By Alan Hayes
Published: September 2006
To do ministry effectively, churches need to be realistic about money. Taking finances seriously even though we're not in business to make a profit is obedient, I think, to our calling to be "in the world but not of it." Paul, too, gave a great deal of attention to raising money from the saints for the saints.
Recently I visited three of the four Anglican churches in Guelph (I've taken a rain-check on the fourth), and I was really impressed with how they all took finances seriously as a way of doing ministry effectively. And they said I could share their stories with you.
The three churches are fascinatingly different. St. George's has a large congregation of 900 households, a generally traditional and unelaborate approach to worship, a beautiful old building in great condition in the downtown core, and an annual budget of close to $600,000, which is at or near the top of the diocese.
St. James' has a middle-sized congregation of 280 households, an anglo-catholic approach to worship, an historic building which has needed a lot of attention in recent years, a location a little west of downtown, and an annual budget of $300,000.
St. Matthias' has a smaller congregation of 100 households, an informal, family-type, untraditional approach to worship, a 22-year-old building in the newer south part of the city, and an annual budget of $175,000.
All three take systematic approaches to meeting their annual budget. As it happens, all three have also successfully raised extra funds for capital purposes this year.
I spoke recently with the three rectors, Tom Greene, Kevin Bothwell, and Margaret Murray. All three tell me (though not using exactly these words) that meeting their financial responsibilities requires several things: a vision for mission, strong lay leadership, lots of communication, consultation, and transparency, an affirmation of Anglican diversity, energy and preparation for Sunday morning, and good planning.
They're too modest to say so, but strong clergy leadership is also important. All three of these churches have this, too.
Now, if you say that these are the requirements of a financially healthy church, there's a corollary that will be uncomfortable for some. When a church does have financial problems, it's not usually just bad luck. It's a sign that something is wrong at the level of management.
As with most Anglican parish budgets, the large items in their parish budgets are building and utilities, salaries, diocesan assessments, insurance, and the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. All of these support ministry directly. At many churches, the residential school settlement fund is also connected with the annual budget.
St. George's keeps so systematically focused on its operating expenses and income, that it will be starting work this fall on its 2008 budget. Financial needs will be presented clearly and freshly, and being fresh every year can be a challenge. Members will receive their pledge cards later in the fall.
So if you thought that it was easy keeping a big and successful church big and successful, think again. In fact, I can name some big and successful churches in this very diocese that, at some historical moment, went downhill quick.
At St. George's, stewardship is regularly presented as part of Christian discipleship. The rector gave me a copy of an eight-page pamphlet called Stewardship: A Way of Life dated 2005 that was distributed with a commitment card. It included a message from the wardens, a message from the rector, a clear summary budget, and an analysis of givings for 2003. It's a really well conceived, well executed, informative, and helpful little publication....
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