Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Leading a Church in Challenging Financial Times


This is the topic of my latest entry in the Patheos Preachers Portal. It’s appropriate for all church leaders, I believe, not just for “preachers.” Here’s the beginning of the article:

In the last month, I’ve spoken with several pastors and elders whose
churches face formidable financial challenges. In fact, it seems like
almost every church leader with whom I speak these days is wrestling, or
has recently wrestled, with the implications of our struggling economy.
Most churches have already eliminated programs and laid off staff. Many
are facing even more downsizing, and cuts in mission and benevolence.


be clear. It is neither fun nor easy to be a church leader in times
like these. Not that pastors and lay ministers respond to God’s call
because it offers pleasure or leisure. I realize this. But it can be
especially painful, stressful, and discouraging to lead a church when
valued ministries and colleagues have to be excised. It can cause you to
doubt yourself, your calling, and even God.

I lived through
something like this during my first years as Senior Pastor of Irvine
Presbyterian Church. The economy in the early 1990s was in a downswing,
especially in Orange County, California, where real estate development
had ground to a halt. The church had lost quite a few members in the
years before I arrived, which added to the financial pressures on our
budget. I remember waking often in the middle of the night, worrying
about how we could cut our budget and still keep our faithful staff. I
would pray, hoping to receive “the peace that passes understanding” and
return to sleep. But, mostly, my penchant for preoccupation defeated my
efforts at intercession.


If you’re going through something like
I’ve just described, either as an ordained pastor or as a lay leader in
your church, I thought I might share a few words of encouragement.
Beyond commiseration, I might be able to offer something to help you
find God’s presence and guidance in this time.

First . . . .

You can read the rest of the column here. And while you’re at it, check out some of the other articles by the “preachers.” Good stuff here!!

  • Ray

    This is a great topic. I hope there is more to follow, because it is so relevent.
    I once served on a pastor search committee, and a candidate we were interviewing asked a very good question about why our budget spiked up one year, then back down to previous levels for the current year. One of our memebers didn’t miss a beat. She answered, “Well, I reckon we had way too much faith last year.” Funny answer, but it brings up a great point about the tension between faith in God to provide and the hard reality of our circumstances.
    I have been a part of our finance & budget committee for about 10 years, and during that time our congregation has been through some challenges. We had a couple of senior pastor changes over a relatively short period of time, and we lost a significant number of members over a three year period. Our giving dropped about 17%. Luckily, for us, we were overstaffed for our size and were able to make the adjustment through natural attrition as an associate pastor accepted a call to another church as senior pastor/head of staff. We had another staff position that was vacant and were able to eliminate it without affecting anyone’s livelihood. Pretty painless how it worked out for us, but it could have been absolutely devestating. It’s never easy to downsize.
    I think our situation is probably typical of a lot of congregations these days in terms of our budget structure. Here is how we break out:
    Personnel – 50%
    Debt service – 20%
    Buildings/maintenance/untilities – 15%
    Mission & EVERYTHING else – 15%
    So, you see…where are we going to cut anything? 85% of our spending is, for all practical purposes, fixed – at least through the short term. We could get rid of people, default on our debt, let the building fall down, and quit using electricity. We could eliminate every bit of programming and ministry from our budget and STILL not have been able to absorb the 17% reduction in giving we experienced a few years ago. We were definitely in God’s care through those times, considering what really could have happened.
    Here’s the good news though. Our congregation is roughlly 35% smaller than it was prior to our “dark days”, but our giving is now back to within 5% of where it was before all that happened. I can’t explain it, but I’m thankful for it.
    Looking forward to more on this topic (hopefully).

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