How Should We Measure Church Success?

Church Success

Pre-pandemic, this was already a controversial topic for churches. But in an era where fewer people are choosing to attend physical church services, more pastors are asking the question: “What should success at my church look like?”

For many years, a large number of churches in the United States focused on one singular number – the number of weekly attendees. They asked the questions, “How many people do we have and how can we get more people in the doors?”

Our culture in America naturally celebrates “big.” It’s easy for us to approach church with the same mentality…that “bigger is better.”

We often equate the size of the church with the success of the church.

Or at least many of us did prior to the pandemic. Now, many churches are relying on digital services, or limiting the number of physical attendees in accordance with health and safety guidelines. The shift has caused many pastors to question their approach and what these changes means for the success and effectiveness of their church and ministry.

Numbers Aren’t Everything

The first thing to remember is that while numbers can be a helpful tool, they are not the only measure of success.

Did you know that even pre-pandemic, the average church had less than 100 in attendance? While there is something to be said for analyzing why a church isn’t growing, numbers definitely don’t paint the entire picture.

So as we move forward in an era of social distancing and pandemic uncertainty, how should we measure success in church?

Here are four things to consider as we re-evaluate the matrix we use to measure church growth.

1. Begin with Your Mission and Vision

What specific purpose has God given your church? Are you being faithful to that mission? What elements of your mission or vision remain true and what elements need to shift in this season?

2. Examine Your Growth Engines

These are usually the things your church does to either reach new people or that help your people grow spiritually. In what ways are you reaching new people? In what ways are you helping your members grow? Are your current methods effective in this season or do you need to try something different?

3. Measure Against Your Goals

What goals did you set for your church this year? As circumstances shifted, did you recalibrate those goals? If not, take some time to rethink your goals and adjust as needed. Then look at what practical action steps will move you closer to your goals. Are you taking these steps?

4. Think Big Picture


Ultimately how is your church doing at loving God and loving others? How are you doing at fulfilling the Great Commission? Our mandate to love God and others remains constant regardless of where or when or how we gather together.

Ultimately, there is no one right way to measure success in church. But my hope is that you find encouragement in knowing that small does not equal ineffective. The number of people physically coming into your building is not an accurate measure of spiritual health, growth or success, especially in these times.

Do you have a specific way that you measure success or maintain an analysis of your church activities? Have those measures shifted this year?

Your COVID-19 Guide to Church Communication

In How to Help Your Church Go Digital, Part 2, we discussed the importance of keeping your congregation connected. Today we’re diving deeper into the topic of digital communication and keeping your church digitally connected in this season. 

Church Communication in a Digital World

Over the last few weeks churches across the globe have been forced to rethink what it means to “do church.” And while that can be unsettling, it is also an unprecedented opportunity. 

Perhaps one of the biggest blessings of this pandemic is that it happened at this moment in history. Even a decade ago, digital tools and resources would not be readily available to most churches and maintaining connection would be significantly more challenging.

From online giving platforms, to live streaming, to social and digital connection platforms, we are living at a time in history that allows us to continue to gather together as followers of Christ, to grow together and to reach out to those in need…with or without a building (and regardless of church size).

And as this season of social distancing continues, it is essential that we take time to examine how we are digitally connecting with our congregation – not just on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week. 

It is essential that we take time to examine how we digitally connect with our congregation – not just on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week. 

A digital communication plan will guide you both for this season and for the future of your church. So let’s dig into how you can optimize your digital church communication strategy…or get started creating one.

Start With Your Goals

Let me begin by asking, “What are your goals for this season?”

Is it to simply survive as a church until you can “return to normal?” Or is it to thrive during this season? 

Because I know it is possible for your church to thrive. In fact, with a little intentionality, you may even see your church grow (even if you aren’t meeting together and don’t consider yourself a “techy person.”)   

We’ve already heard from churches across the country that are continuing to engage with people during this time, that are continuing to see people come to Christ, and that are continuing to grow. We’ve heard from churches that have not seen any dip in giving, and churches whose donations have actually increased during this time. 

So if you want to be a church that not only survives, but thrives, then I encourage you to keep reading. Here are some big picture goals to consider:

Connection & Engagement

If you want to be a healthy church at the end of this crisis, at the very least, you need to keep your community engaged and connected during this season. The thing that will separate churches that thrive from those that struggle will be their level of engagement during this time.

You’ll need to come up with creative ways to stay engaged with your attendees and help them feel like they really are a part of a local body of believers. We’ll talk about some ways you can do that below.

Encourage Spiritual Growth

If your baseline goal is to maintain connection & engagement, then a next-level goal is to encourage and equip your members to grow during this time. 

Yes, there is an abundance of pain, loss and hardship during this season. We must acknowledge that fact. But simply because we cannot physically gather together does not mean that our mission and calling to go and make disciples has changed.

You do not need to put your efforts to equip your members on the back burner. The church has never been dependent on a building. You can help people on their spiritual journey, even in a season of turmoil. 

Engage New People 

Finally, consider how your church can engage with people not already connected to your congregation. 

Right now more people are spending time online, more people are feeling disoriented, and more people are looking for connection, hope and meaning right now. The opportunity to engage with people who might never visit a church is extremely high. Can you be intentional about stepping into that opportunity? 

Reexamine Your Systems

Once you’ve thought through your goals for this season, it’s time to look at your systems and processes. Do you need to change anything about your current systems to help move toward your goals? 

Your Church Database

In this season of digital church communication, you need an up-to-date church database. If you’re like many church leaders, your database might need a little bit of work. It’s typically not high on a church priority list. 

If you have the time, start going through your database to make sure it’s updated with current contact information for all of your attendees. Or if your plate is too full, ask a volunteer to help you with this project. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer:

  • How many people are actually connected to/a part of your church? 
  • Do you have a good way to contact them?
  •  What percentage of your contacts can you reach through email? 
  • Through text message? 
  • Do you have current physical addresses for your members?

Consider sending out a letter in the mail to every contact in your database, or at least those you know are active members. 

In this letter you can:

  • Encourage & reassure people 
  • Ask them to update any changes to their contact info
  • Reiterate how to watch services
  • Explain all the ways to stay connected 
  • Remind them to be faithful in giving (and explain how the church is using those funds)
  • Encourage them to stay connected with friends and family and invite others to watch your services online

PRO TIP: Simplify Community is a church management system (ChMS) without a learning curve. It can help you keep track of and communicate with your members and visitors. It is a cloud-based solution, so you can access your church information from anywhere. Click here for a free demo of the software.

Your Online Giving Platform 

First, if you haven’t yet set up online giving for your church, it’s quick and easy to get started. Using Simplify Give’s quick, no-fee sign up process, we can have your church accepting donations online in just a few minutes.

Before COVID, churches that started accepting donations online increased overall donations by 32%. My guess is that this number is currently skyrocketing. 

Second, if you already have an online giving platform, do you know what percentage of your members are currently using it?

You may need to provide some guidance to your members that are less tech-savvy and show just how easy it can be to give online via your church website or through text-to-give. 

Choose Your Digital Church Communication Platforms

Now you’ll want to think through the digital platforms you use to communicate and engage with your church. Here are the most common platforms: 

Your Website

These days most churches have a website of some sort. However, the capabilities of church websites tend to be all over the map, depending on whether you have a tech-savvy webmaster. 

Regardless of how simple or complex your site is, there are two things every church should keep in mind:

  1. Your primary website visitor is someone not connected to your church. That’s why in general we recommend that your website be designed for a potential visitor.
  • Your church members will often turn to your website first for updates. In this season, unless someone is actively engaged with you on social media, they will first visit your website for more info on how your church is responding during this season.

What does this mean for you?

You need to update your website and let people know how you’re doing “church” during this season. Where can they go to watch your services? Is it at the same time or a different time? Where do they need to go for more updates?

If you can stream your services from your website, fantastic! But if you’re not super techy and that feels complicated, that’s okay. Just make sure you update your site and let people know the best ways to stay in touch with you.

Email 

If you don’t regularly send out a church email newsletter, now is a great time to start! Send a quick email to your members each week and include information you might regularly put  in your church bulletin. Start with a helpful tip or a devotional message and make sure to include reminders of how and when to watch your service, how to give online, and maybe a link to a replay of last week’s service. 

Using email is important because it shows that you are making an effort to stay connected with everyone, especially because you will have a percentage of people who are either not on social media or are intentionally avoiding it right now. I’ve seen many churches turn to Facebook as their primary means of staying connected with people. However, if you rely on Facebook as your sole means of regular communication, you might be overlooking a good portion of your members. 

Facebook

I say Facebook rather than all social media because if you are going to pick one social platform, it should be Facebook.

You’ll reach smaller groups of people on other platforms, but Facebook is the most wide-reaching. It also is designed to help people engage and connect with one another. 

There are so many ways to connect with your congregation through your church Facebook page and in Facebook groups.

Post frequently on your Facebook page (at least once a day) and encourage people to engage with your content. Have someone from the church leadership team go live on Facebook or upload a recorded video on a regular basis. This is a great opportunity to lead a daily devotional, to encourage connection and emotional health, and to help people learn how to grow spiritually. 

Get Creative 

Now for the fun part. You know your congregation best. Have a brainstorming session with your leadership team and come up with specific ideas to engage people during this season. Here are some great ideas that a number of churches are implementing:

  • Offer a daily devotional or start a new church Bible reading plan together
  • Go live daily on Facebook to offer encouragement and connection
  • Share activities that families can do together
  • Continue to have your small groups meet together on Zoom
  •  Ask your members to invite friends to your online services 
  • Host a mid-week prayer or worship service via Facebook or Zoom
  • Provide specific content for kids, teens or families
  • Create a family scavenger hunt and have members post pictures of their finds
  • Provide a place for people to submit prayer requests and specific needs that the church can pray for

Focus Your Content on the Whole Person

It can be easy for us to silo ourselves as just providers of spiritual support and guidance, but the truth is that this crisis impacts the entire wellbeing of a person – body, mind and spirit. Think about creating content that supports people’s spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, financial and relational wellness.

There is a lot of anxiety right now. A lot of added stress. Financial strain. Relationship strain. Isolation. Grief. Fear. Loss. All of those things take a toll on people. My guess is that when this crisis blows over, the need for counseling will be higher than ever. 

There is no way that you as a church leader will be able to offer individual counseling for everyone dealing with issues that stem from this crisis. But you can be proactive now by offering resources and suggestions to help them process their circumstances, feelings and emotions in healthy ways.

Think about what support you can provide during this season, such as sharing this emotional health tool from Saddleback Church.

Follow Up 

If you want to use this season to engage and reach more people, you will need a digital engagement and connection plan. Check out this post for more suggestions about how to engage with and follow up with first-time viewers. 

Embrace The Opportunity

I heard this statement from multiple people today, “The rules of the game have changed.” This applies to how we as people conduct business, how we socialize, and yes, how we do church. 

For so long the church (at least in America) has followed a series of established norms and expectations. All of that is currently upended. This creates uncertainty, but also unprecedented opportunity. 

COVID-19 has given churches across the globe a chance to demonstrate what it means to “be the church” apart from any building or set of norms and expectations. In a very short period of time, churches have radically shifted the ways in which they communicate and interact with members. 

Does going back to the “way things were” really serve the mission of the church?

It’s time to give a more serious look at how digital communication tools can help the church spread the gospel in new ways. Perhaps it’s time to lean into new strategies and prayerfully consider ways in which these technologies might serve your church both for this season and beyond.  

How are you engaging with your congregation in this season? What are your big wins? What are you struggling with?

The Easter Opportunity: How to Create an Impactful Easter Service amid COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve checked your calendar and seen that Easter Sunday is a little over a week away.  

On Easter Sunday, most churches typically see a spike in attendance. For many churches, it is their most attended Sunday of the year. 

You may have been planning for your Easter service for weeks or months already. And now it’s time to throw out those plans and completely shift gears. 

But before you give up on reaching new people this Easter consider this:

  • More people are facing high levels of stress and anxiety right now
  • More people are feeling isolated right now
  • More people are actively looking for ways to deal with their stress and anxiety
  • More people are considering either their own mortality or the mortality of a loved one

They are looking for something that can bring them a sense of joy, hope and peace in a season of fear and uncertainty. 

This Easter, more than any other, more people are looking for what can only be found in Jesus Christ. 

In other words, the Easter opportunity still exists! 

Yes, you will need to completely rethink your strategy, but Easter is still a significant opportunity. I believe that if you choose to seize this moment, you’ll be amazed at what God can do through your church to reach people that might never otherwise darken the doors of a church. 

But You Must Seize the Easter moment.

By this I mean you cannot simply do “church” as normal (whatever that means anymore). You need a new plan to reach people on this particular Easter. 

So how do you prepare for an online Easter service in the middle a global pandemic that reaches MORE people for Jesus? 

BOOST AWARENESS

Your Goal: To get someone who is not connected to a church to watch your Easter service online. 

In many ways, this is much simpler than asking someone to get dressed up and drive to a building with a bunch of people they don’t know. They never have to leave home or even get out of their pajamas. They just need to know that you exist and that you have something that can help them out. 

Clarify Your Message

Let’s start with the second part – they need to know that you have something that can help them out.

Here’s the honest truth: If someone isn’t connected to a church, they won’t care about the story of your church, or even the story of Jesus. What they will care about is if what you have to offer can help them survive or thrive.

When you create content that invites people to watch your Easter service, keep this important fact in mind. Create content that addresses the pain you know people are in, and how you have a solution to that pain. And please don’t use “churchy” words. 

Before you sit down to write anything, pretend that you’re having a conversation with someone that has never been to church and has just lost their job due to economic impacts of COVID-19. What would you say to that person to get them to watch to your service?

Now create an inviting social media post based on that idea.

Encourage People to Share

Once you’ve thought through what you want to communicate, the next step is to let people know that you exist. The easiest way to boost awareness is to enlist the help of your current attenders. Create a post about your upcoming Easter service on your social media pages. Ask your current attenders to share your posts to their own pages. 

This works even better if instead of just hitting the “share” button, they add a personal anecdote about their experience with your church. 

Boost Your Visibility on Facebook

If you have some money in your budget, I’d recommend boosting your post as a Facebook and Instagram ad. Once you make a post on your Facebook page, you’ll see a “boost post” button. Click the button and Facebook will give you a series of options to promote your service. You can specify who you want your ad to appear to (such as people in your local area or friends of those who like your page), how long you want the ad to run, and how much you want to spend to reach people.

Engage with People on your Church Facebook Page

Begin now by posting regular content on your social media pages. This will help both keep your regular attenders connected and growing AND help engage new viewers with your content. Have someone from your church leadership team go live on Facebook each day for a daily dose of encouragement, or to share ideas for staying connected and growing spiritually.

Another idea is to create a holy week journey for your members with specific content, scriptures and prayer points posted daily in the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  

Encourage Members to Host a Facebook Watch Party on Easter Sunday 

A watch party is a co-watching video experience. A host creates a Facebook watch party and invites friends to join him or her. Everyone in a watch party watches the same moment in the video at the same time, and group members can comment on and react to the content in the video.

Let’s say you go live with your Easter service on your Facebook page. A member can navigate to the video, click share and choose the drop-down option “watch party.” From there the member can start a watch party on their own Facebook page or share it to a group page that they are a part of. 

The more your members interact with and post about your online service and personally invite friends to join them, the more people scrolling the Facebook news feed will see your service. 

PLAN YOUR EASTER SERVICE 

Your Goal: To get someone that watches your service to make contact with you  

Now is the time to begin planning your Easter service. As much as you want to equip and encourage your church members, choose this service and create it specifically for someone that may be tuning in for the first time. 

As I mentioned above, what makes people curious about what you have to say is the belief that it can help them survive or thrive. Build your entire service – your worship, your announcements, your message – around this idea. 

For example, if you begin by talking about the fact that we all have a sin problem, you’ve probably already lost your audience. 

However, if you begin by talking about the stress and anxiety people are currently feeling and the need to resolve these feelings, then you’ve aroused curiosity and your audience is open to hearing more.

Author Ray Edwards provides a simple outline that he calls the P.A.S.T.O.R. framework. While his book is specifically about communication, this framework is exactly what you as a pastor are called to do!

Here’s the framework:

P – Pain. Begin by meeting people where they are at. Talk about the pain they feel and the problems they face in terms they can relate to

A – Amplify. What is the cost of not solving this problem? 

S – Solution. What is the solution to this problem? 

T – Transformation. Share a story of a life that has experienced positive change due to solving the problem

O – Offer. Explain the solution being offered

R – Response. Ask for a response

I have a sign in my home that reads, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” 

You probably know that just because you ask for a response, it doesn’t mean someone is ready to make a response. On average someone needs to hear the gospel 7.2 times before they are ready to respond. But you will get a response more often than if you never asked for a response. 

But asking someone to make a choice to follow Jesus isn’t the only response you can ask for.

Think about a response in terms of building a relationship. You probably wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on a first date. Instead, you might ask for a phone number or a second date.

So what is a logical next step to start building a relationship with that first-time viewer? Ideally you’d like to be able to reach out and start a dialogue.

As I mentioned in this post, every digital service should offer some type of digital connect card that people can fill out. You do not need fancy technology to make this happen! It can be as simple as posting a link to a free Google form you create.

You can encourage more people to fill out these forms by asking them to submit prayer requests that you will pray over. 

Or consider offering to donate a specific amount of money (e.g. $5) to your local food bank or some other COVID-19 response organization for every connection form that gets filled out.  

Another way to encourage a response, is by offering a free download that helps people further implement whatever you talked about in your message. This could be almost anything.

You could offer a prayer and meditation guide, or a list of people offering free online counseling, or a handout on how to rethink your budget in times of crisis, or a free ebook on overcoming fear. The possibilities are endless! 

For the next few weeks, you’ll need to be clear (and repetitive) about specific ways for people to plug into your digital community. Keep publishing encouraging content on your social media pages and keep seeking opportunities to connect with those who may be far from God. You might even consider starting a new preaching series on Easter and encourage people to come back the following week to hear the rest of the story.

PLAN YOUR FOLLOW UP

Your Goal: To turn a one-time viewer into a regular viewer and potential future visitor to your church.

I’ve talked with plenty of churches who theoretically had a “follow-up plan,” but their execution was lacking. Make sure you know: 

  • HOW you will follow up (text, email, card in the mail, etc)
  • WHO will follow up
  • WHAT TIME FRAME you will follow up

Last Christmas I was visiting family and we visited a local church on Christmas Eve (a Tuesday) because the service time worked well for our family. A few weeks went by and one morning I received an email from a church thanking me for “my visit last Sunday.” I knew that I had been at my home church the past Sunday and my first thought was, “Has someone been using my email address?” 

It took me a few moments to figure out that email was from the church we had visited on Christmas Eve. While I am glad that the church followed up, their follow up was neither timely (three weeks later) or accurate (I did not attend the past Sunday).

 I could make excuses for them and say that the person responsible for follow up was probably on vacation, but the truth is that their follow up would have been a lot more effective if they had simply tweaked their message and then either had someone else send the follow-up message or automated their follow up. 

A simple text or email might be the difference between someone never watching your service again and someone eventually becoming an active part of your congregation.

Services like Text In Church are designed to help you effectively follow up either through text or email. (Note: They are currently offering 60 days free for new members). 

A simple text or email might be the difference between someone never watching your service again or someone eventually becoming an active part of your congregation.

However you choose to follow up, your plan should include MORE THAN ONE touchpoint. The goal is to build a relationship over time. That does not mean rushing to a commitment, but rather cultivating curiosity that leads them to want to hear and learn more. 

FOLLOW THROUGH 

Now that you and your team have developed an intentional process for connecting new people to your church digitally, follow through with it.

Remember, you are creating open doors for new relationships. As with any relationship, getting to a place of trust will take time. You may get discouraged because this method is not nearly as simple as counting the number of visitors who attended on an Easter Sunday and then counting how many visitors returned for another visit.

But the door to reach MORE people who would not normally visit a church is open to you. And if you are faithful in the slow path of building relationships over time, you may be surprised at how many visitors you do get, once you can physically begin meeting together again.

But you must seize the opportunity! 

Be intentional and consistent in your planning, execution and your follow up. I can’t wait to hear how God works through your church in the coming weeks and months!

How to Help Your Church Go Digital

With the health crisis brought about by COVID-19, pastors across the United States are facing some significant questions right now. Questions like:

  • How do navigate our church through this season of crisis?
  • How should we respond?
  • How can we keep people connected?
  • How do we focus on the mission and keep momentum going? 

And perhaps the biggest question for many pastors:

How do I take my church online?

Many large churches already have robust online platforms in place. But if you’re the pastor of a small or growing church, your church may not have a strong digital presence. 

The good news: You don’t have to know technology well to have an online platform. 

What you do need is a well-thought out action plan. Here are a few steps you can take to help your church community go digital:

TAKE YOUR CHURCH SERVICE ONLINE

Begin with your weekly large group gathering. Think through the important elements of that gathering. How you can provide those same elements digitally? Are there creative ways to accomplish the same objectives?

Here are six service components to consider:

Worship

Will you have a worship leader lead worship solo or can you bring a small worship team together? Will this be pre-recorded, or recorded live?

Prayer

Will you include a time of prayer and reflection as part of your online service? Could you offer a weekly prayer guide for members?

Sermon 

Similar to your worship, will you pre-record a sermon or will you preach a sermon and stream it live? Could you offer digital sermon notes for people to download? Are there other resources you could provide to help them digest the sermon?

Giving 

What percentage of your congregation currently gives online vs. in the plate on Sunday morning? What steps could you take to help more people to give online?

Make sure your congregation knows how to set up online giving or text-to-give. If possible, have an easy-to-click link to your giving page close to wherever you are encouraging people to to to watch your service online. 

If you haven’t already done so, offer a guide or tutorial that explains how to give online and encourages people to set up reoccurring donations. 

It is also crucial during this time that you explain to your members the how and why of giving. As more people become financially strapped, having an understanding of WHY we give and HOW those funds will be used becomes even more important.

For more ideas on how to do this, download our free guide to Building a Culture of Generosity at Your Church. 

Families 

Let’s be honest, most churches usually offer separate activities for children during the main services. For many families, worshiping together at home can be a new (and somewhat distracting) experience. Think through how your service can become more family-friendly or how you can provide additional resources to engage families. 

Guests 

You may not physically be welcoming guests to a building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with guests. Consider having a digital connection card for people to complete that watch your service online. 

This moment in time is unlike any of us have experienced in our lifetime. Now, more than ever, anxiety is high, and people are searching for something that will bring them peace. 

Encourage your members to invite their friends and family to watch your online service. And if someone does tune in for the first time, encourage them to complete the digital connect card. Then follow up with a text message or email thanking them for attending. Consider sending a letter or small welcome gift in the mail as well. 

For more specific suggestions on the nuts and bolts of setting up a digital church service, check out this video.

KEEP YOUR COMMUNITY CONNECTED

Connection 

As Hebrews 10:25 reminds us, “Do not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

So how do we keep connection? How do we “meet together” digitally?

Consider additional ways you can foster community and discussion online via your church website or perhaps a church Facebook group. 

If your small groups are not currently meeting in person, encourage those smaller groups to stay connected via email, Facebook or apps like GroupMe or WhatsApp.

Another benefit of having digital connect cards is that they can offer an opportunity for members to submit prayer requests and needs. Perhaps you can publish an anonymous list of requests and needs. Encourage your members to be praying over these requests and give members the opportunity to help meet one another’s needs. 

Communication 

Now more than ever, it’s important that your congregation knows how they will get information from you. Will you post updates to your church website? Will you communicate via email? Will you post via Facebook or Instagram?  Whichever methods you choose to use, be consistent and communicate updates regularly. 

BE A VOICE OF CALM IN A STORM

Almost every person that I’ve spoken with in the last several days has expressed feelings of heightened anxiety and uncertainty. As church leaders, we can either add to the noise and chaos or we can speak truth and joy into the void.

Be aware of how you interact with those you speak to. Do your words bring clarity or confusion? Do they add to people’s anxiety levels or do your words convey peace and hope? 

In addition to official church communication, use your personal social feed (if you have one) to remind people of the source of our hope, peace, courage and joy. As leaders, people are watching and taking cues from how we respond to this situation. 

This is an opportunity for the Church to be the Church in a moment of crisis. As a leader of your local church, you can help set the tone for this and role model the way. 

THE OPPORTUNITY

This is a moment in history where churches have the opportunity to lean into the uncertainty and develop creative solutions to meet both the current and future needs of those in our congregations and our communities

Regardless of the size of your church, this is an opportunity for your church to shine a light and spread life in the cloud of uncertainty and darkness. Now, more than ever, people are searching for comfort, for peace, for hope, for rest. All of these things are found in Jesus! 

Will you step into this opportunity?

CONCLUSION

As we navigate the days, weeks and months ahead, it is our intent to provide you with as much relevant resources, tips and encouragement as we can.

In our next post, we’ll share more about the impact of going digital on the operational side of your church and what you need to consider from an administrative and financial perspective. 

In the meantime, please reach out to us with any questions. We are here to be a resource to your church, and to help you navigate this unprecedented time in our history.  We are praying for you. And we are here to help in whatever way we can.  

How to Set Your Volunteers Up For Success

Most churches are completely dependent on volunteers.   

When the relationship is healthy, it is a double blessing. Volunteers help the ministry succeed in its mission, and the ministry provides an opportunity for the volunteer to serve. This symbiotic relationship is the lifeblood of your ministry. 

However, this dual-benefit relationship can also be a two-edged sword when issues with a volunteer’s service arise. 

As a pastor, your responsibility is to guide and direct the church. And for those of you with limited resources (as if some don’t have limited resources…who am I kidding!), you wear many hats.  

To maintain your sanity, you need to be able to rely on your volunteers to help you run the church. It is in everyone’s best interest that you set your volunteers up for success. 
 
Here are four ways that you can empower and encourage volunteers to succeed: 

Set Clear Guidelines From the Start  

We all begin relationships with the best of intentions. You meet a new volunteer that is excited to serve and has great expectations for how they will serve in their new role. Everything goes smoothly at first and things buzz along harmoniously.   

Not long into that service, though, one or both of you stops living up to their end of the unspoken expectations. This causes tension and, if not dealt with, leads to resentment that ultimately ends in failure and hurt. Often the relationship is damaged, along with the ability to get things done.  

By setting very clear expectations from the start, you can avoid many of the issues that may arise down the road.   

Remember as a kid sitting in class the first few days of the school year? Your new teacher walked in and laid down the classroom rules. Perhaps, like me, you worried that the next year of your life would be torture. But then remember how a few weeks later you grew to respect that teacher and ended up liking them (hopefully!).   

This is what I’m talking about…not trying to portray yourself as tough and mean, but setting a clear standard of expectation for the position that the volunteer will be serving in.   

  • What is expected? 
  • In what timeframe? 
  • What does a job well done look like? 
  • What happens if those expectations are not met? 

Always remember, it’s easier to give more leeway than to try to tighten the screws later on. 

Empower Volunteers to Succeed 

There’s nothing worse in ministry than stepping up to serve, and not being given the opportunity to succeed. No one likes or works well for a micromanager. The manager is stressed because they feel the need to be involved, and the volunteer feels frustrated, unable to make decisions on their own. 

If you’ve set clear expectations, you should assume that the volunteer will serve without continual oversight. 

By setting the guidelines, you are giving the volunteer what I call “flexible accountability.” What I mean by this is that the standards are set and laid out, and within those standards the volunteer has the agency and freedom to own their role in their area.  

An empowered volunteer will enjoy their role and do far more than one that feels they are under the overbearing watch of a micromanager. 

Be an Encourager  

Everyone has a love language that they respond to. While each of us has a primary love language, I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t appreciate a word of affirmation or a simple thank you. Your gratitude towards those that serve will go far. 

When was the last time you let your volunteers know you truly appreciate their efforts? 

When was the last time you gave more than a casual “thank you” in passing?  What was the last thing you did for your volunteers to show how truly grateful you are for their service?   

As pastor, you are leading leaders. Your role is to lead the ministry leaders of the church and guide them to lead those that serve in their ministry area. Role model the way and encourage them to be encouragers as well. 

Now, that encouragement may be a simple thank you, but it must be intentional. For example, pick up the phone and call them during the week when they least expect it. Handwrite a card and mail it to them or recognize them for doing a specific job function well. Recognize them during a team meeting and single them out for something they did well. 

It doesn’t have to even cost you any money. Everyone appreciates being recognized for their efforts.  Make sure you take time to do so. 

Provide Regular Feedback for Volunteers

As pastor, you should view your role of overseeing volunteers similarly to an employer, employee relationship.  True, in most cases, your volunteers are not getting compensated for their efforts. But you still need a standard of accountability for that person. It’s the only way to maintain a healthy structure to your ministry. 

Note: If the volunteer is being compensated, be sure you’re handling your payroll correctly and adhering to state and Federal guidelines. This adds a new level of complexity to your church, and payments need to be handled in such a way that the church is above reproach. 

In the role of volunteer overseer, the guidelines we’ve already laid out still apply: Setting clear guidelines, empowering volunteers to succeed, and providing regular encouragement. But there is also another element to success – maintaining a feedback loop to let them know how they are doing, specifically related to the guidelines and functions of their role.  

Look at it similarly to a performance review. By establishing a regular pattern for providing feedback, your volunteers will always know how they are doing in their role. They will know where they excel and where there is opportunity for improvement and growth. This may sound like overkill, especially if you struggle to even get people to volunteer. But trust me when I say it is often better to not have a position filled, rather than to have a volunteer that does not fulfill the expectations of the position.  

Having a feedback loop sets the volunteer up for success as well. By explaining and demonstrating that there are expectations for the position, it shows that you value the position, and they should too.  You’ll be amazed at how they will hold their role in a higher esteem. Turnover will decrease, communication will increase, and the ministry as a whole will be healthier. 

Experiencing Success

In a time when we often qualify volunteers by whether they have a pulse, having clear expectations and continually reviewing those expectations will set your volunteers up for success.  

The good news is that this doesn’t all have to fall on your lap. As you set the example with your ministry leaders, they, in turn, will follow these guidelines for the people under their guidance. 

While these suggestions won’t magically make new volunteers appear out of thin air, you will find that retaining quality volunteers becomes dramatically easier. 

If you’re looking for additional resources and ideas to help your church succeed, sign up to receive free church finance, administration and growth tips delivered right to your inbox.   

What do you do in your organization to attract and retain quality volunteers? 

P.S. When you’re setting your expectations, a volunteer covenant can be a useful tool. If you don’t have one, we’ll send you a sample volunteer covenant form you can use for your church

Can a Church Show a Profit?

It’s the end of the year. You sent out an end-of-year giving letter and your congregation responded. 

Suddenly you have more money than you anticipated having. But then you worry: 

  • Is this a bad thing to have excess funds at the end of the year?  
  • Do I need to run out and spend it immediately? 
  • What should I do with this money? 
  • Will we lose our nonprofit status? 

You can breathe a sigh of relief. You’re not about to lose your status.  

There are four big questions that churches frequently ask about end-of-year finances. What most churches want to know is: 

  • Can we have a surplus of money at the end of the year? 
  • Should we aim to have a surplus at the end of the year? 
  • How much of a surplus should we aim for? 
  • What should we do with that surplus? 

When we say surplus, what we’re really talking about is the amount of money a church has after all donations and income have been accounted for, and after all expenses have been subtracted. In accounting terms, this is either a “profit” or a “loss.” 

Terminology is important here, since churches are not-for-profit organizations. As a not-for-profit, there are strict legal guidelines and laws that must be followed. Therefore, we need to be careful with the term “profit.” In this case, the more accurate term would be “net proceeds.” 

Let’s address each of these questions in order. 

Q1. Is it okay to have a surplus of money at the end of the year? 

The short answer is yes. Just because you’re a church doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t show a “profit” at the end of the year. 

A nonprofit can make a profit.  

But there are limits to what you can do with that profit. 

Your not-for-profit status impacts what you can do with the money that is left over. It ultimately it comes down to the purpose of your organization. 

A traditional for-profit organization makes money for its owners or shareholders. Profit is usually distributed to shareholders or put back into the business. 

On the other hand, a not-for-profit must have a “public or charitable” purpose. This means any end-of-year surplus should be used for a public or charitable purpose. 

What does this mean for you? As a church, you cannot distribute that money in any way to shareholders, investors or other people that may have a stake in the church.  

Pro tip: Just don’t give that money to individuals in any way at the end of the year. 

Q2. Should we plan to have money left over at the end of the year? 

You should absolutely have money in the bank at the end of the year. That is simply being a good steward of the resources God has given your church. Plus, it just makes smart financial sense.  

You want a financial cushion to prepare for the unexpected. This could be an unexpected expense, a downturn in giving or simply an unexpected opportunity. 

Q3. How much should a church plan to have left over after all expenses have been paid?

 The quick answer is it depends. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. We’ve seen churches approach this question in a variety of ways. 

Some organizations take a very conservative budgeting approach. They intentionally plan to spend less than they anticipate they will receive in a given year.  

Other organizations budget based on what they received in the previous year. They then take whatever excess they receive from growth and allocate that money at the end of the year. 

Still others plan for an end-of-year giving campaign that they hope will bring the organization surplus at the end of the year. 

 I’ll give some more thoughts on this in a moment, but first, let’s discuss the last question. 

Q4. What should we do with this money? 

The answer to this question is also, it depends. Some churches allocate this surplus for specific needs within the church, some use it to establish savings and some use it to fund future ministry growth.   

Our advice is to strike a balance between savings and ministry. It’s always a good idea to save for a rainy day. In church life, you never know what the next week, month or even what tomorrow may bring. It’s fiscally responsible to have some margin in your accounts that allows for flexibility and financial security in the organization. 

It’s also good stewardship, however, to be able to distribute those funds to missions, local ministries or other ministry needs of the church. Does your church need some new equipment that perhaps you’ve been putting off? Does your facility need updates or improvements? Are you able to bring on some staff support or outsource some work that is causing you additional stress? 

However you choose to allocate these funds, the bigger point is that having a surplus at year end puts your church in a position where these decisions can be made. It gives you options. 

Let’s return for a moment to the previous question of how much to put aside. 

While it’s true that the exact amount depends on the circumstances of your church, there are a few principles that can guide us in this discussion. 

We’d contend that having too much left over at the end of the year means that you didn’t fully invest into your full ministry potential. Ultimately it comes back to the foundation of stewardship. We are called as churches to be wise stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us.   

Stewardship involves both saving and investing. Good stewardship means that we’re using the resources to expand the mission of our church. It also means that we’re not putting our organization in a financially untenable position.  

If you want to learn more about how you can better steward of the resources God has provided your church, or you simply want to gain a better understanding of how to effectively manage church finances, sign up to receive free church finance, administration and growth tips delivered right to your inbox.  

If you’re ready to take the next step of taking the burden of managing your church finances off your plate, then let’s schedule a time to chat! We’ll show you how having a done-for-you financial management and accounting solution can help you and your church thrive! 

Give The Gift of Rest This Christmas

Christmas gift for pastors

The Christmas season is exhausting (understatement, I know). But why is it exhausting? Maybe it has something to do with all the demands on my time and energy. Am I alone here?  

Here’s what I am struggling with:  

  • I feel a conviction to make this season somewhat “magical” for my kids. We are trying to take in as many “Christmasy” things we can in a short amount of time. This eats up time and effort in a hurry.  
  • I have a bunch of parties and events to attend, regardless if I have time for them or not.   
  • We have all sorts of Christmas stuff going on at church – advent, gift giving, Christmas Eve service, etc. 
  • People need to talk. Oddly enough the holidays are pretty tough on people and they need help processing their hurts.  

What does your calendar look like? Seriously, write down all that you have going on this month. You might be surprised with how busy you actually are.  

But my guess is you already know. In fact, if I were a bettin’ man (which I am not, because I’m a good Baptist) I’d venture to say you are as busy or busier than I am.  

So do we just accept that this is a “busy time of year” for ministry?  

It also feels slightly edifying, as though my busyness is akin to godliness.  

On some level that’s probably a reality. But my fear is that we as church leaders hide behind busyness. We probably even glorify it a little too. How many times do you slip in ‘how busy you are’ in your conversations this time of year? I know I am very guilty of doing that. It’s almost like it gives me an excuse to drop the ball on something. It also feels slightly edifying, as though my busyness is akin to godliness.  

The reality is that our calendars do get full. And while there is little we can do about that, there is something we can do about the false sense of insulation that busyness creates.  

Let’s be real here. We hide behind our calendars, and in doing so we hurt ourselves. Instead of admitting how tired or how stretched thin we are, we just say, “I’m so busy.” Instead of saying “no” to things, we overextend ourselves because, “it’s that time of year.”  

 
Here’s a challenge: Let’s try RESTING this Christmas season. (crazy right!?) 

Here are a few ways we can do that: 

Stop saying yes to everything! Your time has value and you need to spend it wisely. Your congregation and your family are watching you. You are setting the pace. Saying no to overextending yourself is both good and right.  

Create scheduling accountability. Have someone, whom you trust, help look over your calendar during “busy” seasons. Let them be an objective voice as to whether you are doing more than you should. 

Listen to your family. Better yet, ask your family. They are usually pretty good about being honest when it comes to how busy you are in ministry. 

Don’t ignore your own struggles. Be honest about how you’re feeling and what you’re wrestling with.  

Last but not least… 

Give your best to the Lord. Make sure He is getting the best of your calendar and your time. Everything and everyone else can wait.  

I pray you overcome your busyness and find the courage to REST this Christmas season.  

Pastor Mike 

What #GivingTuesday Can Teach Us About Generosity

tithing in church

Over the last seven years, Giving Tuesday has exploded to become a global giving movement.

If you didn’t know, Giving Tuesday is a day that celebrates the collective power of generosity. 

Launched in 2012 as a response to the consumerism of Black Friday, Giving Tuesday occurs annually on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the United States.

In 2018 alone, people from more than 150 countries participated and over 400+ million dollars was raised online!

So what can the Giving Tuesday movement teach us about generosity?

  • Generosity is alive and well

Much has been made of the decline of churches in America and church giving statistics can paint a dreary picture. But generosity is not dead

In the last 12 months, more than six in ten (62%) Americans gave money, either by donating to a charity, by giving to a church/religious organization, or by sponsoring someone. This is also significantly higher than the level in 2017 (55%). 

  • Causes are key

The Charities Aid Foundation found that of those that gave, caring about the cause was the most important reason for giving

This is even more important when it comes to encouraging millennials to give. According to the Millennial Impact Report, millennials engage with causes, far more than institutions

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, sharing where funds are going and stories of impact is vitally important to encourage generosity at your church. 

  • Generosity requires consistent communication

Over the last seven years, the Giving Tuesday movement has exploded. But it has done so through intentional and concerted effort and communication

The Giving Tuesday website provides a complete free resource toolkit, including six-month and six-week communication timelines for nonprofits looking to participate in Giving Tuesday. Many of these communication best practices can and should be utilized by churches to talk about generosity.

  • Encourage recurring giving

According to the State of Modern Philanthropy (2019), one-time donors who become recurring donors on average started their recurring giving plan roughly 214 days (7 months) after their first donation. What does this mean? 

While it’s wonderful when someone chooses to give for the first time, we can help walk people towards becoming a recurring donor. The study goes on to recommend that nonprofits encourage one-time donors to become recurring immediately or soon after the first donation.

  • Celebrate generosity

Giving Tuesday is about celebrating giving – through donations, advocacy, volunteering and acts of kindness. These forms of giving are the lifestyle we have been called to as followers of Christ. Unfortunately, churches often hesitate to call people to take action and give. 

Rather than avoid the conversation, we should regularly and proactively encourage and call our church communities to give and live generously. We should make it a part of our regular conversation. In fact, we should be the ones leading the generosity charge!

Consider how you can use the Giving Tuesday movement to highlight the importance of generosity. 

Talk about it. Encourage those in your church to participate!

It is a valuable opportunity where culture and Christ can intersect. Use it to encourage generosity, engage culture and start a conversation about how and why we give. 

Church Budgeting 101

How to set up and audit your church budget

For many church leaders, the thought of building out a church budget can feel overwhelming. Maybe your church doesn’t currently have a budget. Perhaps you’re preparing to launch a new church plant or build a new building. Or maybe you just aren’t confident that your current church budget is working for you.

The good news is that building a church budget doesn’t have to be complicated. A budget is nothing more than a guide: A roadmap to how the church will allocate the resources they have been entrusted with in the upcoming year. In the next few minutes, I’ll walk you through the basics of building a church budget.

Why your church needs a budget

Once you learn how to create and maintain a budget that works for your church, you’ll discover that it’s an indespensible part of your ministry.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few things a well-defined budget can do for your church:

  • Answer questions about the mission and vision of your church
  • Set clear direction on how money will be spent and where the priorities of the church reside
  • Provide a filter for making spending decisions that may come up throughout the year
  • Offer a measure and benchmark to track the financial health of the organization
  • Set a standard to reflect and review throughout the year to make future ministry decisions

Getting started: Types of budgets

Most churches build a budget in one of two ways: 

  • Zero-based budgeting – What goes in, goes out

With this concept, you plan to spend everything you receive. Developing a budget is as simple as making an income projection, and then making a plan to spend the money that is received. 

  • P&L Budgeting – Plan to lose or plan to gain

Since we’re talking about churches, we can’t really talk in the true business sense of “profit and loss.” However, we can talk about planning for a loss or planning for a gain in a given year. Just because a church balance statement shows an excess (profit) at the end of the year, doesn’t mean the church is no longer a non-profit entity

Note: The danger with P&L budgeting is planning for a loss without a plan to cover. You can lose money on paper and still have cash flow. You might have money in reserves, investments, etc. However, you should always be aware of how much you are spending. Remember, a budget is NOT the same thing as a balance sheet. 

Budgeting basics: Income

The easiest way to start building your budget is to look at projected income. What sources are bringing you money? This includes tithes and offerings, but it could also interest, investments, facility rentals, dues, donations, etc. Once you’ve determined all your income sources, set a projected amount for each source. 

Are you on a growth track? If your organization has been around for a few years, hopefully you have some historical data to look at. Is your income trending up, down or staying stagnant?  

PRO TIP: If you haven’t jumped on board with mobile giving, now is the time. This is by far the easiest way to increase your income. According to Nonprofitssource (2018), “Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%”

Budgeting basics: Expenses

Now that you’ve projected your income for the year, let’s look at common expenses. As I stated earlier, a budget can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. As your ministry develops and grows, the number of expense categories will also grow. 

Especially if you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to think about things in terms of “buckets.” What is the mission of your church? How can that mission be broken out into broad categories or “expense buckets”?

For this simple exercise, let’s start with three “buckets”:

GROW (Inside Church)

  • Ministries (children, youth, adults, worship, etc.)

GO (Outside Church)

  • Local Outreach (evangelism, events, etc.)
  • Missions 

OPERATIONS 

  • Personnel (salaries, benefits, etc.)
  • Administration (operating expenses)
  • Facilities and Equipment (maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc.)

Once you’ve established your categories, do your best to fill in projected expenses. Again, any historical date you have will help a ton here. 

Now what?

Now compare your projected income with your projected expenses. Do they match? Are there categories that need to be adjusted?

Now ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the budget reflect the church’s priorities?
  • Are there areas where spending needs to be increased? Decreased?
  •  How does this budget align with the church’s growth goals?

Use these questions as a guide to make any necessary adjustments to your budget.

Ask for help when you need it

This is building a church budget in a nutshell. You can absolutely do it. But there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of your budget to help you grow a healthy church. And if budgeting isn’t you’re thing, it’s okay to ask for help. 

Here are a few ways to get the help you need:

  • Download our free 10-step Church Budgeting Checklist. Whether you’re putting together a budget for the first time, or simply looking to improve your budget, this will give you prompts to think through as you create your budget. 
  • If church finances aren’t you’re thing, we’re here to help. Our done-for-you church bookkeeping service will take away the guesswork and overwhelm out of managing your church finances properly. Get accurate monthly reports delivered straight to your inbox and peace of mind that you’re not making a costly financial mistake. Schedule a free demo today

7 “Deadly Sins” of Church Budgeting (And How to Avoid Them)

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I recently read a statistic that said roughly half the churches in America spend a percentage of their income on debt retirement each year. In all honesty, it’s not hard to believe. But imagine with me, just for a moment, the impact our churches could have if they weren’t burdened by debt. 

While we most likely won’t remedy church debt in the near future, what we can do is talk about the importance of budgeting for churches. Especially if your church is one that spends a percentage of its income paying down debt, it’s imperative that the church is making wise spending decisions with the money that has been entrusted to it. I’ve compiled a list of seven church budgeting mistakes I see churches make on a regular basis.

1. You don’t have a budget

I am amazed at how many churches I consult with that don’t have a budget. I mean I get it. Finances aren’t always fun. But a comprehensive budget is crucial for the next step of growth in your ministry. It provides a filter for making spending decisions that come up throughout the year and it provides a measure and benchmark to track the financial health of the church. 

A budget doesn’t have to be complicated. It is simply a plan for how to use the money provided by the faithful gifts of church attendees. It provides a filter for making spending decisions that come up throughout the year and it provides a measure and benchmark to track the financial health of the church.

2. You don’t have someone responsible for building/tracking your budget

It is one thing to say you need a budget. But who actually puts the budget together? Is it something that you put off doing because it falls outside of your zone of expertise? 

You don’t have to be the one to put together the budget if finances aren’t you’re thing, but you need to have a plan for who will do it. It could be a treasurer or bookkeeper, it could be a finance committee, it could be a staff member or your elder team. The important thing is to designate someone(s) and make sure he/she/they have what they need to build an annual budget.

3. Your budget isn’t consistent with your mission & vision

In churches, it’s easy to spend money. There are many “good” ministry activities to support. But how do you know the money you’re spending is the BEST use of funds?

The only way is to budget for expenses based off your vision. Ask yourself, “Does this expense help us accomplish ______________ (insert your vision statement here)?”

4. You don’t have an accurate picture of where your church is at financially

Too many churches have no idea of the current financial situation. Maybe they haven’t completed their monthly bank reconciliations. Or they are using an outdated system to try to manage their financials. 

One of the best indicators of how you are spending and allocating your spending for your ministry is to look back at historical patterns.

Review this past year as a profit and loss statement. It will show you what you took in (income) and what you spent (expenses). How does it compare to what you budgeted? How is your giving for this year compare to last year? Are you on a growth or decline trend in your giving? When you know these numbers, you can make better ministry decisions. 

5. You don’t know your ministry growth engines

What are those things in your ministry that are producing “growth?” I don’t just mean numerical growth, although in many cases, numbers paint an accurate picture of the healthy of a ministry. What are those things that you are doing to successfully reach people? What is bringing people to the church? What is helping people grow spiritually?

Consider investing more in areas that contribute to growth, and strongly review those areas where you are spending money, but that may not be producing growth.

6. You’re not using your budget as a ministry tool

If you have a budget, but you don’t use it to make decisions, you aren’t utilizing your budget as well as you should. Anything that can be measured can be tracked. The key here is to not become focused on the numbers, but to use them to make better decisions. Are there areas you need to focus on, or areas where you need to re-think how you’re allocating funds? Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Are things going according to plan? Do we need to make any adjustments to our spending?
  • What ministry areas do we want to focus on in the upcoming year?
  • Are new ministry opportunities opening to us?
  • What’s changing in our community that we need to be aware of and prepare for?

7. You don’t have a plan to make it better

Can you relate to any of these “sins?” If so, I get it. A lot of pastors don’t love finances. And that’s okay.

But the biggest mistake a church can make?

Not having a plan to make it better.

In the church world, most of us don’t have everything figured out. But the key to growth – both as an individual and as an organization – is to have a plan for improvement.

Do you have a plan for improvement?

Here are three steps you can take to start improving the financial health of your church:

1. Get clear on your church’s priorities

  • What is your mission and vision?
  • What are your priorities for the coming year?
  • What are your ministry growth engines?

2. Know your numbers

  • Review your profit & loss statements
  • Look at current and projected spending
  • Know your average monthly giving trends

3. Get expert guidance

If you can relate with any of the statements above and you want to set your church up for success, then we’re here to help.

We’ve created the “Perfect Church Budgeting Checklist” to help you walk through this process.

DOWNLOAD CHECKLIST

We’ll also be dropping a FREE mini-course AND webinar next month to teach you how to create a vision-centered church budget that can be used to make better ministry decisions and grow your church. Let us know if you want us to save you a spot! 

With a well-prepared budget that is reviewed consistently, your church will have a plan in place that positions it to become a healthy, thriving church.