Are congregations as we know them financially sustainable? I have been pondering this question. More and more I’m convinced that the model of building, program, and staff is NOT sustainable through tithing (e.g. the pledging of charitable contributions to the church) alone. IF members were tithing 10% of income to the church, it would delay the inevitable, but it wouldn’t change the reality …
The reality: with the decline of membership and the aging of our worshippers, the tithing income of a congregation will steadily decrease. For awhile, the amount pledged or given per member will increase to meet the budget, but it will inevitably hit a wall. The giving will ultimately decrease, but the expenses of building and staff will increase. Even the recruitment of new members will not change this trend. New members will not be motivated to give to the organization in the same way as our mature long-time members are. Let’s examine a few reasons why …
- New Christians don’t have a “habit” of giving. The spiritual discipline of tithing or sacrificial giving is developed over years.
- Baby boomers, Generation X, and Millennials are less likely to give to an organization or to a building and staff. They are more likely to give to a “cause.” In the fundraising training I received, I learned that givers are interested in making the world a better place, changing lives … not building a building (or maintaining a building) or paying for administrative staff.
- Givers, today, are discriminate in their donations. They don’t give out of obligation, duty, or loyalty to an organization (even a church); they want to see that their money is being invested in the betterment of people and the common good. I read a young person’s Facebook post complaining about churches asking for money by proclaiming, “giving to the church is giving back to God.” “The Church is NOT God,” she said. This was a very deep, spiritually mature, twenty-something from a strong evangelical faith. There are plenty of good and faithful ways to use God’s money for the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. Giving to a congregation’s budget spent on building, staff, and programs will be measured in that way. Is it a faithful investment of the money God has entrusted to us?
- Along the same lines, a unified giving approach — like pledging and tithing — is proving to be less and less effective. More effective fundraising connects the giver directly with the project, mission or ministry, that they are supporting.
- Church members are more likely to see church expenses as “overhead” and less as mission. Spending money on overhead (even a fairly large percentage) is not a bad thing. See this TED talk by Dan Pallotta. Too many of our congregational budgets, though, appear to be almost ALL overhead. That is, money spent to keep the building open as opposed to changing lives.
So what’s a congregation to do? I will talk more about this in future posts. But the answers lie in a number of possibilities including increasing the streams of revenue, telling the story of transformed lives, right-sizing your building and staff to the mission of the congregation, looking at creative options for staffing or building, understanding, articulating and even transforming the congregational mission from internal to external foci, and considering for-profit entities for a part or all of your congregations funding.