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?

How to Help Your Church Go Digital, Part 2

Congratulations! For many of you, you made it through your first week of doing church online!

It took some creativity and ingenuity, but you made it happen. And that’s something worth celebrating.

So my guess is your thinking, “What now?”

Many states and localities have now issued “shelter in place” orders, so you and your staff and volunteers are probably trying to navigate working from home. 

Are there best practices for church leaders seeking to work remotely? How do you stay connected? How do you collaborate? Manage projects? Communicate? 

Here are Simplify Church, we’ve been working as a remote team for more than a decade now. We partner with churches all over the country to provide financial management services, so it just made sense to allow our team of Simplify Account Managers to work remotely as well. The convenience and flexibility of this set up has truly served both our company and our employees, and I believe it has great potential for your church as well.

With this in mind, here are a few tips, ideas and best practices to help you navigate the next several weeks of working remotely with your ministry staff and leaders. 

KEEP YOUR STAFF AND LEADERS CONNECTED

Overnight, we’ve all gone to a virtual environment. Last week you may have chosen to cancel your staff meeting or your elders meeting or your Sunday planning meeting.

While this is okay for a week or two, it’s not a sustainable way to keep an organization connected. You still need to be in regular contact with those on your church leadership. You can do this via:

Slack – This free messaging service is a very popular way to communicate virtually via instant messaging and group chats. Instead of an email inbox, you have direct conversations with others in dedicated spaces called channels. Pro tip: organize chat channels into broad categories to keep the discussions relevant. 

Zoom – After using several tools and testing them out over the years we’ve landed on Zoom as our app of choice for video calls with those outside our organization Zoom makes the process simple and easy to setup a new call, invite others and collaborate together in a virtual meeting. Zoom offers a free option with time limitations or a simple single user price for $14.99/month.  Single user just means that you have one login. So long as that one individual can schedule the calls (even for others), then that option is viable for a church.

Microsoft Teams – If you already have Office 365, you have access to Microsoft’s chat and video conference tools via Microsoft Teams. In fact, here at Simplify Church, we recently made the switch from Slack to Teams for our internal communication, primarily for the ease of use of Teams Meetings. This system is very simple to use, but if you don’t already have Office 365, it’s probably not worth the subscription in lieu of using Zoom. 

GoToMeeting – A great tool, but not as easy-to-use as Zoom. They offer a similar service to other video conference options. Admittedly, I have not looked into their system after transitioning to Zoom from the simplicity they provide. 

Google Hangouts – If you’re a Google Apps user, then you have access to Google Hangouts. This is a viable option even without the Google Apps setup so long as all users have a Google ID (anyone can set up a google email address for free) and use that to login. Note: there is a bit of a learning curve for this option. 

Email – While I would absolutely recommend you incorporate one on the above tools, in the short term you can stay connected via email. You will just need to remember that it is important to err on the side of over-communicating rather than to under-communicate and risk miscommunication.

KEEP YOUR CONGREGATION CONNECTED

I was listening to a podcast targeted to small business owners the other day. But as soon as I heard this suggestion, I knew it was just as applicable to churches.

The podcast host made the statement: “The businesses that survive this pandemic will be the ones that find a way to stay connected to their audience.”

Now, replace business with the word church.  

This is exactly what will set apart the churches that come out of this crisis stronger from the ones that will end up closing their doors.

Yes, it will take creativity and ingenuity, but one of the best things you can do for your church is lean into this new era of digital connection.

You must find a way to keep your congregation connected. An easy way to do this is to encourage all of your small groups to continue meeting virtually via Zoom, or apps like WhatsApp or GroupMe. 

Stay tuned. We’ll be sharing some more ideas for creatively connecting with your congregation in the weeks to come!

HELP FACILITATE YOUR STAFF WORKING FROM HOME

Let me first address a common concern/myth I hear from those resistant to virtual workplaces. It’s the myth that given the opportunity to work from home, people won’t actually work. 

In over a decade of working with staff remotely I have found the opposite to be true. In fact, often remote staff work MORE than they’re supposed to (which is why it’s important to encourage your team to develop healthy work/life boundaries). 

To be fair, there have been a few instances where an employee took advantage of the situation. But I’ll be the first to admit that it was a hiring issue, rather than a virtual employment issue. I simply hired the wrong individual and they took advantage of the flexibility we offered. 

Working from home is not the issue; it is how we lead and facilitate a remote team that makes the difference. 

Communication

The best piece of advice I can give is to maintain intentional communication with your remote staff and team members. Being intentional means that you reach out to them periodically. Check in and see how things are going. Communicate with them even more frequently than you normally would in an office environment.  

Set up consistent video calls with the team. These calls may be project-related, or they may simply be a chance for people to connect with one another. It’s all about keeping people connected in this new reality, when they may not be used to working from home. 

Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a system like Slack or Teams, you can set up a “check in” channel so that people can let everyone know when they are available or stepping out. I'd also recommend setting up a “virtual water cooler” channel to give people a place for non-work-related discussions. This helps foster community, collaboration and helps people feel like it’s more than just a place for transactional discussions.  

While I’m sharing suggestions that we’ve learned from years of remote work, it is also important to keep in mind that this season is anything but ordinary. Many on your team will be home with children, since most schools are cancelled.

A virtual chat offers an outlet from that 5th episode of Wild Kratts playing in in the background. Also understand that your team members may be less productive and need additional flexibility and grace as they seek to both accomplish necessary tasks and teach/care for children. 

P. S. As the leader, your staff and volunteer leaders are looking to you for guidance and direction. In times of stress and uncertainty, it can be helpful to have a person or a group to process with. You also have the opportunity on calls with your team to help them navigate the days ahead and be the voice reminding them that our security is found in Christ alone! 

Tools

Beyond simple communication, you’ll need to find a system that works for your organization to manage projects and collaborate with team members. Here are some options:

Project, Task Management 

Trello – basically an online dashboard of post-it notes. You can share your Trello board with others and track project progress as you move cards along the lists that you have pre-defined. This is a very helpful tool for managing projects and other needs for your staff. 

Asana – Free online project management software. Asana is a bit more robust than Trello in that it already has some pre-defined ways of doing things. You can setup projects, invite people, track progress and to-dos and set deadlines.   

Basecamp – a paid online project management tool, but at a nominal cost. Basecamp is great as the company itself has written several books about the concept of remote work. If you’re looking for some resources or tips, they have written extensively about it. Here is a piece they wrote about internal communication for remote workers. 

Online Collaboration 

Most of the project management tools listed above will have some cloud storage and collaboration systems built-in, but here are a few other options to help your team share files: 

One Drive – Part of Office 365, OneDrive allows you to share documents and work collaboratively on them. The benefit for many churches is to always have one version of the document so you can be sure you’re always working on the latest draft.  

Google Drive – very similar to One Drive except using Google’s infrastructure. 

Evernote – this is a little less robust from the features of Word or Docs, but still gives a method for cloud storage and collaboration. 

Dropbox, Box – both options are a cloud storage system.  These are great for times when you need to access a file from multiple locations. Neither of these system have online collaboration features, however, so you’d need to use Office 365, Word or Google Docs/Sheets to collaborate.  

REMEMBER THAT SPIRITUAL CONNECTION IS POSSIBLE, EVEN WHEN PHYSICAL CONNECTION IS NOT

Right now as a church leader, you should be encouraging your staff and congregation to stay home and help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

But as you do that, you may feel a sense of confusion or loss. The Church has always been about connection, community and reaching out to meet needs. What should the Church look like in this season? 

The good news is that this crisis is simply a reminder that the Church was never about a building; it was and always will be a movement of people. The even better news is that God is not at all limited by our physical distancing. 

A pastor in our Oasis pastor networking group shared recently that he was able to lead a member of his church to Christ over a Zoom call last week. The mission and the message of Jesus and the movement of his Church continues, regardless of what workspace we use or how we gather together. Isn’t that a wonderful thought! 

I’d love to hear how your church is navigating the move to collaborating remotely. If you have any questions or we can help your church out in any way, drop me a line Josh@simplifychurch.com

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.  

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)

pexels-pixabay-164686

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.

Housing Allowance for Pastors Still Constitutional…For Now

pexels-pixabay-257030

Pastors and church leaders around the country breathed a sigh of relief on Friday, March 15, when the Seventh Court of Appeals ruled that the housing allowance for church ministers does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

For months, church leaders nervously awaiting the appeals court ruling, after a Wisconsin district court ruled that the tax exemption was unconstitutional. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had argued that the housing allowance was clearly a handout and represented an “advance on religion on behalf of the government.” 

In Friday’s ruling, the 7th Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that the housing allowance provides opportunities for “churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose.” Judge Michael Brennan wrote that the exemption does not “connote sponsorship, financial support and active involvement of [government] in religious activity.” 

What is the Housing Allowance? 
 
According to current IRS tax guidelines, churches can compensate ministers who are “licensed, commissioned and/or ordained” for expenses directly related to the cost of living. (https://www.irs.gov/faqs/interest-dividends-other-types-of-income/ministers-compensation-housing-allowance/ministers-compensation-housing-allowance

 This housing allowance has allowed pastors to serve congregations that may have otherwise not been able to afford a pastor.  The allowance is similar to the exemption provided to military members and other workers that are displaced for their employment. 

What Happens Next? 
 
While the current ruling is indeed a victory for religious freedom, the ruling may not be the end of the story. FFRF is currently considering an appeal, which would surely drive the case to the US Supreme Court.  

What Can You Do? 
 
It’s important that we as church leaders continue to be above reproach, especially when it comes to financial management. While the housing allowance is a blessing to minsters, the allowance should never be abused. Be sure that your pastor’s compensation is calculated correctly, and only include expenses that meet proper IRS guidelines. To learn more, visit https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417. 

Are You Compensating Your Pastor Correctly? 
 
We’ve found that many churches are compensating their pastor incorrectly, or they are not confident they are doing it correctly. We can provide a FREE analysis of whether your church is handling your bookkeeping correctly and if you are paying your pastors and staff appropriately. Click here to schedule a quick call and let us know that you want to be confident that you’re handling your pastor’s compensation correctly! We’re happy to help!  

A Pastor’s Guide To Cash Flow Management

pexels-skitterphoto-9660

One of the things we always see pastors and church leaders struggle with is managing the money in the bank. Many pastors tend to live in the idea of Bank Balance Accounting which everyone can be guilty of from time to time.

Bank balance accounting is that concept of looking at your online banking account, seeing there is money available and then writing the check or swiping the card.

The problem there is that the balance in your online account isn’t telling you the whole story.

While for many cases, the balance is going to be close, in many instances there are outstanding checks waiting to clear or transactions made that have not processed yet. With church, we also throw into the mix that some of those funds may be allocated or designated to other purposes further making the balance inaccurate.

How can a pastor better manage cash flow?

There are in depth accounting and financial strategies that can come into play here but this isn’t meant as an in depth analysis of those concepts. What we’ll detail here are some simple steps that can be put in place to help manage cash flow for your church.

1. Have a Budget

If you have a budget in place, that is well thought out consistently against past trends for spending and income you should have no problem with church cash flow. We write extensively about budgeting on faith while spending on reason as well as many other posts about the topic. Budgeting is crucial for the financial health of a church.

If you’ve not heard it before, I’ll say it again. No one plans to fail, but most of us fail to plan.

A budget is merely a roadmap on how you’ll PLAN to spend the money. It is a good way to steward the church resources so that you can answer to your donors when they ask how the money was handled.

A good budget is more of an art than a science, but there are some ways to get started and some concepts that need to be in place to get started. Stay tuned to a budget planning course we’ll be releasing soon!

2. Get Accurate Reports

Maintaining accurate financial reports for your church is also crucial for managing your church cash flow. These reports start with doing a systematic bank reconciliation of the account. I cannot tell you how many churches we partner with that have gone years without reconciling the account.

Without a bank rec, there is no way to know the accurate balance of the account.

Some will tell me that the church is so small, with so few transactions that there is no need, however, I would contend that when you’re faithful with the small things, you will be entrusted with more. It’s also worth it to your faithful contributors that know that their generosity is being stewarded well.

Our Simplify Church Bookkeeping system is a great partnership for your church so you can rest assured that your finances are being taken care of professionally and accurately.

3. Ask For Help

We have many pastors that come to us and will tell us that they are not very administratively minded. At times, those same pastors are the ones making spending decisions and putting the bank account in jeopardy.

There’s no shame in not knowing how or asking for help.

Sometimes the best solution is to put in place another system with accountability. We’re not saying that the pastor is doing anything wrong, but there are times when there needs to be a system in place to make sure there is money in the bank and we don’t run the balance to a point that could detriment ministry.

Hopefully these steps will help you be a better steward of the resources entrusted to your church. Church finances is one of those required, but often neglected and misunderstood parts of church that we want to help you with.

If you need help managing the cash flow and finances of your church, check out our Simplify Church Bookkeeping system and let one of our Account Managers partner with you in ministry.

5 Church Financial Reports and Metrics Every Pastor Needs Regularly

five financial metrics every pastor needs to know

Pastors and Church finances are one of those issues that can spark debates in churches. A myth has grown in our church that the pastor should not do anything with the church finances. While I’ll agree, the pastor should be at arms length between the actual handling of the finances, he still needs to be very much aware of what’s going on. One way to know the health of the church is to watch for giving and spending trends in the church.

At the very least, every pastor should view and analyze these 5 Church Financial Reports on a regular basis.

1. Church Statement of Accounts/ Profit & Loss

The most fundamental report a pastor should be taking a look at monthly. At a fundamental level, this provides insight into how much was money was deposited in the previous month, and portrays that against how much money was spent. Those totals are subtracted to get either a positive or negative number. Read this post if you’re curious about if a church can have net income.

“Don’t fret initially at the bottom line number. It is not an exact reflection of cash flow as deposits and expenses may be outside the date range. The bottom line of this report should be considered over a longer term to get real insight into trends that may be developing”

This report should be reviewed in month’s comparison so you can see trending spending by budget line. This will give you some insight into where your money is being allocated. You can also balance a level of detail between parent budget lines and child budget lines. (I don’t mean adult and children ministries here).

What I mean is the parent budget line of Children’s Ministry may tell you enough or you might want more insight and dive into the child line of that budget to see how much you spent on Cookies for Preschoolers out of that budget line. There is a definite balance on the level of detail you should be watching.

2. Church Budget Comparison

This is probably the most important report to consider as a pastor.

If you don’t have a budget (a plan) on how to use the monetary resources of your church, you have no way to make proper spending decisions. For Church Plants and churches with limited income, a budget is CRUCIAL!

While this report is very important, we need to have a quick understanding of what your budget actually is. Many churches put too much weight on the budget, or think that it is some sort of a legally binding document. While your Constitution or By-Laws may require you to operate on a budget, that budget in itself is merely a guide or spending plan. It details what you will spend and how you will use the church resources to fulfill your mission and vision

A Budget Comparison report will help you to analyze spending actual vs. planned.

You can look at this report on a monthly basis or create for longer periods of time. Both ways will give you insight into how money is being spent in actuality verse what you may have expected or planned.

Many churches and pastors cringe at the idea of having to prepare and develop a budget. In most cases, the hesitancy is more over not exactly knowing how to prepare the budget instead of it really being a big deal.

“We will be launching a Budget Building System in August 2016, click here if you want to be one of the first to know when it releases”

Properly managing you spending against your budget will help you to analyze and be sure you’re spending money exactly where you planned. Regardless of your budget analysis, you should take these ideas into account when preparing your church budget. For ideas about church budgeting on faith, spending on reason, click here for our post on that.

3. Church Giving Trend

While many don’t like to talk about it, money in the church is often a very crucial aspect to ministry.

For many pastors, the idea of managing money makes their eyes glaze over. For others, they have fallen victim to the myth that a pastor should not know about the church finances (blog link here).

Now we could make an argument that there is a level of separation the pastor needs between the finances and himself, in most cases, the senior pastor will be the one held liable or have the perceived blame for financial problems in the church.

As a pastor, you should know your giving trends. You need to have an idea of the amount of average weekly deposit, your monthly average income and the trend for the quarter. You should also track this each quarter through the year so you can find the trends and also lulls in giving months. Remember, summer is always a down giving time so knowing the actual numbers will help you prepare for the summer giving lull. If you’ve been around long enough, track those numbers by comparison to previous years. That way, you’ll see if you’re on a growth or decline trend in your giving.

4. Giving per unit metric

This is a metric that gets tossed around a lot, and there are quite a few different opinions on specifics but we’ll dive into a few strategies here. We’ll discuss real quick how to use this number, not necessarily any goals or benchmarks that you should have. In many cases, this is a planning and review measurement.

Take your total giving each week and divide that by the number of giving units. You can define giving unit on your own, but in most cases this is (total attendance – children / 2 (accounting for husband & wife together)) You can decide on your own measure here, just be sure you’re consistent so you can get accurate trends.

How to analyze?

This metric will help you make budgeting and spending decisions. It will also give you an idea of the generosity health of your congregation. When you know the giving per unit, you can then use that to forecast budget needs as your attendance grows.

$40 per unit * 100 people means you should expect $4,000 per week income or $208,000 per year. This will help you start your budgeting planning on income expectations.

Once you have the benchmark, if you watch that number month over month, you can get a pulse of giving in your congregation.

From our research, a health church average per unit amount is in the $40 range.

There are a ton of variables that could affect this number (newer believers, seasonality, angry members :), etc.) It’s not a hard fast measure but simply a measure to keep you in the know.

5. Individual Giving Changes

OK. I’ll say it. A pastor SHOULD know what individuals give in the church.

Now before you tar and feather me and call me a heretic, hear me out.

Giving is a spiritual discipline. As a person’s pastor, accountable for their spiritual development, how can you speak into a person’s life or hold them spiritually accountable if you don’t know the value of giving in their lives?

Now, you probably don’t need to collect a W-2 and do the math to determine if they are giving exactly 10%, In acutality that would be really creepy!

You probably don’t even need to know the actual number but you should know whether or not they are a giver. You can even know whether or not they fall into the average number of giving per unit.

If you don’t feel comfortable knowing the numbers, or even if they are a giver, have someone who does know get you a report of anyone whose giving has changed 15% in either direction in the previous quarter or 6 months. This will give you a good indication of a life change.

A word of advice. You should absolutely know whether or not your staff and key leaders are givers. Your key leaders and staff need to be stakeholders in the ministry.

BONUS!

Here’s a bonus report you should follow that isn’t necessarily a financial report, but will play a vital part in many of your decisions.

You need to follow an attendance report. We hear all the time that pastor’s shouldn’t be concerned about numbers and that is completely bogus. If you don’t have numbers to measure, you are relying on feelings and assumptions to make decisions and that is not a good way to do things.

Keep track of your average weekly attendance. Track numbers of volunteers each week as well. Also, track that in a monthly average so you can keep an eye on trends.

If you haven’t figured out yet, a key part of managing your church is watching for trends. Over time, trends in income, expenses, giving and attendance will develop for your church. Knowing these trends will help you better manage your ministry, lead your team and shepherd the church toward spiritual growth.

If you want to know more about how many of these reports can be developed for you without burdening a volunteer or taking your valuable time, get in touch with us and we’ll show you how our Church Bookkeeping System can help you better track and manage your church.