LESSON 30 OF 40 – 7 Ways to Avoid a Financial Train Wreck
Financial derailment of a church is usually a collective failure, but the finger almost always points back to the governing board.
I completely agree with everything that John and Dan have said and would only add one thought. The need for sound financial management in churches is driven in part by the willingness of church members to kibitz, attempt to micro-manage and, at times, criticize. We tend to deal with our churches as if management of the entity itself is the goal. In doing so, we think too highly of the organization and too little of the mission.
In the healthiest churches I’ve seen, the members are bound to one another and to their leadership by a clear understanding of a common vision. In that sense, they are all friends of the type C. S. Lewis describes in The Four Loves. That sense of a shared vision, of shared ministry, is tremendously powerful and, at times, has financial implications. One brief example will do.
We were members for a number of years of a very large church. One year, the church had a substantial year-end deficit. So the pastor sent out a short email to the members, telling them of the shortfall. Susan and I were in church the following Sunday as the church celebrated receiving more than two and one-half times the shortfall—all in cash donations members hand-delivered to the church—just that week. The average donation was less than $100.
We were blessed to witness the spontaneous response of a congregation with a heart-felt understanding of their church’s ministry. John and Dan’s financial guidance is hugely important. Their advice will find its best application in those churches whose members enthusiastically embrace a common vision. With that, amazing things are possible.
BOB FRY is an investment advisor, writer, private equity investor, Bible study teacher and Senior Gift Advisor with the National Christian Foundation of California. He is also the author of Nonprofit Investment Policies: Practical Steps for Growing Charitable Funds, and Who’s Minding the Money? An Investment Guide for Nonprofit Board Members. Bob lives in the San Francisco bay area with his wife, Susan, where they are near their two daughters and their four grandchildren. (They love their son in Texas and may yet end up there—when he someday has children!) Unlike many men in their 60s, Bob has largely given up golf in favor of full-court pick-up basketball, where his younger fellow players often observe, “he sure runs hard for an old guy!”
• Ask each board member to describe what the church does well and why people attend.
• Then have each board member ask their friends in the congregation that same question.
• Compare the answers and correct as needed!
• Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, Lesson 30, “7 Ways to Avoid a Financial Train Wreck.”
• Inspire your board members to enrich their governance competencies at the ECFA Excellence in Governance Forums (eight cities, Fall 2019).
NEXT WEDNESDAY: On Sept. 18, 2019, watch for the commentary by Cathy Barrett on Lesson 31, “Watch Out for Boards Asleep at the Wheel. Golden opportunities are missed when a board’s eyes are wide shut.”