In August I returned from sabbatical to the news that the church was barely able to pay our bills that month. This news was not a complete surprise - we had started 2018 with a healthy reserve but with a planned monthly deficit we knew that we would be using part of our reserve each month.
Since it may seem odd or unwise for a church to run a negative budget it bears repeating that we have done this intentionally because of generous outside funding from friends of the church who committed to assist us as we recalibrated after significant institutional changes over the last few years. These people believed in our ministry enough to help us make the changes that we felt necessary to continue doing ministry in our city.
However, after our denominational transition our internal funding recovered more slowly than we anticipated and so this August we found ourselves needing to align our operational budget more closely with expected regular giving.
Since we had already reduced our spending to what could be called “bare necessities” the only way we saw to do so while maintaining our core ministry was for me to transition into a part-time role. Since Intown has had a full-time pastor for the entirety of its existence and with me being in place her for nearly ten years we knew that this was going to be a big transition with a lot of ambiguity.
Ambiguity can be a recipe for anxiety so we committed to communicate regularly with the congregation through large-group meetings and emails. It has been a number of weeks since our last meeting so…
What’s the latest?
In August it looked like we would not have enough cash on hand to pay our staff the following month. So, we decided that after paying Matt and Jillianne and meeting other non-discretionary expenses that I would be paid out of whatever was leftover. However, given this news the Intown congregation - including a number of relatively new people - gave above and beyond and we were able to meet all of our financial obligations in September.
And in October, as unlikely as it once seemed we were able to pay all our bills with internal giving.
Since then we’ve received about $35,000 in outside gifts which gives us some options that we didn’t have back in August.
Now for a few observations:
One of the practical financial challenges is that even though our attendance has returned to what it was prior to our transition to the RCA, our giving-per-attendee has not. We don’t believe this is because people are less willing to give but less able. Our congregation is generally younger, less “churched”, and a significant portion is still connecting with our community. And yet, over the last few months this congregation has seen the need and responded with abundance! What a joy it is to pastor people like this.
There are people who don’t directly benefit from the ministry of Intown Church who are writing substantial checks to underwrite our mission and saying, “what you are doing there is important and we want to help!” Incredible!
Pastors often worry that large gifts will demotivate internal-giving but I think that it’s just as likely to do the opposite - that Intowners might continue giving sacrificially BECAUSE they know that complete strangers are willing to sacrificially care for them!
$35,000 does change the timeline and open up new possibilities but it doesn’t change the underlying fundamentals. We still have to address our monthly deficit by an increase in internal giving, a reduction of my hours/salary, or a combination of both.
We are monitoring the financial variables and believe that we are stable through January without a significant structural change but that wisdom would lead us to prepare for doing ministry a bit differently in the new year.
There will be more forthcoming about this, but it at this point it means that I’m continuing to look for part-time work that could replace my potential loss of salary. However, having seen our reserves grow over the last few months I can do so more strategically instead of with excessive urgency. We also have some time to carefully plan for multiple contingencies while cultivating new internal and external giving.