7 Church Money Lessons Learned During COVID-19

We are now multiple weeks into COVID-19 ministry season and I have been interacting with hundreds of pastors, hearing their stories, and watching patterns develop. Church leaders have been immediately thrust into the position of being both generosity and digital experts overnight. These two areas of ministry are demanding more attention than ever. It has been rather impressive to watch masses of churches go multi-campus with new worship and groups streaming ministries. I have been especially inspired with the success of small and medium size churches. 

On the financial front it has been a real mixed bag. Some churches have found themselves quickly in a very desperate position while others haven’t skipped a ministry beat. Here is some practical help as you seek to mature your church during this season.

  1. Generosity is always a farming process.  Churches that had a pre-established giving precedent of receiving at least 50% of their offerings digitally are moving ahead just fine. Those that are trying to launch or re-invigorate digital giving have some work to do. You will need a well layered consistent plan of communication. One announcement on one day is not sufficient. Even though you may feel pressure desiring immediate and dramatic results please create a plan and be patient.
  2. Liquid cash reserves and no debt is a massive advantage. A solid financial practice in the good times is to maintain 3-4 months of ministry expenses in liquid cash reserves along with minimal to no debt. Churches that had this pre-established practice are flexing with the times creating new ministry impact in their communities.
  3. Confidence and clarity are big challenges. “What do I say?” and “What do I do?” have been the two biggest questions I have received. Most pastors were trained that talking about money is unhealthy for church life. All the while, generous living is a thriving conversation both in modern culture and Scripture. Once a pastor gains generosity confidence he becomes inspiringly unstoppable.
  4. Margin is magical. Unfortunately most church budget numbers increase every single year 5-10%. It is a common practice to deploy “visionary budgeting” for future growth which inevitably leads to financial pressure all year long. However, a minority number of churches prioritize margin. Margin both relieves pressure while allowing for ministry responsiveness during the year when surprises occur. Those churches that budget on 90% or less of previous years receipts are breathing easier than others.
  5. Church budgets are currently wrong. I have yet to hear of a church that had COVID-19 in its pre-approved ministry budget plan. Now is the time to scrap your church budget and recraft it. Both giving and expenses will not be as predicted. Be strategic as you accomplish this task. This is a great season to completely eliminate expenses that do not produce fruit toward church vision.
  6. Ministry programming will not come back the same. I think it is a big mistake to assume that church calendars, volunteer teams, and the offering plate will automatically repopulate themselves on May 1. As a leader, I would prepare a lean and mean ministry plan moving forward. This is another time to be strategic. Not every ministry we undertake produces fruit toward the vision. Maximize outreach oriented ministries the remainder of 2020. This is a spiritual reaping season.
  7. Above and beyond giving is always in season. People live generously all the time. We give to our churches, friends, and causes that motivate us. The truth is most generous people would give more to their church all year long if there was a clear visionary path with a measurable result. Every church needs an ongoing ministry to unleash above and beyond giving. Isolated offerings for buildings and missions is only the tip of your potential. It will create resources both in and after a crisis.

COVID-19 will have lasting results for the church. As leaders we have the opportunity to create many of these results by the decisions we are making today. Our churches should be both different and better once COVID-19 is over. Think ahead and make strategic decisions today so you can ride the ministry wave with confidence in the months ahead. Otherwise we may find ourselves terminally stuck in a painful leadership valley for years to come.

For live generosity training please join my Facebook Group “Church Giving and Stewardship.”