Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cheap Church

You cannot save your way to financial freedom. If you are taking in less than your bare-bones budget needs to keep your congregation afloat, you cannot save enough by making cuts to meet your budget. Congregations who cut pastors’ and teachers’ salaries or don’t pay their secretaries, organists, or janitors, or cut out frills like call-waiting and heat in the church office generally still don’t make their budget. Perhaps it is because this creates a mindset that we can, in fact, do everything in God’s house cheaply, or circumvent the laws of the state or nation and should be commended for it. This tends not to sit well with members who have to run businesses, deal with employees who are looking for fair pay and hours for their experience and education, or any members who have to run their own family finances within realistic means and the rule of law.

Asking for money is unpleasant, but in a non-profit organization, it sometimes becomes necessary. The nebulous goal of “meeting the budget” doesn’t resonate with many in the congregation, especially if they are having trouble meeting their own budget at home or if they don’t have a defined budget at home. Congregations don’t need to resort to cutesy stunts or send everyone free return address labels to con them into giving more. The simplest approach is usually the best. Someone, not the pastor, standing up (please, please NOT during the Divine Service!) and saying “Look folks, if we don’t get $x this week, we can’t pay the electric bill” works wonders. Or “Pr. Schmidlap won’t be able to cash his paycheck and his twelve kids won’t be able to have clear broth to eat this week because our checking account has insufficient funds” will probably move some kind soul to donate out of his/her bounty of gifts from God to help the freezing, shoeless, skinny pastor’s kids live another week.

This relates to the congregation’s pay scale for organists, teachers, secretaries, janitors, and pastors as well. These tend to be, proportionately, some of the biggest givers in a congregation. Ten percent of squat is squat. If you expect your janitor or organist to perform services for the church out of the bottomless kindness of his/her heart and love for Jesus, they may not be inclined to put any coin in the plate on Sunday morning. Ten percent of zero is even less than ten percent of squat. Oddly enough, it appears, at least from anecdotal evidence, that if church workers are paid a fair salary (say near district/synod code), they are more inclined to give back to the church and will still have enough to keep their kids in second hand shoes.

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