It's well known that the Builder generation strongly supported institutions such as churches. Even many of us in the Boomer generation, once we returned to the church, have been pretty faithful financial supporters. However, that has not been the case with many of succeeding generations. As younger generations have reached adulthood they have often been saddled with excessive debt, including student loans, and were facing a combination of shrinking wages and rising costs of living. Those factors, coupled with a lack of interest in institutions in general, have led them to give much less to their local church. Even those who are generous givers often split up their giving between their church and other charities and groups they want to support.
A few years ago I was speaking with a denominational leader whose primary role was to work with the churches of that denomination to help them realize what the financial future looked like for churches. He said most of the churches have no idea, and those who do want to pretend it won't happen to them. We can pretend all we want, it is the reality facing many of our churches, and now is the time to begin preparing for it.
What can churches do in light of expected reduced giving in the future?
- Avoid debt. Be sure you really need to build that new addition or undertake that capital project. If you do, cash-flow it. The Bible tells us that the borrower is slave to the lender. Churches are not the exception. The last thing you want if your giving drops is a large mortgage payment.
- Teach biblical stewardship. Many churches are very reluctant to hear sermons about money. Some have insisted their pastors never discuss money from the pulpit. Those are the churches that need to hear about stewardship the most. Many denominations have sound, biblical stewardship programs that you can use. Don't wait until the church needs money to talk about money. Stewardship is part of discipleship. Talk about it in that context.
- Invest in God's kingdom. As a pastor I often reminded our church that God honors churches that honors missions. When we had very little money we still gave 10 percent of our offering to our denomination's mission program. I told our church that we can't expect people to tithe if we as a church don't tithe. When our finances became stronger we increased that giving to 15 percent of our offering. The more we gave the more came in. We were never able to outgive God.
- Take a close look at staffing needs. In many small and medium size churches salary and benefits for pastoral staff often take up the majority of the church's income. That leaves little money for ministry and other expenses. Many of these churches are now looking to call bivocational people as pastors and for staff positions. Many churches are using more volunteers in some positions.
- Finally, accept the reality that your church could be affected by reduced giving in the future. Begin to talk about that now and take the steps appropriate to your church to counteract that possibility.