You might have heard that Rick Warren made headlines last week with his end-of-year financial ask: They needed $900,000. They got $2.4 million. Some lauded their commitment to stay within budget, while others lambasted their seeming ignorance of current financial difficulties.
When it comes to money and church, sometimes you just can’t win. Saddleback tried to emphasize all the good they were doing in their community helping people in a hurting economy. But that good news didn’t make the headlines.
On his own blog, Rick Warren assured the community the financial shortage was not a management issue, and he also aptly noted:
Because our church attracts a lot of attention, the media will undoubtedly report my letter–but only partially, not telling the whole story. It is likely that none of the positive end-of-the-year reports of your service to the community and none of your amazing accomplishments as a church family in 2009 will be reported. They may get some facts wrong or even misjudge our motivations. I know this is frustrating, but don’t let it bother you.
I’ve attended churches in the past who make yearly practice of a big end-of-the-year hurrah to make sure they stay somewhere closer to the black. And likely many of your churches just faced year-end shortcomings. So let’s see if we can glean some wisdom and ask some healthy questions as a result of Saddleback’s story.
Are you being financially transparent? If you’re publishing your financial information weekly or monthly, via your bulletin or web site, then you can avoid year-end surprises. Your community can see in advance that things are looking a little slim, so there’s no big year-end surprise.
Are you being thorough in your planning? Saddleback assured their community that this was not a management issue, but unforeseen circumstances. After ten Christmas services, attendance was down, and therefore, giving was down. But as a church, you should be thinking through your calendar thoroughly, considering when people will be present and when they will be absent. Is there a community-wide event Saturday night? Does your local football team have a big game during your service? Think through every option as you budget.
Are you considering the long-term impact of financial appeals? Phil Cooke has this to say regarding emergency financial appeals:
The ministries will discover the long term PR damage won’t be worth the short term financial fix. It will leave a distaste–particularly with a younger audience–who will turn elsewhere with their support.
And he makes a great point. Churches should consider whether they’ll see long-term negative effects as a result of these short-terms emergency financial asks. And if so, are the short-term benefits worth the long-term costs?
Churches everywhere are struggling. And some churches are seeing increased giving in a down economy. Perhaps it’s the birth of a new type of giving and a new age of fundraising. Or maybe it’s a temporary situation that will naturally correct itself. But either way, there is a lot for each of our churches’ to learn from Saddleback’s big ask and the ensuing media frenzy.