Saddleback’s Big Ask

January 11, 2010 by

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.

Post By:

Joshua Cody


Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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8 Responses to “Saddleback’s Big Ask”

  • Kevin Cooper
    January 11, 2010

    For me, the biggest takeaway is, if you don’t ask you won’t get. I think that’s in the Bible somewhere :)


  • jeff hamilton
    January 11, 2010

    As a pastor in the same the same community as Pastor Rick, I can tell you that the shortfall Saddleback experienced was similar to all the other churches across the board…at least it was consistent with our church. We also saw our church respond generously. Interestingly, the shortfall we experienced was about the same percentage of the annual income as Saddleback’s. It’s just that the amount was significantly different. I’m grateful to the Lord for God’s provision…for New Life as well as Saddleback.


  • Dave Jones
    January 11, 2010

    I get this comment not once a year but more like once a week. I need money for my ministry. I don’t like to treat the symptom, I like to go after the cause. Treating the symptom is temporary and very expensive. So if you go after the cause you can have long lasting success and healthy robust company or ministry. For example, treating the symptom answer is “Give me money”. Treating the cause answer is Lack of Vision. So reevaluate your Vision or go get a Vision.


  • Scott
    January 11, 2010

    Jesus said you can’t please everyone. Seriously, he said that. :)
    http://read.ly/Luke7.35.NLT


  • Andy Wittwer
    January 12, 2010

    I hope the surplus 1.5 million went to families in the church and community who were in the same position as the church.


  • jon McCallon
    January 13, 2010

    Target is the understatement in this article. Working for a larger church we understand this issue quite well. The whole picture must come into view before the flaming arrows of truth are pushed into Robin Hood like action.
    Good questions are raised here but sometimes in churches those questions don’t even push the boundaries of what needs to be asked. My friend in a healthy church plant who regularly has the most radical life change stories the Spirit has revealed to us is hurting for cash and at some moments its the difference between the staff getting a check or not.
    So I raise tough questions with brutal answers. Do lost people with changed lives ever bring in money that satisfies long term givers? (no) Will we ever cross the 10/90 or 20/80 rule in tithing (10 percent tithe 80 do not)? (not sure) Are we missing one of the best parts of the story, that the members of Saddleback gave over and above? (Yes)
    Money is messy and its results in ministry must be carefully and prayerfully led by men and women who we trust listen to the Spirit and are gifted to discern these issues.
    Dave Jones I think you are closer to the issue than any so far.


  • Sean Salter
    February 10, 2010

    Typical. . .
    How much does a Rick Warren mega marketing book, learning materials, conglomerate make anually for him? And he is hitting up families in california to give more? 900k? He couldn’t cover that? HA.
    Maybe Ricky there should do what the rest of Californians have to do and tighten the belt.
    I truly wonder what Jesus would think of churches today. . . would he make the whip?
    Tithing. . . soooo not biblical. Not for the gentile, and no longer for the jew. To bad pastors aren’t teaching the bible, they’re just selling it. . .
    Sad to see Pastors like Jeff Hamilton going down this road, then again, sad to see any pastors going down that road, I wonder, when’s the last time any pastor has held a real job? At least Jesus had one for 15 years before telling the rest of the world how to live their life. . . he actually lived it!
    Pastors. . . like teachers. . . teach because they failed at doing. . .


  • Sheila
    February 11, 2010

    Perhaps we need to recognize that none of us know the full story? Every time a church makes an appeal for money, it risks censure re: budget, money managment etc. While I agree with Dave Jones that it is important to plan ahead, have vision, it is also important to go where God leads, take opportunities and thus run the risk of blowing the budget and the plan. It is not easy leading people into higher levels of commitment (participation, Christ-like behaviour, giving and more…)
    So in the absence of more details, perhaps we should be a little more forgiving and kind towards any church, and particularly Saddleback which has done much to lead the way in being purpose driven.



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