Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Faith Works 2-4-17

Faith Works 2-4-17

Jeff Gill


Planning is something you need to plan on



As a parish minister, I've been thinking and planning for the fall stewardship education program.


Lent and Easter, you say? What about that? March 1 is Ash Wednesday, and April 16 is Easter, but most of my programmatic and thematic planning for that was done last month. Yep, January wrapped up my anticipation of the spring, and February has me thinking about July and October.


No, really.


The tail end of January, as the financial reports summarizing 2016 were coming in and the giving reports for the last year were being prepared, was when I pulled together all the "yearbook report" materials for my denominational offices.


That makes February a good time to anticipate the fall, and get set to do the stewardship and finance outreach needed in our neck of the woods.


Ideally, stewardship teaching and reflection should be part of our faith community life all year long; part of our discipleship growth in each month, every week in some sense.


Which is why we still have an offering as part of our gathering around the table, not just to put cash and change and checks in the plates, but to bring forward (in our congregation each week) the elements of communion, and to celebrate them together as we prepare to receive our blessing for the week ahead.


But there are bigger picture items and small detail elements that are worth sharing, that help us in our decision making in both giving and working into the mission of the local church. The utilities have to paid each month, whether the attendance was up or down; there are supplies that have to be purchased to clean and maintain the building (and restrooms!); personnel costs are more complicated than they were a generation ago, when one retired bookkeeper with a ledger and a pencil could manage church accounts for even a large congregation.


Now a relatively small church needs some care and attention to deal with financial matters, and many hire outside firms to assist or even to do most of it.


So often, though, it does come back to the individual worshiper and what they believe, what they know, and how they decide when the offering plates are passed. I was on vacation last week, and like most clergy, I can't attend a church service and give nothing even when it's said firmly from the pulpit that "guests are reminded they need not give, but are welcome to be with us as you seek a church home; members are reminded of our need to be responsible for the work we share."


It was a good statement in evangelistic terms, but my problem is that I know too much. I know that visitors use paper towels in the restroom, expect heat (or air conditioning) in the sanctuary, contribute to the overall wear and tear of the building and grounds even if they don't contribute to the offering. Good policy to affirm that giving is not expected or required, but I put a twenty in the plate anyhow.


What clergy and churches alike often struggle with is longer term planning. How much do we need to set aside as a cash reserve? We tell families they should have at least three months basic expenses in an emergency fund: is that true for a faith community? And then there's the bigger anticipations, like replacement for a roof, complete renovations or repairs to a boiler or HVAC system, painting costs for a worship space that might be well beyond the abilities of well-intentioned volunteers.


Many churches – all I've ever served, in fact – tend to say "our people step up when there's a need" and that's true, usually . . . but is that the best way to handle such things? When you know roofing materials have a 25 year lifespan, or that your boilers are rated at 30 years tops; when history in your building says major repainting happens every ten years or so, and the sound system's last overhaul is still memorable to your treasurer . . . those sorts of needs can be plotted out in advance, and anticipated. Which is good to prepare for, because there will always be those events you can't: the government selling your wireless device bandwidth and forcing you to buy all new mics, or the winter you call the plow guy fifteen times, not five.


How does your church plan pragmatically?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how your church deals with practical preparation at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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