Recently, a relative of mine started working a second job. Every morning, now, she gets up and begins a shift with a shipping company at 4:30 am. At 8:30 she can go to her “day job” as an assistant in a small family owned business. She doesn’t expect that this will be a permanent arrangement, but for the time being increasing streams of revenue is necessary for her to manage debt and be realistic in budgeting. Knowing the economic realities of the small family owned business, asking for a raise was not an option. So, it was necessary to start the work day earlier and get another paycheck.
When congregations face economic short-falls, whether it’s mortgage debt, increasing utilities, or staff salaries, there are two solutions: decrease costs or increase income. We find the line items that we can reduce and we slash. So, we decide to postpone things like maintenance or minor repairs or we reduce our staff through attrition. In New Brunswick Presbytery we decreased our rent and office line item by almost 50% when we moved to a smaller office, and we decided not to hire another full-time administrative assistant when our beloved, Cathie, retired this spring.
Eventually, though, churches slash everything that appears “slash-able.” In the meantime, we may have begun more aggressive stewardship programs, asking members to dig deeper into their own pockets to support the congregation’s budget. We have huge programs with guest speakers, we focus on the spiritual discipline of generosity, and we encourage members to know their percentage and work toward tithing 10% or more. I believe it’s imperative for a congregation to talk about money and for generosity to be seen as a piece of faithful living, but it may not increase giving to the congregation by much in the end … see my last post for some reasons.
Congregations have also begun looking at ways to increase their streams of revenue. We’ve been doing this for years, by the way. Bake sales and rummage sales, many of our beloved church events like harvest home dinners or oyster bakes, were begun as fundraisers … as an additional revenue stream for the congregation’s mission.
Some churches are blessed with an endowment that pays dividends that the congregation can use for a portion of its budget — supporting the youth ministry, for example. Others look for ways to rent their space. A congregation, for instance, may be “partners in ministry” with three or four other congregations who worship in their sanctuary or fellowship hall. The “rent” they receive pays their own pastor’s salary. They may open their building to a preschool or a senior day care. The newly merged, Grace Presbyterian Church uses its space to welcome professionals who can work there as part of a wellness center. Cell towers, oil wells, solar panels have all been placed on congregational property to increase revenue streams. In New York City some congregations have been selling the “air space” above them for additional income. Many congregations in the northeast still have significant revenue from church-owned cemeteries or columbariums.
Every context is different, or course. And increasing streams of revenue doesn’t change the need to right-size or focus on stories or even consider for-profit business partnerships for your ministry when considering your long-range strategy, mission and vision. When considering additional streams of revenue, it’s important to ask the question “Is this in keeping with our overall mission as a congregation?” Are we incorporating this into our long range plan or is it merely a stop-gap measure? If it’s a stop gap solution, what are the longterm implications? Will it enhance our strategy for reaching the community? Is it consistent with the proclamation of the Gospel and the in breaking of the kingdom of God?