Alan Wildes

Alan Wildes

Lessons From the Chair of the Finance Committee

Alex called me with some news.

His 10-year obligation to the finance committee had ended. He had spent the last four years of his term as the chairperson and he had some mixed emotions about giving up his seat.

He was relieved because he couldn’t handle the stress anymore. There’s a lot to oversee in a church of 300 people, and ten years is a long time to be in such a large volunteer role.

But 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 of about two times their operating budget but had continued to act as if there was no urgent problem.

We talked more about this for a while. Churches operating as if their incriminating debt is no big deal is unfortunately a common scenario in many churches. Alex had a lot of experience in his leadership duties in his church and professionally, so I finally asked 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, anywhere, that has a significant debt and wants to get out of debt?”

I loved his answers. Here they are:

Live within your means.

Do I say more? Why should the church be allowed to act differently than we should in our personal lives? You cant, and you shouldn’t, spend what you do not have.

Focus on the vision and mission of the church first and the financial issues will work themselves out.

You can’t run the church like a business, ONLY. Your church exists to fulfill your church’s God-inspired vision. The job of the finance committee is to help your leaders do just that.

Acknowledge that debt IS a problem. 

Quit revisiting why you’re in debt. People avoid having real conversations about the debt because they do not want to ‘pick the scab’ off the wound. Instead of, “How did we get here?” spend conversations around, “How can we eliminate this now?”

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 they have dollars in the operating budget. What would your church do with the money going toward the mortgage if the mortgage was no longer there? This will fuel your conversation that debt is a problem and will be a lifeline of hope when things get tough. 

Alex had a difficult ten years serving a church with a lot of debt, but he did make an impact. There are churches all over the country with heavy debt loads much more significant than the church Alex attends.

If your church has debt, there’s no better time than now to address the issue. Churches can see freedom from debt, and Alex’s lessons are a great way to begin that path to freedom.

What other ways is your church leadership addressing debt? I’d love for you to share your wisdom with me just like Alex did. 

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