Avoiding the Cash Flow Crisis

Vision proceeds at the speed of resources. Think about that for a moment. Here are some statements commonly heard in church planning sessions: “If only we had the resources, we could (fill in the blank).” Or, “We would do more, but the money just isn’t there.” Or, “We can’t. I wish we could, but cash flow is tight right now.” How often does church vision stop the minute money is discussed?

Now, think of the contrary. What would it be like if cash flow was never tight? What if one of the only factors that could create negative cash flow would be an external disaster? Financial pressure is often a self-induced experience. For many, this can sound shocking. I know there are exceptions, at least there should be exceptions. As a norm, the church should not experience a cash flow crisis, and it certainly should not live with a limited vision due to a lack of resources.

Here is what we know to be true.

  1. God has a vision for the church that is beyond the norm of cash flow resources. His vision is actually so big it requires more than a normal amount of faith and resources. It requires all of us being released to all of Him. This is more a factor of discipleship than resources.
  2. Church budgets are 100% man made. We create them, then we elevate them to a status that sometimes discourages and binds. It is easy to forget that budgets are merely guides that leaders create to help direct. They can be changed at any time and are not the final stop signs of financial health. This is more a factor of culture than resources.
  3. Church expenses are 100% elective. It doesn’t matter whether they are for important ministries, staff expenses, capital investments, or operational expenses. At some point in time in the history of the church, whether today or yesterday, somebody chose to make that expense relevant. This is more a factor of leadership than resources.
  4. Cash flow is going to be inconsistent. Every Sunday will not produce a great offering. Things break unexpectedly. There are bad weather days and a whole season called summer. Cash flow is adversely affected by a lot of things week to week. However, the church is ministering over the course of an entire year. The ups and downs of cash flow should be expected, anticipated, and planned for. This is more a factor of planning than resources.

So, how do we insure that church vision is well-resourced twelve months of the year? How do we make sure that we are always dreaming the next dream confident in our finances? How can we avoid the stress of cash flow and always be ready to say “yes” to God’s next grand assignment?

Here are some tips. They are not complicated or complex. Actually, they are pretty common sense, but rarely completed. Sometimes it is hard to do all we need to do, to lead well both today and for tomorrow.

  1. Possess a clear vision for both the short and long term. Invest wisely today, save for tomorrow. Vision should drive resources, not the other way around. What if your church is actually spending money today that is robbing from its future potential?
  2. Budget on 90% of last year’s receipts. Most churches prepare a future budget that is beyond their actual giving receipts. They believe this is a faith-stretching experience, people will give more and the church will grow. Church leadership then begins to spend ahead of both growth and revenue. Six months into the budget year, cash flow is tight, stress begins to rise, and “no” is heard more often than not. What would cash flow be like if you budgeted on 90% of previous year’s giving receipts?
  3. Increase multi-channelled digital giving. People’s ability to give by check or cash has greatly diminished. They often arrive at church with busy minds having forgotten about generosity and they are probably a little short on the discipleship side of giving as well. However, adults and teens have their phones. In today’s world, that is equivalent to an offering plate in their pocket. Check out Generosity by Lifeway to learn more (www.lifeway.com/generosity).
  4. Increase digital connectedness. Not only do people show up to church without cash or a checkbook, but they are showing up to church less and less. However, they can still feel connected. They can maintain connectedness to your church more than ever with great tools like social media. Just because someone is absent physically, doesn’t mean they are disconnected. Create a Facebook Live feed of your weekend services and stay connected via social media all week long. Then, if your offering plate is connected to their smartphones and other digital devices, you will be headed in the right direction.
  5. Train your leaders and disciple your people. If you are looking to reduce financial stress and increase vision capacity, both will be needed. When leaders invest the church resources wisely, they return an investment that grows potential. When leaders take the time to invest in discipling generosity, it will greatly decrease the need to chase resources. When leadership and discipleship are weak, financial stress will be high.

Every church has every resource it needs to fully accomplish God’s present and future vision. However, we are also in control of the most powerful resource channels and indicators. If you are experiencing financial stress or fearing the summer slump, be encouraged. You can turn the tide and unleash giving.