What do you do when your congregation is becoming financially fragile? Let’s be honest, okay? There are no easy answers or quick fixes. And truthfully, many congregational leaders choose not to make the changes necessary because these changes involve tough choices, sacrificial actions and long-term commitment. Top of the list of missional strategies for financially fragile congregations is: Keep the main thing the main thing.
The biggest threat in a congregation becoming financially fragile is that it becomes increasingly difficult for leaders to stay focused on ministry. Paying the bills and surviving financially become the congregation’s primary concern. As the main focus incrementally shifts from transforming lives and communities to “what we can or can’t afford,” the congregation’s downward slide gets greased. Why?
· Few people are looking to be part of a congregation they need to bail out financially.
· The more leaders worry about their congregation’s financial survival, the less they tend to be open to the needs of the community or new comers. The direction of attention turns inward, from “service” to “serve us.” As this happens, the congregation becomes a drain, rather than a blessing, on everyone.
· Why would the Holy Spirit bless the efforts of a congregation whose primary concern has drifted from joining in God’s redemptive mission in the world?
Keeping the main thing the main thing is a major challenge in a financially fragile congregation. It is also critical. Here are several practical strategies that can help.
Recognize and celebrate what God is already doing in and through your congregation. When we lose sight of what God is doing we lose hope. Asking: “Where have you seen God at work this week?” can become a regular part of every worship service. I started doing this in one congregation and it took awhile before people began to regain their eyes of faith to see God blessing them and others. Over time, however, their sense of God’s goodness and the richness of their own lives grew. Did you know that there are almost twice as many negative adjectives and adverbs in the English language as there are positive? It just seems to be part of our fallen nature to stay focused on what’s wrong rather than on what’s right. Faith provides the corrective lenses we need to see how God is active in our world blessing us and others.
Repeatedly ask, “How can we use the resources God has provided us to join God ministering to others?” Financial decline may cause us to focus on what we don’t have that we used to have or that others have and we wish we had, too. We sing choruses of “if only.” If only we had more money. If only we had more people. If only we had better facilities. If only we had younger members. Our focus on what we don’t have becomes an excuse for not recognizing what we do have and, as good stewards, using it to bless others in Christ’s name. Given the passions, the skills, the relationships, the experiences, the physical resources and the money that we do have as a congregation – what is Jesus calling us to do NOW to join him in life-changing, community-blessing ministry? If we believe that God equips us for the ministry to which God calls us (as Scripture promises), then the resources we have are God’s whispered calls to serve.
Cultivate at least one on-going congregational ministry in which people get to know and serve persons in your community. Discern the intersection of several factors: the congregation’s passions and capacities, felt needs in the community and God’s mission to renew all of creation. Line up the vectors, see where they cross and that’s where God calls us to make a difference. You don’t necessarily have to invent ministries; often you can join in where God is already at work in the community. And you don’t have to do several things; just do one -- well. Look for where God is already at work and join in. Start small; involve others. Allow the enthusiasm to grow and to become an expanding field of energy as you increasingly fulfill God’s hope for your congregation.
If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at www.congregationalexcellence.com.
Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence