Sunday, March 15, 2009

Economic Realities

I don't publicly discuss financial factors related to the church very often, and there are several reasons for that:

  • The Bible tells us, "Each person should give what they have decided in their hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7 TNIV). I don't want to do anything that would cause people to feel that they have to give or that would cause them to give reluctantly. My own sense is that on the few occasions I have discussed the church finances, the result is that people are made to feel guilty. That's not my intent, so my inclination is to avoid the subject, rather than to handle it wrongly.
  • The economy in Jackson has been bad for as long as I can remember. Even when it was better, it was bad. Now it's practically on life support. I know that many in our church are in worse financial shape than they were a year ago, or five years ago. For those invested in the stock market (which includes some of our retirees), their assets are now worth what they were nearly 12 years ago. I hate to tell people who were laid off or whose businesses are strugling or whose portfolios are decimated that the church needs money.
  • It's not something I really want to broadcast to the world at large. We don't want to address our church's money woes in front of visitors and people who are just beginning to consider the claims of Christ and what it might mean for them to follow him. The world thinks the church is only after their money anyway; we sure don't want to give them a reason to believe they were right all along.

So I'm not going to talk about this in a worship service from the platform. But I think I will give it a go here on the blog. Yes, this is out on the Internet for the whole world to see, but largely the people who read this are people who are committed to and invested in our church. So, if you're reading this and you're not a PCC person, just understand that this is intended to be primarily an "in house" discussion.

We had a Church Council meeting on Thursday in which we learned that we are once again operating in the red. Almost two years ago, we implemented our Emergency Budget, which was intended to stanch the bleeding--ministry budgets were cut, hourly staff hours were cut, salaried staff saw their pay reduced by 15%. That's when I began working part-time at Olive Garden.

For a long time, those measures were effective. And in 2008, things were even looking up. We ended the year significantly in the black. Leadership began talking about what criteria would move us off the Emergency Budget and back onto our Regular Budget. But around the end of 2008, that picture began to change rapidly.

For 2009, we have been averaging around $2700 per week in general fund giving; our Emergency Budget is based on a threshhold of $3000 per week (a full budget is based on over $3500 per week). So we've been losing about $300 per week for nearly three months. If this trend continues (and I'm not sure what would change it), we will be entirely out of funds in a few months.

The ministry budgets have already been slashed as far as they can go. Many ministries operate on the basis of the ministry team members supplying the necessary items they need for various events, and simply eating the costs themselves. In the lobby, there are boxes for people to give food to the youth group and candy for the Easter Egg Hunt. On Saturday there's a dessert auction to benefit the youth, and I've encouraged people to give to the movie event at the Michigan Theatre on April 10. All this is because there's nothing budgeted for these ministries. Even if it were in the budget, it's not in the checking account to be able to cover it.

$2700 per week is not even enough to cover staff pay and utilities, let alone conduct any ministry. There are very few options left for us, and none of them are very pleasant. I bring all this up for several reasons:

  • I feel that the people who are invested in and committed to this church ought to know what the financial condition is;
  • I want to ask for your prayers as elders and church council members discuss options. Pray that God would give us wisdom and discernment to make good decisions that will bring the most glory to him and that will put us in the best situation to advance his kingdom;
  • While you're at it, pray for a miraculous infusion of money that will keep us solvent. This is certainly not beyond God's control or ability;
  • Finally, I want you to be ready if drastic measures need to be taken (I'm not sure yet what those would be)--understand the basis and necessity for those decisions.

This is not a very encouraging or uplifting posting, and I apologize for that. However, I do want to conclude on a high note.

  • I believe that as a church we are on the right track. We have an alignment and an excitement generated by our Immediate Vision that is palpable.
  • I believe that these challenges will not overwhelm us, will not kill us, and will make us stronger and leaner.
  • I believe that Satan wants to discourage us and use whatever tools he has available to that end, but he will not have victory here. Not this time! Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world!
  • I believe that all these challenges are part of God's plan for us--that he has things he wants to teach us, and a purpose that is bigger than we can see. Nothing catches him by surprise, and he has positioned us where he wants us to be.
  • I believe this church's greatest days are ahead; we will become the church that Christ intends us to be!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen!!

No comments: