

7. Potential larger gift donors need pinpoint coaching and encouragements
As leaders, we hear an outstanding vocalist and we encourage them to move into the music ministry. We find a young leader gifted as a communicator and we prompt them into ministry options. Yet, we find a person with financial capacity to give large sums and we go into silent mode. Churches that coach and elevate the gift of giving contribute vast resources for Kingdom work. Rather than showing the rich man favor, we actually raise the bar of discipleship for them and release enormous sums toward those things that stir the heart of God.
Most potentially larger gift donors are often paralyzed about their giving. They often are ill-equipped to know how to give, where to give, and the mechanics of making wise gifts. Appropriate financial guidance can multiple a gift to your church while legally minimizing tax liabilities. Our government tax code subsidizes our giving.
Although people can earn huge dollars, they are not automatically inclined to know how to give wisely. A wealthy person who understands how much is enough can substitute giving for lifestyle and release untold resources to valuable ministry needs. Churches that disciple high capacity donors multiple vast amounts of resources.
8. Leaders must model sacrificial giving
We cannot lead people where we ourselves are not going. Our people are hungry to view authentic leaders living and giving in the context of faith. Leading by example inspires. How we model and appropriately demonstrate generosity can be tricky. It is done with integrity and humility in generous churches.

Lead On!

Financial Resolutions 4

The next set of financial resolutions from Brad Leeper of

6. The church must intentionally build greater trust with its people
Most church giving, especially project-driven giving, is in direct correlation with the trust account balance with its people. How often and how creatively can you build the trust connection that gives people instant freedom to say yes to a spiritual investment? Your people might love the primary teaching pastor. They most certainly love the people of their church. Significant trust comes from neither of these sources. Shaping confidence is a neglected art.
· No bank account replenishes itself automatically after a withdraw. So too must church leadership constantly make trust deposits.
· How can we increase our trust account?
· Tell people frequently how their financial gifts are being used.
· Teach how they are building treasure in heaven.
· Celebrate generosity at each offering.
· Help people understand how financial accountability is a big deal in your church.
· Maintain an open atmosphere about your finances.
· Unapologetically spend money on an annual, independent audit and proclaim the results of the clear audit. Make audit copies available in your lobby.
· Leaders appropriately share how they give.
· Send a thank you note to a household after their first gift to the church.
As we swim in these economically turbulent waters, consider more radical moves to build trust.
· Stop ineffective ministry even though you will take hits. People are having to adjust their budgets by stopping spending that they would rather not stop. Model for them how to adjust spending patterns.
· Redeploy budget line items to more practical human needs. Food banks, justice ministries, fighting child slavery, mercy ministries and other such works are perceived as far more important than operating expenditures. If the economy worsens, you will need to support some in your church to ride out the storm. Consistently building trust accelerates generosity.

Lead On!

Financial Resolutions 3

The next set of financial resolutions for churches from Brad Leeper of
5. Churches can still raise financial resources for major projects if
Churches that successfully raise additional funds for major projects make an audible from classic campaign approaches. Donors are eager to give to the right projects if we adapt our methods from past practices. People eager to give generously look for certain qualities in a project before giving. Their decision making grid is radically different than even just a few years ago.
· Generous people look for more specific benchmarks and ask much harder questions in search for validation of the project.
· Does the project make sense? Is the reason to give sacrificially clear and compelling?
· Has the leadership thought this project through? Has the leadership done due diligence? Just because the pastor loves this project has little bearing on my love for the project.
· Would my investment directly help people? Buildings do not inspire me.
· There are far more attractive projects outside the church that appear more meaningful to me. Just because I attend church here does not mean that I automatically buy into your project.
· Does this project help the poor?
Give a change of pace from predictable practices to foster generosity. Even though much of my work centers on capital campaigns, I fight hard to keep those two words from my interaction with clients. Most of my clients call their effort a mission expansion projector vision expansion project. Stewardship is replaced by generosity. Vision casting and telling gripping narratives begin months in advance not compressed into a five week package. Print media is replaced with moving video work that is viewed repeatedly on YouTube.
The traditional three-year giving period for a mission expansion project can be shortened. People are increasingly skeptical about long-term commitments. A fast growing church can actually be hindered with a long giving season. Churches that have made adjustments to converse with a new kind of donor still cultivate significant resources for their vision.

Lead On!

Financial Resolutions 2

The next set of financial resoutions for churches from Brad Leeper of
3. Conversations must move beyond stewardship to generosity
With all due respect to the biblical concept of stewardship, the term itself is passive, hard to understand, and boring. In the secret places of the heart, people do not long to be good stewards. They do long to make an impact. To be a difference maker. To be generous to the point of giving up something that is good in exchange for something that is better.
Churches that celebrate generosity become more generous. Churches that are silent about generosity become zealous about cutting expenses. I have lived in that cutting expenses season. Experiencing generosity is much more fun. Try a vocabulary shift in 2009. Replace stewardship with generosity and unpack the stories about how the generosity of your church changed lives. Watch your giving flourish.
4. Churches must speak more intentionally about finances
Economically tough times create intense static in the minds and hearts of your people. Consider that we have been accustomed to a consumer driven lifestyle accompanied by $3 cups of specialized coffee and the internal confusion hits decibel levels too loud for even 18 year old rockers. Where do your people stand in juggling financial realities? According to a USA Today article May 2008:
· 9 out of 10 consumers in their 30s are in debt.
· 45% of respondents in one survey said they had too much debt to think about saving. Do we think the answer is any different about their generosity?
· 20% of adult in their 30s are still paying college loans.
Another source reports that Americans now save, on average, less than 1% of their income. How can we expect people to give generously when their margin is already so razor thin? Be daring in your coaching. Teach people how to get out of debt. Teach them how to save. Inspire them to live above the roar of our consumer-driven machine.
When I perform a giving analysis for a client, it is very typical to receive a list of regular attending households (OK, relax. I do not ask for names) with over 50% of those households having giving nothing in the last year. I have had pastors tear up when they realize that they are the number 2 top donor in the church. Your people are not as up to speed about finances as you think they are. The church that preaches and teaches about sound, biblical financial practices will create a long-term culture that gives abundantly to match its compelling vision.

Lead On!

Financial Resolutions 1

These financial resolutions are a great way to start the year. I didn't write these resolutions - Brad Leeper did in (Brad is Generis Senior Strategist and can be reached at Here are Brad's (and mine) financial resolutions for churches for any and every year.

Whether whispered silently in our heads or energetically wrestled through in leadership meetings, economic fears challenge churches. We offer hope and meaning to our communities and a world growing more restless in finding truth. What a terrible price to miss authentic ministry because we lacked financial resources, especially when our neighbors may be driven to their most open spiritual moments in years because of their personal financial stress.
As we move toward 2009, the financial uncertainties force us to ask the most penetrating questions about stewardship that we have asked in decades. Churches can be abundantly resourced during the most challenging times. How can your church position itself to maximize financial resources even in troubled fiscal climates? Growing and courageous churches should consider these 10 issues in preparation for the coming year.
1. A bold vision with meaningful results will rarely be underfunded
Now is not the time to shrink back from pursuing your neighbors in need. Even in the midst of personally challenging time, donors still want to make a meaningful mark on others. Internally, there is always that personal drive to live beyond ourselves and influence others. The church that vividly tells its story and challenges Christ-followers to live beyond themselves attracts financial resources.
Evidence shows that in down economic times, many church members do not treat giving as an expendable luxury item. They are inclined, however, to become far more selective in their giving outlets. The church that consistently and creatively articulates a compelling vision and celebrates the successes will attract giving in hard times.
2. Conversations about giving must move beyond stewardship toward spiritual formation
Generosity is a spiritual issue of the heart. A person cannot move toward spiritual maturity until he or she understands that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Our culture works overtime to convince us that there is no correlation between our faith and our finances. A first-time reader of the New Testament could not miss the plentiful teaching about our faith directly impacting how we live not only now, but also how we build our treasure in heaven.
In conversations with pastors, I am constantly amazed at how fearful these leaders are in shepherding people in the area of finances. Spiritual leaders yield far too easily to the myth that is it inappropriate as a pastor to interact with people about their possessions. Certainly, we would not give preference to the rich man as admonished in James 2. But we must not be passive about teaching how the incorrect image of money can prompt wanderings from the faith. (I Timothy 6:10)
The last frontier in American Christianity is the conversation about money. Spiritual transformations last obstacle is our wallet. Asking for money without the backdrop of spiritual formation will hit minimal financial results. The church that aligns spiritual formation and money will never lack. One cannot help but to give generously if there is a vibrant connection with their faith and finances.

Lead On!