5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Church

5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Church

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As much as you might hate to think about this, the world is on the eve of a global recession. There’s just been too much cheap money out there for too long. Now, I am a pastor and not an economist, but I play one on Facebook. (Just kidding). Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capital firms that backed companies like Apple, Google, and AirBnb, just released a presentation calling for founders to preserve cash for survival. “We do not believe that this is going to be another swift V-shaped recovery like we saw at the outset of the pandemic,” Sequoia’s partners said. What does this have to do with your church? A lot. Churches have already seen giving decline due to inflation. With the oncoming recession, things are about to take a downward turn. Here are five ways you can recession-proof your church:

1. Manage What You Can Control

What full-time roles could become part-time? What part-time roles could become volunteer? What ministries are more of a luxury than a necessity? Or asked a nicer way, where are the bright spots in your church right now? Invest heavily in what is bearing fruit. For everything else, unfortunately, it’s time to prune.

This is the time to look at all of the staff who spend their days doom scrolling on their iPhones. Their time is up. While you may have had compassion on them during the pandemic, there are plenty of jobs out there these days. They will find something. It’s time to become a lean mean ministry machine. Now if you feel at all threatened by what I’m saying, then it is time to pour your energy and efforts into becoming an essential member of your church’s team. The more value that you can add, the less likely that you will get cut. And, the more satisfaction you will get from your work.

What things in your church’s budget can you control? Periodically, it’s a good idea to look at all of the services your church subscribes to. What is still necessary? While RightNow Media and smallgroups.org can be useful, are they necessary? What if you created your own curriculum? Your studies would more closely reflect your church’s values. If you offer a digital download, you reduce the cost of printing books. Invest in some great tools for producing curriculum like How to Ask Great Questions by Karen Lee-Thorpe or join the Effective Curriculum Writing Workshop. You might even have some talented volunteers in your church who can help you write a sermon discussion guide or study guide.

2. Sell Surplus Assets

You don’t need a garage sale (but you could have one). What property does your church own but will probably never develop? Real estate is still pretty hot right now. Before things slow way down, it might be time to liquidate excess property and build your church’s cash reserves. Pay off debt. I understand that your role may not involve decisions of this kind, but these would be helpful things to suggest to your leadership.

How well do you utilize your church building? (You don’t need to sell your church building.) But, could you rent space to a non-profit with similar values? Could you rent space for events in your community? Think of family reunions, bridal showers, baby showers, and other community events. Maybe there’s a new church plant looking for a place to meet. Of course, you would need to have stated policies so the events reflect the your church’s standards. Granted, this will require some janitorial expense, but it could be a source of revenue. Stick with me here. The discipleship part is coming soon.

Look in your church’s closets. What about that stack of curriculum you have left from your last alignment series? Could you start new groups with it? Could you sell it to another church? (Maybe you’re headed back to a garage sale idea here). You may not have the authority to make these kinds of decisions, but you could make some suggestions and possibly become the employee of the month!

3. Stir Up Your Members’ Gifts

When money gets tight, more than ever you need to get your church members’ gifts in the game. Now that the pandemic has clearly defined the committed core of your church, give them meaningful ways to serve. You have church members with gifts and talents that need to be used. This never should have been an option. The church never should have been divided by clergy and laity or staff and “volunteers” (Oh, how I hate that word! We are all members of the Body of Christ!) Your consumers changed the church channel during COVID. Don’t be afraid to ask the people who stuck with you to serve.

Most people are unaware of their gifts and talents. They just come naturally to them. You need a process in place to help your people identify what they are good at. Tools like Network by Bruce Bugbee, SHAPE from Saddleback, or GPS from Brian Phipps and Rob Wegner can help your people discover how God has uniquely wired them for ministry. But, this is only half of the equation.

Once people know what they’re good at and gifted for, they need a placement process for ministry. I would recommend offering a trial run to see if they are a good fit for the role. Once they’ve fulfilled the trial period (don’t tell them this), you can decide whether to offer them more or thank them for fulfilling their short-term commitment. (It’s sure better than firing someone who volunteers their time).

If you have meaningful work that’s a right fit, people will offer you their time. In a recent assessment for a church with 1,000 in weekly attendance, their members Indicated that they could serve 449 total hours per week in addition to when they were currently serving. (These responses were from only 400 of their members!)

Your people will help if they are given meaningful ways to serve. From the first item on this list: what part-time roles could become volunteer roles? You have people with the time and ability to take on “official” roles in your church. What does your church need to prepare for in helping your community in the coming recession? Think about parents needing low cost childcare or after school programs. You can reach the next generation and get their parents to try church. How can your members serve? Ask them.

4. Strategically Outsource Staff Roles

One way to reduce your church’s overall expenses and retain good ministry leadership is to outsource certain roles to other organizations. Often by outsourcing, you can retain a more talented player on your team for a lot less money. For instance, you don’t have to pay benefits, because the outsource employees’ organization covers that.

The Provisum Group offers accounting and communications services. Their founder, Don Corder, told me about one church who paid someone in their office $65,000 per year to create the weekly church bulletin. The church contracted with The Provisum Group and did the same work for far less. Belay Solutions offers outsourced personal assistants, bookkeepers, social media managers, and website specialists. These are just a couple of possibilities.

You can even outsource your small group pastor or director position. Over the last decade, I’ve served several churches as their outsourced small group pastor. I discovered while serving on staff at a church of 6,500 that most of my communication with my small group team, coaches, and group leaders was by email, phone call, and Zoom. You can do those things from anywhere. I started helping churches hundreds of miles away from me. With occasional onsite visits, in the last year, I led the small group ministry at Mount Hope Church, Lansing, Michigan just like this. We tripled their groups in 2021, which was not a great year for groups overall. Every leader had a coach. Every member who wanted one had a group. If you need help with your groups, then let’s talk. Click here to schedule an appointment.

5. Invest in Small Groups

Your investment in small groups bears a great return. You are probably aware of all of the great benefits to small groups. People in groups serve more, give more, grow more, attend more, and reach more than people who are not in groups. Don’t you want more of all of those things? (Don’t believe me. Download the research here in The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups).

You can build your small group ministry on a 100% volunteer leadership and coaching structure. This worked well in both churches I served (a church of 800 in California and a church of 6,500 in South Carolina). As you empower people to take on the tasks and authority of discipling others, you will find willing people who will gather their friends and start a group. You will find experienced leaders willing to coach other leaders. And, you will identify leaders of leaders of leaders who will help you run the whole thing. This is the system presented in the Exponential Groups book and workbook.

When giving goes down, care needs to go up. When care goes up, then giving goes up. In the most recent megachurch survey, Dr. Warren Bird shared how people in groups gave 11% more than people who are not in groups. On top of that, churches with 60% or more in groups grew by 79% between 2015 and 2020. Now, those are pre-COVID numbers, so it will be interesting to see the results of the next survey in 2025. But, did your church grow by 79% between 2015 and 2020? And remember that the fall small group boom is on its way.

Think About This

God is sending His Church a message. It’s time to change. What worked in 2019 won’t work now. The first message was through COVID. You began to see digital missionaries. You saw people getting pickier about who they spent their time with. You saw the culture as a whole get a little more comfortable out of sheer exhaustion. Now, the second message is this coming recession. Scarcity brings clarity. During COVID, people were scarce. In the recession, finances will become scarce. It is time to rethink ministry. What does your community need? How can you reach them? How can you show them the love of Jesus in practical ways? How can you and your members engage in meaningful conversations about tough issues?

People are very overwhelmed and confused right now. The speed of cultural change has been intimidating to say the least. But, the church has something solid. The church has something eternal. The church has the Gospel, which does not change. But, it’s time to rethink the methods.

For more tools to build small groups and recession-proof your church, click here.

 

Connecting with Unchurched People

Connecting with Unchurched People

Image by Pam Carter from Pixabay

The last two years have brought a decade’s worth of change to the culture and to the church. If unchurched people were reluctant to visit your church before, why would they come now and risk getting sick, right? Clearly, the new front door of the church is the online worship service. The side door of your church is (and has been) small groups. Think about how you can connect with more unchurched people online and through your groups.

What do People in Your Community Need?

What are their biggest needs? Many people are struggling with worry and anxiety. In fact, the head of curriculum at Zondervan recently told me that their top selling Bible studies are all about worry and anxiety. Could you launch a small group study about worry and anxiety? Here are some options. But, there are many other needs.

Many people struggle in their relationships, their marriages, or their parenting. This is a great opportunity to offer an online webinar on these topics that leads to on-going small groups. Don’t skip that on-going part. That’s where the real benefit happens.

What are the physical needs of your neighbors? Whether people are neighbors to the church or neighbors of your small groups, what do they need? Do they need financial help? Do they need childcare? How can your groups meet these needs?

If you aren’t sure about the needs in your community, ask them. Send a postcard or email asking them to take a survey in exchange for a Chick-fil-A gift card or similar. If you’re tough, then go knock on some doors. Ask your small group leaders about what their neighbors and co-workers are concerned about. Identify the real needs, and then do something about it.

What Does Your Church Do Best?

What are the collective gifts and abilities of your church members and your small groups? How could your members and groups meet the needs of your community? Even if your church doesn’t have an abundance of finances to share, how could your people serve? With worship attendance down, you don’t have the needs for guest services like you did before. How can you mobilize this time and talent to serve in your community? What non-profit organizations need help?

If you want to attract young families to your church, offer a Kids Night Out. Your church provides free childcare during the evening, so parents can go out on a date, and the church has an opportunity to minister to children. These family connections could lead to something bigger.

A while back I talked to a pastor in rural Indiana. The biggest issue in his community was opiod addiction. His church was small with mostly elderly members, but his church offered what they had to people struggling with addiction. They gave warm meals, relationship, and love. It’s just what the addicts needed.

What is your church gifted to do? Do it.

What are You Willing to Try?

The first thing is to evaluate all of the current ministries and roles in your church. What is bearing fruit? Keep that. What is struggling, but could get going with a little effort? Give it the effort. What is on life support? It’s probably time for that to go. You have limited time, energy, and resources. You have to invest in what’s bearing the most fruit for your church.

Pilot something. Try something new “because of COVID.” Experiment with varieties of online groups. Dip your toe into the waters of digital discipleship. Get the church outside of the four walls of your building and show your community what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. Show them that you are people who love and accept no matter what. Show them genuine, loving people who don’t have a political agenda or an allegiance apart from Jesus. Your loving Savior is still very attractive to unchurched people.

Think About This

I am the first to admit that the church and ministry have been completely discombobulated. This isn’t the governments’ doing. This isn’t the pandemics’ doing. This is God’s doing. Why has God chosen to so confuse things that your church needs to realign its priorities and do things differently?

Back in the 90’s we approached ministry like the Field of Dreams: If we build it, they will come. When COVID hit, they left. You have to move forward. You have to lead the church you have and not the church you lost. It’s painful. It’s sorrowful. You have a loss to mourn. But, you have an opportunity to reach lost and hurting people in unprecedented ways. 2019 isn’t coming back. How will you reach the unchurched in 2022?

How is your church connecting with unchurched people? Let me know in the comments.

Stop Wasting Your Time

Stop Wasting Your Time

By Allen White

Photo by Gustavo Frazao

Photo by Gustavo Frazao


Have you ever thought about how you might be wasting your own time? You see the problem with most pastors and leaders is they are multi-talented. The problem with being multi-talented is that we tend to depend on ourselves and not bring other people into the equation. For instance, if you write your small group discussion guide because you’re able to do it, then you may or may not invite other people to help you write the discussion guide, because you can do it. But, is this the best use of your time?
In the work that I do producing curriculum, there are things that I can and cannot do. I can direct a video shoot, but I can’t shoot the video — which is a good thing because I bring in very talented people that can do that. I can write a study guide from cover to cover, but I can’t do the graphic design and layout. So I have a terrific designer who does all of that for me including the cover of my new book, Exponential Groups.
What are you the most gifted to do? Is it teaching? Leading? Organizing? What is your number one gift to the kingdom?
Now imagine that this is your only gift and that you have no other gifts. How would you get things done?
You would delegate. You would find people that have expertise in things where you lack expertise. You would find people who need to grow in their gifts through using them. You would equip and develop them.
So here’s a question for you, why not delegate everything that is not part of your primary gifting? If you’re a leader but not a teacher, then mentor someone else to do training for you. If you are an organizer, but you are not heavily relational, then find relational people to coach your leaders.
There are times when we need to do things that are not in the center of our wheelhouse as far as our gifts and abilities go. Those are called emergencies. That’s when we need to put forth the extra effort to do things that we are not truly gifted or called to do simply because they have to be done.
Everyday should not be an emergency. Everyday you should exercise your primary gifts. Everyday you should delegate everything else to somebody else either staff or volunteer. There’s a reason for the name “Tyranny of the Urgent,” it’s a tyrant. You can’t do your best working for a tyrant. Step back. Clear your head. Stop the emergency. And, get on with doing what you do best, not what you do least.
There’s a saying that you don’t ask $100 per hour people to do $10 per hour tasks. Now before you ask for a raise or start thinking too much of yourself, realize that there are things that only you can do and there are things that a lot of other people can do. The more you focus yourself on only the things that you can do, then the better you will serve your church, your people, and the more satisfied you will be with your life and ministry.
I’m not going to make a conclusion. I’m going to give you an assignment. Take out a piece of paper or start a new document. Draw a line down the middle. On the left side write “To Do.” On the right side write “Stop Doing.” Be sure to include all of the tasks that are not in your primary gifting in the “Stop Doing” column.
When you’re done with the list, take a look at all the items in the Stop Doing column. Now write down the names of people who could do these things at least 30% as well as you can. Then stop doing them. Your timeline is immediately. You don’t need to ask for permission. You just need to make sure that things get done — regardless of who does them.
You can thank me later.

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