I recently led a dialogue of church leaders on this subject. A lot of churches really suffered financially in 2011. It seems the long term effects of the recession are still being felt (and will be for some time to come). The reality for most churches is that circumstances will never return to the way they were in the “good old days”.
To prepare for the discussion, I read “Ministry in Hard Times” by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian http://preview.tinyurl.com/7v62ztn. I always love Easum’s writing. He doesn’t pull any punches. What I like about this particular book is the focus on investing in those ministries that will grow our churches. All too often, our reaction in hard times is only to cut back spending. That never strengthens the church. Their prescription is to make the necessary cuts early enough in the crisis to be able to refocus some of that spending on the areas they believe should always be increased during hard times.
Their list of “Always Increase” items include: Worship, Children’s Ministry, Evangelism, Marketing, Continuing Education, Volunteer Ministries, Small Groups, and Spiritual Formation.
They call for investing more on building up leaders within the church who can, on a voluntary basis, do a lot of ministry that the church has been paying staff to do.
I always come back to Jim Collins’ “hedgehog concept”. Here is my paraphrase: We need to focus on what we are passionate about, that we can do well, and that can grow our church. Hard times will force us to cut out a lot of fluff, and a lot of ineffective ministries that don’t fit those three simple criteria. The good news is that the church of Jesus Christ has survived a lot worse.