“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31a
This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.
None of us know exactly how it is all going to turn out, and it would be so easy for us to be afraid and hold tightly to what we have in case things get worse. This is ministry that operates out of our perceived scarcity which keeps us from experiencing abundance and gratitude. It is difficult to predict the short and long-term financial implications for the coming months. The one thing we do know is that we must be able to adapt and change as the circumstances around us continue to change.
In the past few months, I have worked with several churches in our Presbytery to think about the way to approach the fall Stewardship program. I encourage Stewardship and Finance teams to consider the current context of your congregation as you plan for the fall. There are lots of resources I can share with you and help you adapt them to your congregation’s circumstances.
Here are some things that might help you as you move forward:
Focus for Pastoral Care
- Continue to develop and strengthen your online worship presence. Make sure everyone feels connected.
- Increase communication with members of your congregation and with the community around you. Include many ways of communicating so everyone stays connected.
- Develop a survey to discover the needs of the people in your congregation. Some may be struggling and feel insecure and desperate for ways to get through this crisis. Depending on what you hear, you may consider offering online classes, workshops, and/or other learning opportunities.
- Find colleagues who can share in your concerns and consider ways to be in partnership (prayer, worship, online classes)
- Explore new ways of doing ministry. This is a great opportunity to use the creativity and special gifts of your congregation to think of new ways of being in ministry under these restricted circumstances.
- Find ways to share the story of how your congregation is engaged and responding to the needs of others during this unusual season in the life of the church. Include this as part of the offering during your online worship.
Focus for Stewardship
- Center your Stewardship efforts on communicating the church’s purpose, vision, and mission. Communicate to the congregation how the church has continued to be in ministry through the pandemic.
- Create an environment that focuses less on the budget and more on our faithful response to God.
- Be more intentional about thanking people for their faithfulness.
- Find ways to get the congregation to talk about how they see the church at work in these unusual circumstances. This might be small group conversations over Zoom, one-on-one phone calls with the congregation, or socially distanced coffee groups where feasible.
- Find ways for everyone to serve while remaining safe at home.
- Celebrate what the church is doing. Let the community know. Hang a banner in the church lawn to show the church is alive and in ministry.
Focus for Finance Team
- Develop a recovery plan if your congregation is struggling to meet expenses.
- Do a ministry assessment and create a strategy for how to do ministry now. Prioritize the things your congregation is mostly focused on during this season.
- Create a financial plan that allows you to fund current needs for doing ministry (technological needs, online classes, food assistance, community outreach).
- Audit giving for the past 3-6 months. Base your financial plan on current giving.
- Be flexible and willing to adjust your financial plan every 3-6 months. A year-long budget should exist only as a preliminary guide.
- Remain positive. It may take several years for you to completely recover.
- Clearly communicate the status of your church’s finances so the congregation can respond accordingly.
Remember that relationships matter most. Generosity happens when there is trust and a clear vision for the ministry of the church. Disaster and disease isolate. Financial recession and unemployment compound our crisis. The healing ministry role of our congregations has never been greater than it is today.
We are called to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us: our congregations, our ministries, our pastoral leadership, our individual gifts, our resources, our creativity, and our openness to where God is calling us to be.
POJ Associate for Stewardship