I recently had a phone conversation with a long standing finance chair of a medium sized church. (200-400 in worship). We will call him Alex. During my call with Alex, he brought it to my attention that his 10 year tenure, of which 4 he was the chairperson, was over. He was relieved and sad at the same time. He was relieved because he couldn’t handle the stress anymore. He was sad because he was not able to ‘right the ship’ during his tenure. The church had incurred significant debt over the past 15 years (currently 2 times their operating budget) but continues to act as if the debt is not a real/urgent problem.
Unfortunately this is not an uncommon scenario in many local churches around the country.
We talked for quite some time (actually, I listened a lot) and I think Alex felt better being able to vent his frustrations and sadness with someone who understood church, but was not directly tied to his church. While talking/listening, I decided to ask him this question:
As a 10 year veteran of church financial leadership in a once thriving church, what advice would you give any finance committee of any church in Anywhere, USA that has significant debt and wants to get out of debt?
- “Live within your means. Do I need to say more? Why should the church be allowed to act differently than we do in our personal lives? You can’t/shouldn’t spend what you do not have.”
- “Focus on the Vision/Mission of the church first and the financial issues will work themselves out. You can’t run the church like a business ONLY. We exist to fulfill our church’s God-inspired vision. Our job as the finance committee is to help our leaders do just that.”
- “Constantly and clearly articulate the ministry opportunities available to the church if the debt is relieved.” I haven’t met a pastor yet who doesn’t have more mission and ministry to do than he/she has dollars in the operating budget. What would your church do with the money going toward the mortgage if the mortgage were no longer there?
- “Acknowledge that debt IS a problem.”
— Quit revisiting why we are in debt.
— People avoid having real conversations about the debt because they do not want to ‘pick the scab’ off the wound of “How did we get here?”
I wish I could say that Alex is on an island by himself. We have churches that are saddled with heavy debt loads more significant than the church Alex attends. Is your church in debt? If so, how is your finance committee and church leadership addressing the issue and leading your church toward debt freedom?