Summer is almost here, and you know what that almost certainly means: No matter how much discipleship is up at your church, giving is almost certainly about to take a dive.
Most summertime giving slumps are due to nothing more than a temporary attendance dip. People are out of town or enjoying the beautiful outdoors—which means they aren't coming through your doors quite as much. Couple this reality with the fact that the two biggest church-attendance weekends of the year—Easter and Mother's Day—fall in the previous quarter, and you can already feel those financial belts begin to tighten.
Summer should be a time for you and your team to dream, plan and prepare for the year ahead. But when money is tight and you're stressed about it, creativity can take a big hit. It's tough to think creatively in that environment.
I have good news, though. If you start now, it's not too late to combat the summer giving slump and allow you and your team to stay future focused. These tips will help you get started:
1. Budget conservatively. I'm usually a pretty optimistic guy, but this is one area where I prefer to err on the side of caution. That's because it's always better to underestimate financial giving and be pleasantly surprised at the money you take in than to overestimate and find yourself unable to make payroll or fund your ministry.
Some churches actually budget just 90 percent of the previous year's income, so even a tiny 3-percent giving increase turns into a 13-percent bump in the budget—a pleasant surprise that creates a whole lot of margin. And if your summer giving does dip, it's a minor inconvenience, not a crisis. This not only gives leaders peace of mind but also leaves them room to say yes to new ministry opportunities God presents throughout the year.
2) Push for people to enroll in automated giving. This spring, push hard for people to enroll in automated giving. As a team, set a goal for the number of faithful givers you'd like to see participate. If you're comfortable, share that goal and progress with your attendees to bring them into the process with you.
And share its benefits with them: Automated giving is typically fee-free, easy, convenient and lets them spend time praying or worshipping instead of rushing to get their contribution together as the offering plate is being passed each Sunday.
3. Know your summer spending traps. I once worked with a pastor who dealt with a unique spending trap: He couldn't stand the thought of a teen missing camp because they couldn't afford it. Each year, after telling himself he'd tighten the purse strings, he handed out full scholarships left and right. Although I loved this leader's heart, his unbudgeted generosity left the church's student ministries struggling to climb out of the red for the rest of the year. Finally, the pastor recognized the unhealthy pattern and budgeted accordingly.
Maybe your spending trap is treating volunteers to lunches or coffee when your staff has a little summer downtime. Maybe it's shipping and handling fees because your team falls behind on ordering during the summer, then scrambles to order and ship everything in time during fall. This year, figure out what your church's spending traps are and plan accordingly.
4. Plan a "No Spend" month. This tool is one of my personal favorites, and it can be fun for your whole team. Think of it as a fast for your church budget. Here's what you need to do: Take a summer month—let's say, July—and cut all spending on your team if the expense comes out of the church's budget. That means no meals or coffees and no ordering T-shirts, banners or supplies.
This is a great time to help your team learn to plan ahead by ordering needed supplies before the spending fast begins. This also can help you evaluate what your team actually needs—and what they can live without—to run an effective ministry. This is a good practice for us all.
Summer's practically here, but it's not too late to incorporate some of these ideas into your ministry plan over the next few months. Doing so will free up your mind—and your budget—to focus on special opportunities the summer months bring and provide time to dream, plan and prepare for the great things God wants to do through your church. I want you to enjoy this summer—not stress about it. Happy planning!
Chris Brown is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, pastor and speaker carrying the message of stewardship and intentional living nationwide. Available on radio stations across the country, "Chris Brown's True Stewardship" provides biblical solutions and sound advice for questions on life and money. Follow him at stewardship.com, on Twitter (@chrisbrownonair) or on Facebook (chrisbrownonair).
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