3 Conversations with Pastors Leading Through the Crisis
I’m going to keep encouraging church leaders to look for opportunities in the midst of this crisis, and I believe there are opportunities for longer-term financial health to be found at most churches.
Last week, I hosted a webinar with some friends to talk about the opportunities we’re seeing. (You can watch a replay of the webinar here, if you’d rather watch than listen.)
Amy and I hosted Rick Holliday from North Point Ministries (Alpharetta, GA), David Vaughan from Whitewater Crossing Church (Cleves, OH) and Scott Moore from Eastridge Church (Covington, GA) for a conversation on how real churches are responding to this crisis financially.
There were loads of practical examples and best practices shared. We heard from so many pastors that it helped them reframe the situation and start taking next steps, that we decided to share a portion of the webinar with podcast listeners, as well.
So, with that in mind, in this episode, we dive into:
- Talking about giving in the midst of a crisis, and how we should interact with donors in this season
- How to communicate with older people in your congregation who have been less inclined to use online giving in the past
- Responding to higher ministry needs during a crisis, when giving is also being impacted
- How to approach expense reductions while still carrying out the church’s mission and vision
- How to identify and embrace opportunities for longer-term financial health
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- What stories can you share of ways churches are responding well during this crisis and focusing on opportunities instead of loss?
Links & Resources from the Episode
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Sean (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. The coronavirus crisis has quickly brought many financial challenges to churches. Talking about and managing money has gotten increasingly difficult. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy host a conversation with three leaders who are navigating this crisis in their local churches. Before you listen, make sure you get the show notes. You can get them every week in one email along with the resources to go with this week’s conversation and access to our archive of podcast resources. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join this week’s conversation with Tony, Amy and our panel.
Amy (00:45): Tony, we recently hosted a webinar with three great church leaders who are overseeing how their church responded financially during this crisis. Why did you choose those specific leaders to be in the webinar with us?
Tony (00:56): Yeah, so there were three different leaders from three really great churches, but all unique churches. First we had Rick Holliday. He oversees central services for North Point Ministries and he’s just giving, I think, a wealth of experience in our panel conversation about how churches, not just large churches like North Point, but really churches of any size need to be approaching the crisis that we’re in now and specifically from a financial perspective. We also had David Vaughan. David’s the senior pastor of Whitewater Crossing Christian Church there in the Cincinnati area, and David for years that I’ve known him, he’s not only a great leader, he’s a great vision-caster. And when you listen to what he has to share from our panel conversation, number one, you’re probably going to laugh because of some of the things that he shared. But he really helps senior pastors think about how to communicate, especially in a situation like this. And then the third panelist was Scott Moore. Scott has become a good friend of yours and mine, Amy, at a church near Atlanta, but outside of Atlanta. It’s a more rural community, and because of that, East Ridge Church, it’s a great church, and they’re actually doing multisite in a more rural setting. But because they’re in a more rural setting, they also are reaching multi-generations, and with that some older generations. And I really wanted Scott’s input in this conversation so that there would be a better understanding of how to communicate, especially with folks that are older and maybe not as familiar with technology and online giving and tools like that.
Amy (02:51): Well this may be obvious, but share why this conversation is so important for the church right now.
Tony (02:57): Well, needless to say, talking money even in normal times, can be very challenging. Just how do we help people understand stewardship and generosity and why giving is so important? So even in normal circumstances that’s a challenge. But in this crisis, especially because so many people are in different places, I mean for a lot of people, at least their net worth has come down substantially during the season, and then others more directly are unemployed. They’re in a challenging situations providing for their families. And yet, it’s still important for us in the church to communicate what’s happening financially because it’s still requires dollars for us to be able to provide the ministry we are, especially in this time when churches need to be providing ministry to people that are hurting. So, in addition to that, the giving topic, churches are trying to figure out how do we reduce expenditures, and then I’ve suggested even though we’re in the midst of a crisis now, I think it’s important for us to think not only about ministry strategy once the crisis is behind us, but also from a financial perspective, I think there are opportunities even in the midst of this crisis for churches to get to a healthier financial position so that they’re stronger coming out of this as well.
Amy (04:28): All right, well let’s go ahead and dive into the conversation on giving and finances in crisis with the panel.
Tony (04:35): We’re going to dive right in. The first topic we’re going to hit today is how do we talk about giving in the midst of this crisis? And like I mentioned earlier, I mean, just talking about money when life is normal is a challenge for a lot of us. We want people to steward God’s resources. We want people to be generous. And, for me personally, I just know how God’s used that discipline of giving to further my relationship with Jesus through the years. And yet people are facing financial challenge right now. We just heard this morning in the news that now close to 10 million people have filed for unemployment in just the last two weeks. So, this is devastating certainly for the people in our congregations as well. So Rick, I’m going to put you on the spot first this afternoon. How in the world do we interact with our congregation and then more specifically with the people that are financially supporting our ministry in this season?
Rick (05:37): Yeah, it’s a great question and it’s really difficult, Tony, because, I was talking to some friends today. They both happen to be in a position where they’re not as impacted by this. And they were like, you should be asking us for money. And I was like, well, you’ve got to understand 10 million people had filed for unemployment or single moms and others that we ask, they’re going to feel guilty. So it’s a very nuanced conversation that you have to have. So I think just being honest, we should not hide from the fact that our church has needs, but we should not also put people on the spot and put them in a spot where they can’t possibly participate. We lean toward gratitude and thanking people for the faithful support that they’ve had for us, and we also lean by focusing into what we want for our congregants and our attendees, not what we want from them. And so recently we had a gratitude campaign that we were embarking on one of our campuses at Gwinnett Church. And we changed it to just what can we do for you and how can we pray for you? We had some remarkable responses. If I could, I’d like to read a couple of album. This went out on Instagram. The first one was, someone said, “Wow, does your church do what my church does? Call and check up on you and ask how they can pray for you during this time. My church does @gwinnettchurch, @JeffreyHenderson, this world is forever a better place because of you.” I mean, they felt love and acceptance in honestly a very big church. And then the second one, “I just got a call from Alex at Gwinnett Church to see how my family was doing and just to check in and ask how she could pray for us. Heart, heart, heart. Thank you, Alex. I needed this today. I love my church #forGwinnett,” which is our local marketing campaign in Gwinnett County. So I just think if we do that, and then we’re honest about how we’re using money to support our family members in our local community and our church, and then let our need be made known in that way, that we’re being responsible with their money, people that can, will respond in our experience.
Tony (07:38): Yeah. And Rick on that note, I think a good example of that this past week, Andy sent a note to the entire church talking about how kids’ ministry and student ministry is still leaning in and really working hard during the season, and they’ve completely reshaped how they do kids and student ministry. But the impact that area of the church is having right now just illustrates how the money is still being invested for good kingdom work during this season.
Rick (08:10): Yeah, it’s interesting. I know we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, but we’re having about the same participation levels in children in student ministry virtually as we’ve been having physically, which is really amazing.
Tony (08:21): Yeah. So we’ll get to more of that here in a moment. Scott, what are you doing, specifically I mentioned you’re in a little bit more rural area and I know a little bit more about your church, too because Amy and I have interacted with your ministry through the years, and so though you have a multigenerational church there is definitely some representation from the older generations in your church. So when you’re communicating with your congregation, how do you specifically help the older people in your congregation, who may have been in the past, less inclined to use online giving and do you have any early wins that you can share along those lines?
Scott (09:04): Well, I think going along with what Rick said, I think first thing we have to do is approach it from a shepherding point of view and not from a survival mindset, you know. I mean it’s a real crisis that we’re in, but we’re trying to communicate to them, Hey, what can we do for you? How are you doing? Just by checking in on them regularly, what physical needs? Cause a lot of these, you know, some of them are widows, they live by themselves and they’re scared. And so we are trying to comfort them in that way. But also too, I heard Richard Blackaby say this I think last week, when we’re communicating with them, we’re trying to say, “Hey, when this is over,” you know, “when we get through this.” And I think the reason that phrase is so important is we’re trying to offer them hope that this isn’t going to last forever. But also the question is who do you want to be on the other side of it? And so, like you said, Tony, a few minutes ago, giving has been one of those disciplines in our life that have helped us grow in our trust with the Lord. And so we’re trying to just keep that message out there. But also, as far as getting them to try online giving, we are trying everything: email, sending videos out, social media, again email also. But what we have found, even though they may be reluctant to online giving, every single one of our seniors text. They love to text. And so we’re pushing, you know, text to give also. And so as far as early wins, you know, this is our second week. We’ve not seen the numbers of who gave online for the first time this week, but last week we did see eight first time online givers. And so our text to give yet we haven’t seen any changes yet, but we are seeing more people begin the online giving.
Tony (10:50): That’s encouraging. Very good. All right, David, one thing I’ve always appreciated about you is a lot of senior pastors I work with are really gifted when it comes to casting vision and then connecting generosity with vision. And I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to hear stories about how you’ve been communicating with your congregation during this season. That again, you were leading with strength in this area, and I’ve always appreciated about that. But how do you talk about giving in this season, when there are so many people that are being personally impacted either directly by the virus or indirectly because of layoffs in this season?
David (11:34): Yeah, great question. I didn’t have any of this in Bible college. Probably most of the guys who are pastors watching this, you know, it took me a while to figure out my three main jobs are raising men, morale and money, and all three are connected. And so when a crisis like this happens, man, you better be good at casting vision to all three of those. And so I haven’t figured out yet if people are following me or chasing me. I think there’s a little bit of both. So you guys could probably relate to that. So for me, it is about, I don’t know where I got this along the way, but whenever there’s a crisis in anything like this, I kind of default back to an axiom, “Trust God and tell the people,” Trust God, tell the people. The second line was, you can’t have any outcome if you don’t have any income. So to me, I’m trusting God fully, but I’m going to work and tell the right people, the right thing at the right time. So in my mind, the way I approach it, I’m going to target or tailor-make my asking of men and women for money in the context of where they are. Are they in a season of shortage or a season of surplus? And you know, as everybody has already said, you have got different categories, different people in different categories. Rick alluded to that. So I kind of look at them as non-givers or reluctant people, and boy, they’re going to have a different message. And I’m choosing to believe, this may be the naive, Kentucky David coming out, but I’m choosing to believe that people are not giving, not because they’re stingy, it’s because they’re strapped. So they’re in a season of shortage. So how can we be the church? But then casual givers are another category. Thoughtful givers we would classify another kind, and then really gifted givers who are affected with their net worth, but their self worth is still intact to the degree and their net worth that they’re able to bless. So, you cannot be a holy hinter in this season and this crisis. You’ve got to say what is going on. Trust God, but tell the people. So, and that’s probably another podcast on how to approach the high-capacity givers. But early on, a couple of weeks ago when I saw this storm brewing, emailed our highest givers who I have a relationship with, and it was more of an asking to ask email. Hey, I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know where and how much I’ll need your help, but could I email you the Monday after Easter, tell you where we’re at and you pray about if you’re in a position to help, and overwhelmingly positive response. I’ll link that email template to you, Tony, and the guys can share that.
Tony (14:24): We’ll definitely share that.
David (14:26): It decreased the stress on me knowing I had in my pocket, a group of people who are dedicated to the mission that they will allow me to ask then. And that has been really, really helpful.
Tony (14:41): And David, just to follow up on that, what I’ve noticed even before this crisis is people that are generous with their time or their money or both, when there’s a need, an obvious need, they’re kind of waiting for their leader to ask them how can I participate? How can I help? And so I love the fact that you took the initiative.
David (15:02): Yeah, they’re already used to being asked. This is something pastors got to get over. Everybody’s asking, but you’re asking for something beyond you. So man, learn to be a master asker. Tailor make it to the groups that you are talking to. Cause they’re going to hear it with a different filter depending on where they are in a season of shortage or surplus.
Tony (15:28): I’m glad you enunciated that appropriately.
David (15:31): Yeah, you gotta be careful.
Amy (15:37): David, you’ve got a line for everything. That’s one of the things I love about you.
David (15:41): Yeah. And I stole them from so many people that I don’t remember anymore. So I just act like they’re mine.
Amy (15:46): That’s right. That’s right. Well, let’s switch gears guys. I think we should talk about how churches are approaching changes in their budget right now, including things like how they’re pulling back on expenses while trying not to sacrifice any of the ministry opportunity that’s out there. So Scott, let me start with you on this one. For you, has there been a shift in giving that for you, you’ve had to change your expenditures? What have you had to react to so far?
Scott (16:15): Yeah, the change in giving has been huge. So the first week, we had half of what normally comes in, what, you know, what is needed for the budget. And so, we were expecting that, and I thank God we got a great, elder board. We’ve got a great executive pastor in Trey, who has really managed our finances well. But still, when you see half come in than what normally comes in, it’s still a hit to the system. But we had, speaking of faithful givers and leaders, so on Tuesday, I got a phone call from one of our givers and he, you know, he’s probably one of our, he’s a very generous giver, you know, to the church, and he’d already given, and he saw the budget come in and he said, Hey, I want to give some more. So he gave a $2,500 check, you know, online. And then I got a phone call on Thursday that someone who’s always just been faithful and consistent, they gave a $27,500 gift online. And so the first week we came in half of what we normally get, and the second week, we came in one and a half times what we normally get. And so, yeah, we’ve seen, you know, doing this right here, but it just speaks to me, you know, it is God’s church and I think what David said too. Leaders are watching the giving, you know? And so I think it is very important to ask, but I’ll tell you what, it was just an encouragement, you know, to see that. What are we doing? We went ahead, one of our members called us and he’s in banking cause we have about a $10,000 every month. And he said, Hey, you know, you can call your bank and they’ll defer your mortgage for three months. And so that right there is one thing we’ve done, and that saved us about $30,000 coming up. Also, we’re looking at suspending just outside contracts, like cleaning. Right now, nobody’s coming to the building and probably won’t now for another, you know, eight weeks. So that’s a contract that we’ve suspended. Lawn care, places begin look pretty ragged but the checkbook is not. And so, we’re thankful for that. And then also we’re just looking at, you know, garbage removal, anything on the outside that doesn’t affect us ministering to people, you know, because all those dollars do represent people. And then this, every homeowner probably doing this, but we’ve cut our thermostats back, and that’s probably going to save us another, you know, $10,000, you know, over the next three months as well. So those are some of the things that we’re doing right now.
Amy (18:43): That’s good. That’s good. David, for you, you know, the needs for ministry are higher in crisis, but giving is likely being impacted. So how about you? How are you responding?
David (18:56): Yeah, there is no doubt in my mind and our team’s mind, we’re thinking strategy and opportunity first, then staffing and programming along those mission critical pathways. So I think it’s an opportunity for guys who need to make changes to make them now, and everyone is much more understandable. And so you don’t want to be disingenuous. I think pastors put off necessary, but difficult conversations in regular time. But this is the time to speak up. But I kind of approach it as a position of opportunity. Don’t have a scarcity mindset, have an abundance mentality, but, use this time to figure out what is the mission critical pathway of the church. What is it that we are really about? And so I think what crisis does is it bumps you from your comfort zone to your creative zone. So be creative, but people are watching how you budget your money, how you spend your money like never before. High cap givers as well as people who’ve lost their jobs are saying, well, what is the church doing? So I agree with Todd Harper. I wrote this down yesterday, from Generous Giving. He says, “Generosity is the new apologetic.” That is so true. And I think that’s what Scott and Rick are saying that, you know, you can’t be good news without having good deeds. So I think this is the time to double down on the people who need it the most, and I think you’re asking, as I already said before, is geared toward people who already love the church and want to help. And boy, this is like the best opportunity in my lifetime to truly be asked to. Where people are sharing, knowing and being known, loved and being loved, normal broke people. I’m not talking about the normal strain, pastors will understand that — people who always seem to be broke. I’m talking about the millions now who are used to be on the giver in. Now they have to humble themselves to receive. This is the time to be the church. And so for me, that’s the thoughts that I lean into.
Amy (21:15): Have you or you, Scott, have you redeployed any staff away from what they were doing to put them on the most critical ministry areas right now?
David (21:24): Scott, you want to go first?
Scott (21:27): Yeah, sure. You know, we had this conversation yesterday. Some of our staff are very hands on in what they do, a very specific ministries. And some of those things, because we’re not meeting together on Sundays or Thursday nights, is not happening. But right now we’ve redeployed them. Hey, we’re all shepherds right now. You know, we’re calling our people where, you know, and not just a text. You know, some people would rather have a text. Let’s be hands on and let’s make sure, I think it was Rick that was saying that about Gwinnett Church, you know, let’s call our people, let’s make sure we’re loving them. So we’ve redeployed them in that way. And also two, the whole online church. Before, online church for us was a way you could be part of the live service. Now it’s our only service. And so now we’re looking at redeploying people how they can interact with people as a service is going on.
David (22:17): You know, we have also done the same. We’ve just said, this is our highest priority the next 90 days is church online, community church at home. It’s member congregational care, and it’s a life center, which is our hands and feet of Jesus in the community. And if everybody doesn’t fit in there, we’re going to have to figure out how to put you in there. I had this amazing thought. You know, it takes me a while, maybe cause I’m from Kentucky, but this is the first time in my lifetime I remember preachers or church staff ever truly having Sunday off that they could take as a Sabbath. And those Saturdays, you know the sabbath, I get all that. I did go to bible college, but anyway, I mean think about it. Any y’all watching any of The Unset Group? Can you remember a time when you could get up, have a cup of coffee, worship, pray, spend time with your family on a Sunday, like never before. So what I tried to tell our staff is, look, I know you struggle with a sabbatical or Sabbath before. Take Sunday. We may need you this week. But I mean, take advantage of it. And that’s what I think there are opportunities more than obstacles. And I think that has to be conveyed to your people. But you got to redeploy people. They can, our staff can be benevolence or they can be employed. But you can’t pay somebody just because you like them. You gotta be strategic. And that’s another podcast setup Tony’s so good at having. So they need your heart, but people are how you spend your money in the church because they are having to do that, and they’re a little suspect if you don’t do it strategically.
Amy (23:53): David, I’m having the opposite problem with my husband taking a sabbath. For years, I worked during the week, and then he worked over the weekend, and now we’re together 24/7, so how long will this last?
David (24:03): And no football for you.
Amy (24:07): Thank you. Yeah, we’re praying about the football season. Hey Rick, let me get your thoughts on this one. How just practically should churches be reducing expenses while they’re still carrying out their mission and vision? What ideas do you have?
Rick (24:22): Well, Scott and David have hit a lot of that. But I will quote the great theologian Rahm Emanuel here who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And so not to be awful here, but if you have been contemplating changes, you absolutely should prioritize keeping your best people ,and now’s the time to make some changes. And I know that sounds awful, but if you have to reduce, don’t feel like you have to be egalitarian and treat everybody the same. You absolutely should keep your best performers, and you absolutely should prioritize letting you’re not as good performers go. And I know that can sound terrible, but to me it’s a stewardship issue, and God gave us resources to utilize in order to use them for the most effective spread of the gospel possible. And if you have people that are hindering you from doing that and you’ve been worried about doing something about them because who they’re married to or whatever position they’ve held, now’s the time to change that. So that’s one thing. The second is something these guys have already mentioned. Focus on your opportunities now. For us, those are online and groups and this very well could be a monumental time, and it could change the way church in the U S and around the world is done. And we need to be paying attention to what’s happening and where the new opportunities are. And we need to be moving resources. So we’re doing that. We spend a lot of money, you know. If you’ve been to one of our campuses, you know, we spend a lot of money on physical environment creation, and a lot of that’s not happening these days. And so we’re able to take some of those resources and slide them into digital opportunities and other ways to reach into the community and to be generous to ramp up our care efforts. We already, for us, we’ve given away over the last 12 years, over $50 million to our local partners. People that run food pantries and clothes closets and all of that sort of thing. And I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying to say we’ve made a financial investment in the community. Now dollars are needed, but right now because of the social distancing rules, volunteers are needed. So figuring out how to plug into key ministries in your area, then help them help the community, will pay off big time longterm in your community because you will be seen as a community partner and advocate in ways that other people that just mind their own business won’t be seen. So I think those are some things and then look for all the other things. Scott ran through a great list of cutting back on energy costs, differing maintenance. We’ve pressed pause on non-essential hires, and we’re figuring out how to redeploy assets in our organizations right now. Don’t hire an outside contractor. You know, find somebody internally that is less utilized than people, and right now, you probably had a model that ran really well and ran, and you had everybody fairly evenly utilized. Right now our content creation people are slammed. Our physical environment creation people are, in some cases, under utilized. So try to figure out, I think you asked Amy, how do we reallocate some of those people? Maybe somebody who’s got a graphic design background that could help in that area instead of hiring a service out or whatever it might be. Lots of people can run video cameras. And if not that, then supplement the things that, you know. Say our digital team is running just crazy hair on fire right now. How can we do bureaucratic things for them that free them up to use their specialized talents in a unique way in this season? So I just think maximizing the resources we have, diminishing our expenses and paying attention to opportunities. And I would say even prioritizing, giving up something we used to do, to chase a new opportunity because God may unveil a new way to do something in this season that you weren’t open to before. And there’s lots of those that are coming to the forefront, and I think it might even be the season to try something new. And to David’s point, having a key connection to resourced individuals in your church and not having a broadcast message that says, give, but have it to these resourced people that can give, and you know what? They love to give based on an investment mentality. If you go to them and say, if you could give me $25,000 I can do this with it. That rings the bell of a resource person in the way it doesn’t always ring the bell of someone who’s giving out of their income at a lower amount because they’re used to thinking in terms of ROI and investment return, and that language right now, I agree with David. You should not be bashful, but you should be careful who you talk to in that way. But when you are talking to that person, talk boldly because God may be giving you an opportunity in your community you’ve just not had up until now.
Tony (28:55): That’s very good. And Rick, your thoughts there actually lead into this final section that I wanted to talk about this afternoon, which is about embracing the opportunity for longer term financial health. Even while we’re in the midst of this crisis, what are some things that we could be doing so that once this is behind us, the church is in a better place financially. And David, I think want to start with you on this one. From your position, what could churches be doing today in the midst of this crisis to better position themselves for financial health after this is behind us?
David (29:33): Yeah. I think during a storm and after the storm, when we pivot to whatever’s next, obviously communication is critical. People are down on what they’re not up on. So over communicate. I think most of our pastors underestimated their communication platforms, even their online giving platform. But I would say build relationships now in this storm that you will lean into after the storm. Even for those who are not able to financially give, they will remember that you cared. And then those who are high cap people, leaders or givers, they will come through for you now and maybe they’ll come through at year end. I checked on one of our high capacity givers who ironically did what Rick was saying. His organization here in town had needed to make some changes, and he was so afraid of hurting some feelings, so he went ahead and announced it and everybody accepted it because of the current crisis. So I just texted and said, how are you doing? And he said, it’s so nice to hear from you just asking how I was doing more than asking for something. What he doesn’t know is I’m going to ask for something later. But anyway, he knows that too, but it’s nice to be asked. And so I would say continue to build important relationships with people. It’s relationship, it’s relationship, it’s relationship. And I personally think building margin now, thinking about estate planning should not be underestimated. We are in a position a little bit more of abundance because a wonderful estate gift came through right before this that we had no idea we were even going to get. That helps relieve some pressure. But I think the next pivot is to help the millions in our church who need millions of dollars. So I can’t remember who it was I stole it from, but “new levels bring new devils.” There’s my Amy quote for the day, and you got a whole nother devil for crisis number two that we’re not prepared for. So, my final thought is that, and I don’t know if this makes sense to maybe some guys watching, I’ve found that pastors who like Sundays more are so stressed right now, because they’re preaching to a camera, but they like the feedback of people. They like the interaction. On the dark side, it’s the stroke of their ego that right now pastors who are Sunday pastors, they hate it. But pastors who are Monday pastors, and what I mean by that is they’re leaders and not just communicators, but they’re leaders. They are more energized than ever. So as I coach guys, I can tell a big difference between the Sunday guys and the Monday guys. And so if you’re a Sunday guy, you better lean into some Monday stuff. And if you’re a Monday guy and your communication is not so great, you better lean into the Sunday. Cause if that’s how people are judging your church right now online, that has to be, you know, holy shoddy is still shoddy. So, I mean, you got to kind of be a little bit better. I would say work on that, which in this season most needs the work. But I would prepare for the pivot, not the current. This is what I’m saying. And get those smartest people around you who can say, okay, what’s next? And then, cause I think you deal with scenarios and not just solutions, so I’m in scenario mode now and I’m appreciative of people who kept reminding me this is just step one.
Tony (33:16): Yeah. And on that note, leaders, if you’re listening to this, you ought to begin thinking now, how is this going to change our ministry forever? Not just in these next weeks and months. How is this going to be changing our ministry for the future ahead of us? Because there are going to be changes that come out of this. There’s no doubt about it. Rick, in fact, this kind of gets to the question I had in mind for you. There are going to be some opportunities for churches to start to take advantage of new ministry opportunities that are going to emerge in the next weeks and months. But income for a lot of churches that are listening is going to be going down. How do we start to take advantage of those new opportunities when the income stream may not be what it used to be?
Rick (34:09): Well, I’m not real smart, Tony, but if your income’s going down and you want to do new stuff, you better make sure your expenses go down more. I mean, it really boils down to that. And so if you’ve exhausted your fundraising and vision giving and you’re in a strapped community, you’re going to have to figure out some ways to make your expenses go down. I think, at least for our church, and y’all are all probably better leaders than I am, but we are way too quick to hire somebody to solve a problem than to use volunteers to solve a problem. And I think there are people that have time on their hands that want to do things. And if we’re creative, we can figure out a way to leverage those people in a way so that we can do more with less. And you may even be in a season where you can’t afford to pay some people, but you can’t afford to have a volunteer coordinator to do some things you couldn’t do before. And then that may lower your cost enough. That and the other thing Scott had mentioned and David’s mentioned about controlling. You know, if you’ve got a building, you’ve got a mortgage, you’ve got to figure out how to hold onto them, I think. But you still need to think, and you’re exactly right, Tony. We need to be thinking ahead. We need to be looking three, five years out and going, what are we doing now that we’re going to need to keep doing if we want to effectively minister to or our community, and we need to start making those changes now. And so that means we need to pay attention to what’s working. And as Andy calls things, you know, where we find that the old couches in our organization that nobody wants to admit that they smell and they’re ugly and they’ve got rips and stains, but they’re sentimental. So we hold on to them? That may be programs, it might be people. It might be facilities. We need to get rid of them, you know? And then we need to, as we’re holding onto things that are not helping us anymore and we’ve got to hold on and prioritize the things that are helping. So it can be a very painful season, but it could also be a very productive season if we pray through and get wise counsel and figure out what are the things that really, really are working and be honest with ourselves. Collin’s says turn over the rocks and look at all the squiggly things and see what’s down there and tell the truth about them. If we’ll do that, it may be a season of opportunity. The biggest thing I could do is if I could encourage anything is I can echo something David’s already mentioned, which is in that process, don’t look to assign a dollar to spend for every dollar you save. If you do not have margin in your budget right now, you need to use this season to at least pivot to the point where you can create margin. And I’ll tell you right now, people, organizations and ministries that had unallocated income are able to ride this out a lot better than people that every year figure out what they think the income’s going to be. Not only that, but they come up and we let the God glorifying income’s going to be, and then they plan to spend every dollar of it. Okay? That’s not good stewardship. Now, just as a personal and organizational practice, we only budget on 90% of our conservatively projected revenues, and whatever number you want to pick that’s less than a hundred, you know, you should pick. And so that’s a forward thinking strategy, but it’s something you should be moving toward now because we didn’t think this would ever happen. And then, 9/11 happened and it couldn’t happen again. And then the great recession happened, and it couldn’t happen again. But the coronavirus thing happened. Guess what? It’s going to happen again. So let’s get ready, and let’s prepare for it so that we have some margin in the future so we don’t feel like we’re strapped. Sorry to preach but I feel pretty strongly about that one.
Amy (37:45): I was thinking that, Rick, I think we could give you the platform. That was a good message.
Tony (37:49): So, just to follow up with what Rick was just talking about, a few months ago, I did a podcast interview with Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands in Alabama, let’s see Birmingham, right? Isn’t that where the church is? Yeah. So, that whole principle on budgeting on 90% of what came in the previous 12 months? Chris unpacks that completely and talks about how his church has used that from the very beginning. And especially in seasons like this, they’re in a position of strength to really take advantage now of the opportunity that ministry has, especially in these moments of crisis. So I hope you’ll go back and listen to that podcast. We’ll share a link to that conversation in the email that goes out tomorrow morning with the recording of this webinar. Scott, you get the final official question, but then we have all the good questions here at the very end. The final question though for you is, again, we talked about it earlier. It seems like there’s a greater challenge, or you could look at it as an opportunity if you’re an optimist, for churches like yours that are in more rural areas with a slightly older congregation. So how would you encourage other senior pastors who are facing this challenge right now? How would you encourage them as they’re leading their churches in a similar situation?
Scott (39:19): You know? My own experience and then talking to other lead pastors, I think you have to deal with your own fear first. You know, just give it to the Lord. You know, prior to that first offering coming in, we were watching the stock markets, we were listening to the news. We saw the layoff beginning to happen, heard it from people in our church who were being laid off. I think that week, I felt like every time I turned around I was like, “Lord, I’m just giving this to you, Lord. I’m giving this to you.” So when that, that $15,000 offering came in, instead of a $30,000 offering came in, you know what? I knew it was the Lord’s church and you know, I knew he loved the church. Also knew he called me as a leader, you know, and I knew he was going to use me to lead through it. But I would say deal with your own fear first. Dave Kinnaman in his book The State of Pastors, it just came out, he had a great definition for ministry. He says, “when you control nothing but you’re responsible for everything.” You know, and I’ll tell you, I don’t know a pastor who doesn’t feel that way, that you know ,you can control nothing but you’re responsible for everything. And I think too, I think just keep on loving them. You know, be sure the church is just shepherding them. My mom goes to the church, and so every Sunday I preach a fantastic sermon. I’ve never preached a bad sermon according to my mom. But I check on her every day. We do a family devotion, and we FaceTime her in. And so about every three, four days, I said, how are you doing? I asked her that every day, but every three, four days she goes, “Well, Don, my small group leader called. He checked on me today.” He’s 80 years old, you know, I mean, just the church is just loving on people. So I would just make sure you know, your people are being loved on, and also remember, they love the church. You know they do. They love the church want they want the church to do well. They want to see the mission fulfilled. They want to see people come to Christ. They want that. And I think it’s already been said. I think both David and Rick had said this, be transparent with them. You know, they know there’s needs, you know, and also too, I would say value them. They have seen, you know, some of that. I think our oldest member is 90 plus. They have seen hard times before, and they’ve got wisdom and walking with the Lord and insight that this 30 year old, I’m 52. This 52 year old doesn’t have, you know, and so I would say love them, remember them, be transparent and just value them.
Amy (41:44): Tony, I’m so glad we replayed this webinar. This is great information no matter what’s going on in the world. And if our listeners, Tony, are feeling that they could use some extra help, what would be their next step?
Tony (41:55): Yeah, so I want to talk to two types of pastors and church leaders listening to today’s podcast. The first, if you are still trying to figure out what do we do and because this is not the way we were accustomed to doing church, and more specifically, talking about finances and giving and dealing with reductions in giving and how we respond as a church. If that’s you, we want to provide you some one-o-one coaching, and there’s an opportunity for you to connect with a coach from our team. We’re reallocating some of our consultants to help churches specifically take next steps over the next 30 days as it relates to the response to the crisis that your church is experiencing right now. If you’re interested in that, go to theunstuckgroup.com/coaching. For other pastors and church leaders that are listening, your response is in place. You know what you need to do in the season, but you’re already starting to think about how is this going to change the way we do church forever? What changes are we going to need to make as a church going forward after this crisis is behind us? And we’re already starting to engage those conversations with churches as well. And if that’s you, if you’re at that place, we would love to connect with you and talk about assessing what can we learn from this situation, beginning to build a new plan for the future, getting the right structure in place for that new future, and then helping you build an action plan to move forward. So if you’re interested in that, please reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com. We’d love to start a conversation with you. And the good news is we have some virtual options that we can actually start those conversations right now to help you begin to plan for that new future.
Sean (43:51): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we would love your help in getting the content out to others. But you can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform. You could give us a review, and tell your friends about the podcast. Next week we’re going to be back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.