Economic challenges bring God's opportunities
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--The economic news in the media continues to be a somber message. Reports of job losses add to the concerns. What are churches to do during these uncertain times?
Most importantly, trust God. After all, He "owns the cattle on a thousand hills." Also, the Bible says, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God." (Psalm 20:7). Isaiah 12:2 states, " Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."
Often we say, "I will not fear. I will choose to trust in God." But the key is to trust God first, and then fear is handled. Having said that, let me offer a few suggestions for church committees that feel budget cuts may be inevitable:
-- Pray. This must be the first knee-jerk reaction to a crisis for a Christian, not the last. If you don't pray first, you will make decisions based on human impulses, secular influence and rationale, instead of having the "wisdom that comes from above."
-- Seek your pastor's input. He deals with the everyday operations of the church more closely than anyone. He may have some suggestions on where some decreases in the budget could be made.
-- Prioritize. Not everything is No. 1, and no one church can meet every need. Honestly evaluate what contributes to the growth and health of the church. Refuse to protect "sacred cows" that aren't producing. Send them to market!
-- Look everywhere else before deciding to cut salaries and benefits. Too often committees think that the only place to cut is in the personnel budget, but that is not the case. Instead, take a look at how you can save on utilities, maintenance expenses, office supplies, etc. If you have a position that has become vacant, consider delaying replacement for a while until you get a better gauge on how the receipts for the year are coming in. Always evaluate a vacant position before replacing. Four years ago we did that on the state level and downsized from sixteen positions to eight. Further reductions through restructuring with most of our associations last year has produced even greater savings for the associations in 2009, which should help their planning for any shortfalls.
-- Make a commitment to live within your means. It is not wise stewardship to say at the end of the year, "We received more than last year, but we didn't reach our budget." That's where our convention was four years ago, but we made the decision to base our budget on the actual receipts from the previous completed year, which means for 2009, our budget was set based on the receipts from 2007. At the same time we made the commitment to increase our percentage sent to the Southern Baptist Convention by one percent a year until we reach the 50-50 level for state and world missions. We have been able to maintain that commitment. As a result, if we have to make some cuts in 2009, they won't be as drastic. Confidence in stewardship grows when God's leaders are fiscally responsible and end each year in the black.
-- Utilize more volunteers. One of the church's most untapped resources is volunteers. Instead of having a mentality that the church must pay for everything, why not give people an opportunity to be involved? Volunteers can take care of landscaping, mowing, leaf and snow removal, cleaning facilities, making building repairs, and so on. People really do want to use their gifts, so let them. Ordinary problems during extraordinary times can be resolved by ordinary people that God uses, and that's ordinarily the way he does it. So tap your natural resources.
-- Help your people. When church members lose their jobs, form a morning prayer group. Invite them to come to the church. There is encouragement in knowing that you are not the only one in this situation, and a lot of times helping them network with each other can stimulate ideas. We did this once with several of our church members who had lost their jobs. We met each Wednesday morning at 6 to pray and network. You cannot imagine how much it helped them as they connected with each other in prayer. Offer assistance from the church office in preparing resumes and making copies. Give them access to utilize a church computer for job searches.
-- Find new resources. This is really about the business of "Kingdom" work. These are times that can actually help us. Rather than complaining about what we do not have, give thanks for what we do have. It's an opportunity to set priorities and recommit to core, "Kingdom" values. The greatest resources churches have are people resources -- reached and un-reached. This will be an unprecedented opportunity to offer hope to hurting people. After all, if 80 percent of the people in our state do not attend any Christian church on any given Sunday, you can see that we have a large reservoir of un-tapped resources. This is the opportune time to do what we have committed to do -- prayer walk every street and road in our state, knock on every door and offer prayer support, share your testimony and watch God work as He opens the door to leading thousands to Jesus. Then when we come out on the other side, we'll truly say, "God deserves all the praise and glory!"
Stephen P. Davis is executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. This first-person first appeared in the Indiana Baptist.