I had been in the ministry nine months when I chatted one evening with my district supervisor. We were in the midst of an Ingathering campaign that seemed to be going slowly. The church had a reputation for always being last in the conference, but we encouraged the lay activities secretary of the field by stating that we would bring up a strong rear. I said I wondered why we had so much conversation about money and so much effort put forth to raise it. The response was, "As long as you are in this work you will live with two things—money and problems."
What my supervisor said was correct. In my mind I resolved that the problems I would deal with as well as possible and let the Lord take care of the rest and that the money need not be a problem if there was proper organization. Why shouldn't the church in my charge be as solvent as my own personal finances? In fact, if my personal finances were above reproach, surely I could take the time to make my church finances the same way!
Here are a few brief thoughts in relation to church financing that I have discovered through the years make for a successful financial program.
Have a Financial Plan
The man who seeks to be free from financial involvement will actually be a captive. The man who knows the wherewithal of his treasury is actually free to make solid decisions. What a tragedy it is to pastor a church where there is no financial plan! It is very difficult for a pastor or the church board to operate a consistent and broad program of witness when there are never any funds in the treasury. This puts the treasurer at a disadvantage with his pastor-friend and his church board compatriots. He is always put in the position of saying, "Brethren, we don't have the money." We all know that it is easier to vote for something when we have the money to pay for it. Therefore it is good for a man to know where his treasury stands at the close of a week in a larger church and at the close of a month in a smaller church.
Reserve Fund Essential
Each church should have a reserve fund. Roger Babson writes in one of his books, Twenty Ways to Save Money, that money should work for us and not against us. He likens it to water running downhill. We ought to have a little money in the bank that is earning interest for us regularly and when that special project calls for a few dollars, we will always have the cash. Cash will also bring us a discount at the place where we buy needed supplies.
A small church could set aside from fifteen to twenty-five dollars each month in its reserve fund. A medium-sized church perhaps could set aside from forty to sixty dollars a month, and a church having several hundred, or up to a membership of one thousand and above, by proper management could set aside from one hundred to two hundred dollars a month, depending upon the nature of its operation. This reserve fund brings great confidence to the members of the church board. I have found that when I bring a project to a church that has a good reserve fund, they invariably vote more than I ask for! I remember one church in the Lake Union that always gave more for the various denominational and local church offerings than I had anticipated. It is good to get a church into a position where they have that sort of confidence.
You might say, "Well, we don't want to talk too much about money." Do you realize that the Bible talks a great deal about money? The possession of money can be a great blessing, or it can be the source of penurious feelings. It's easy for us to vote on any project as long as it doesn't cost money. But when we get down to dollars and cents, then the brethren begin to show their true feelings. There is a right way and a wrong way to speak of money. Learn and use the right way.
Fall Months Good for Promotion
It is wise to use the fall months in good promotion. In most churches these are good income months for building funds, denominational offerings, church expense, et cetera. I have not used the tithe in this list, for that should be systematically given, weekly or monthly. We would do well to strike quickly during this time to build up our reserves for the months of January, February, and March, when the income usually falls below the norm for the year. Use imagination in your promotion!
I have found through the years that the use of the denominational envelope brings larger offerings. Plate offerings tend to go toward the dime-and-quarter giving, but the envelopes suggest a dollar or more. This increases the amount of offerings going into the great denominational program. One of the members of the College church said that in the three-week promotion that we have, he finds his hand going down into his pocket the first week, grabbing hold of the money the second week, and pulling it out on the third week. I have followed the policy with my lay activities leader and other departmental leaders of giving them three weeks to present a need, building up slowly to a climax on the day of the offering, and then strongly promoting the use of the offering envelopes.
I find that Benjamin Franklin felt a little this way. He could be very close fisted. One day he went to a sermon that was being given by his friend George Whitefield. Previously he had had a slight quarrel with Whitefield about the site of a proposed orphanage. Franklin refused him any more subscriptions, but "Poor Richard," to use Franklin's pseudonym, had not reckoned with his friend's oratory. He says, "I happened soon afterward to attend one of his sermons and I silently resolved that he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars and five in gold. As he continued, I began to soften and concluded to give the copper. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed and determined to give the silver. And he finished so admirably that I emptied my pocket into the collection dish, gold and all."—A. D. BELDEN, What America Owes to George Whitefield.
Another experiment that has been tried at the College church is the participation of the students. After all, this is their church away from home, and over the past three or four years hundreds have pledged small amounts each month to the various projects of the church. Thousands of dollars have advanced the cause of God through the imagination, dedication, and unselfishness of these youth. This trains the young people to go out into the churches and be liberal supporters of the program. I hope that many of your own churches will benefit from the financial training received by the young people attending the College church.
A wise pastor never neglects the Sabbath school offerings for missions. There are some churches that prefer plaques on the wall giving the preceding week's offering. I find printing the figure in the bulletin does the same job of informing without the distraction to church architecture that a wall plaque may bring. The secret of reaching a gross goal, however, lies in the little kernel promotion that the teacher gives each Sabbath in his class. This personal offering call brings a thoughtful, liberal response.
Another bit of philosophy. Every month that goes by without any funds being remitted for capital improvements in your church is a month entirely wasted. Even if it is just twenty-five to fifty dollars that comes in, as you are in between programs, it will mean much. You will have money ahead for the expenses of running another campaign or for paying an architect.
Another unwritten law on church financing among ministers: Unless it be a very exceptional circumstance, never leave your successor with more than one year's building-fund obligations. He deserves to run a program of his own. He will rise up and call you blessed if you have the finances of the church in order. He will love you to the day you die if you leave him just a little amount to complete on any particular building-fund obligation. I heard of one conference president who had all funds tied up for his successor for four years. This kind of operation is not good for the financial record of the ministry.
Minister an Example
The minister should make his personal contributions as liberal as his budget allows. He should train his family to bring something to the house of God each Sabbath. He should welcome investigation of the church books by the conference treasurer as pertains to his contributions to the world program. He should avoid overpledging on a particular campaign, thus eliminating embarrassment when he cannot fulfill his pledge. He should be an "example of the believers" in relation to his ability to give.
Church operating funds are more important than capital funds. If you seriously cut into the operation of your church or school by a heavy capital program, you confuse the people and you are in trouble. The two must be kept separate and the former stressed. Don't let your people bite off more than they can chew! A building is completed in three to five years. Building is usually done once, but operation goes on continually.
The church school should be subsidized as much as possible from church expense, such subsidy making it truly a "church school" rather than a "patron school." The Spirit of Prophecy encourages all individuals who are members of the church to have a part in supporting the school. Keep your subsidy strong and your tuition as low as possible, thus making Christian education available to all.
You are the pastor. Keep your church clear financially and push ahead in a strong program that will bring out the greatest virtues that the church must have before she meets her coming Lord