When my husband and I came to a new church plant immediately after seminary, we knew there were going to be some financial challenges for the small congregation. They had only 10 members and about 40 attending, including children. But they were a devoted, expansive-minded people, which gave us hope for the future of the church. And they offered us a livable wage, which was extremely important for a family of five. Because of their commitment, the church thrived in those early years. People gave sacrificially and the church grew.
The problem came several years in. We had grown by that point to around 200 people and had rented a larger, more expensive facility to hold everyone. And in the earliest days of the church, the pastor's office was in our home, but it soon became clear that this was less than ideal since the church needed a secretary and extra space for Sunday school. So when office space opened up across the street from the community center where we met, it seemed the perfect solution.
But as any church plant grows, the congregation's commitment to that church diminishes. The 200 did not feel as invested and determined to see the church grow as the original 40 who liberally gave of their time and money and who had a clear vision for the church. So after several months of increased expenses, our budget began to run in the red.
As a result, my husband gave a sermon on giving, but the amount that people gave was not enough to solve our financial woes. After praying about it, my husband told everyone at the next business meeting that the church would give up the office space and secretary, and that he'd move the office back into our home. Most people in the business meeting began to nod in agreement until one of the church founders stood to his feet and gave an impassioned speech about how it grieved him to see the church go backward rather than forward. He challenged everyone there to dig deep and see how they might be able to give sacrificially so that the church could keep the office. The atmosphere in the room changed immediately, and they unanimously agreed to find a way to keep the office.
We learned at least three things about ministry and money through that experience.
When church leaders sacrifice, it's a powerful example.
The fact that my husband offered to give up something for the sake of the church was powerful. His attitude of humility and willingness to sacrifice for the church moved the congregation in ways that cajoling and making everyone feel guilty never would have. It's important for the pastor to also cast vision, but if that vision seems to profit him more than the felt needs of the congregation, it is often perceived as selfish. On the other hand, if the leaders are visibly willing to give up something important to them, the people in the church take note.
We found this same principle to be true in other situations. When our church again hit financial difficulty in the downturn of 2008, my husband asked the church to freeze his salary since we had enough to live on. This stance on his salary challenged the people of the church once again to give sacrificially. Most people in the congregation realized they had more than enough to live on and began to increase their giving. The desire to give faithfully overcame their fear of the nation's economic woes.
Lay leadership is vital in raising ministry funds.
Because my husband took the humble position of sacrifice, the way was open for lay leaders to champion his cause. His willingness to give up something valuable to him opened the door for others to speak up, and in so doing challenged people to give in a way that he could not urge them to. Unless those who are not paid staff wholeheartedly embrace the ministry that needs funds, it's simply not going to happen. But if at least a few lay leaders who are respected in the church take up the cause as their own, the rest of the congregation takes note.
We found this to be true when we finally moved out of the community center and raised funds to build a church home. As the senior pastor, my husband led the charge, but he also stepped back and gave lay leaders a platform to make their case for why we needed to build. Their impassioned pleas were more powerful than the paid staff's voices ever could have been.
Hearts must be touched for people to give sacrificially.
All of this led to the realization that generally people do not give unless their hearts are moved. When we hit that first crisis over the church office, we discovered that people in our church were extremely generous, but they had been giving to other things that tugged at their heartstrings more. When the church founder similarly tugged at their hearts, they responded immediately. They had to be convinced that what they were giving to was worthwhile. At the surface, a church office did not stir any passion in them for giving. But when it was put into context of where the church needed to go in order to have an impact in the community and the world, people responded.
Let me add a final word of caution. None of these things can be manufactured. The pastor's willingness to sacrifice, the lay leaders' passion for the cause, and hearts that are moved to give must be sincere. Anything artificial will be recognized as such and ultimately hurt the church much more than advance its cause. Remember that in raising funds, we must have a sincere desire to advance Christ and his kingdom more than to obtain an end result.
JoHannah Reardon has had experience as a women's ministry director, a pastor's wife, and a longtime church leader. She blogs at johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and two devotional guides.