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What to Do When There’s Not Enough Money

Leadership practices during financial stress
by Faith+Lead | February 22, 2021

By Margaret Marcuson

Churches are facing all the anxiety that goes with a global pandemic (a lot) plus financial shortfalls or at least real concern for the future. What should church leaders do when there’s not enough money—or they are afraid there won’t be enough soon?

It’s time to put into play three key leadership practices: get clear, stay connected, and keep calm

Get Clear

Step 1: Assess the situation. Get the numbers: How serious is it? (Can you make payroll?)  Is this the result of a long term decline that has turned into a crisis? Is it a sudden drop due to the pandemic? In addition, ask, what’s the history of this congregation in facing financial challenges? You may find strength in the resourcefulness of the past.

Step 2: Determine what you think. What are your best insights and ideas? Remember, whatever your role, you don’t have to solve this alone, but you do have the responsibility to share your best thinking. It’s best to do some initial thinking on your own. Then have conversations with others.

Stay Connected 

Begin by staying connected with other leaders. Look especially for those who can stay calm and who have a sense of resourcefulness. When I was a young pastor, we had a treasurer who was able to say in a budget crunch, “We’re just going to have to pray about it.” He knew the numbers were important, but he also understood the value of prayer. His calm and faith helped me. 

Also stay in touch with the congregation. Work toward openness. People are more likely to give when they know leaders are transparent and their money will be well managed. Communicate clearly what the situation is and what you are asking of them. Your goal is not to protect the congregation from reality but to offer them the challenge of what it means to be a community of faith together. Be sure to regularly thank people for their giving.

Keep in touch with staff, too. Share as much information as you can appropriately share. If you’re not sure what’s going to happen with staff jobs, be honest about that. Acknowledge that this is tough for them. Thank them for their efforts through a challenging time.

Bring your spiritual leadership to the task. Share your conviction that no matter what happens, God is present with you all as you walk through these hard conversations and choices.

Keep Calm

In any crisis, if leaders can stay calm, the church is more likely to weather the storm. Keep your wits about you as much as you can, and remember this is not your problem to solve alone. Sometimes you can appropriately push the anxiety back to other leaders by saying, “I’m just not sure what we are going to do about this.” 

All problems have many solutions. You are not responsible for generating the solution, but you are part of it. Be clear about which decisions you can make or influence and which ones are out of your hands. Let go of what you can’t control. You don’t have to be the savior. Ultimately, it is God’s church.

One pastor, facing a tough council meeting about a difficult decision, knew he needed to calm down. He simply took a long walk before the meeting, got rid of some adrenaline, and took more time to think through his own perspective. He was then able to share his thoughts, listen to others, and stay calm through the meeting. The leaders were able to make a thoughtful decision—one they knew not everyone would like, but they were clear about.

It’s not easy to face a financial shortfall. Start with these three questions:
1. What do I think?
2. Who do I need to connect with?
3. What can I do to be calmer?

You’ll be a great resource to your leadership partners and to your congregation.

And join us in the Faith+Lead learning lab to discuss these ideas and more.

About the Author
Rev. Margaret Marcuson
offers a way church leaders can bring their best to their ministry without giving it all away, so they can have a greater impact and find more satisfaction. Get six ways to last in ministry here.

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