40%. That’s the number I keep hearing from pastors around the country. “We are down 40% in attendance.” Even as COVID declines and states are beginning to open back up, church attendance is still down in most major U.S. cities. Maybe you’re the exception. If so, thank God and keep rolling. But most of us are dealing with a minor crisis right now, especially as we near the end of the year.
For many of us, December is our biggest giving month. For some it can account for as much as 30% of the annual budget. Will this year pay off the way previous years have? While there is no way to know for sure, my expectation is that things will be tighter than normal. So what do we do?
First, plan, don’t panic.
It’s still early November and there is time to make a good plan. Your plan needs to include two things: Right-sized expectations and a compelling ask. I can almost guarantee you that this year will not be your biggest giving year on record. A good rule of thumb might be to take your average monthly giving over the last quarter and expect 1.5x that in December. So for those of you who are math challenged (it’s why you are a pastor) – if you are averaging $10k/month, expect $15k. It’s better to set a goal that is optimistic yet reasonable than to overshoot in the name of faith.
Second, ask, don’t beg.
Your end of year ask cannot seem like a desperate boyfriend trying to get his girlfriend not to leave. Don’t be desperate, even if you feel that way. Make your ask about something compelling. As the age-old maxim says, people give to vision. Inspire your people, call them to something great and holy. Remind them that in spite of the last two years, God is still moving and building his church. Remind them that there is still work to be done, people to reach, Christians to disciple. Call them forward into something better, don’t guilt trip them into making up for lost giving.
Third, proact, don’t react.
I didn’t think proact was a word but I don’t see any red squiggly lines underneath so I’m rolling with it. If you are experiencing the 40% effect that everyone else is, 2022 is going to look different for your budget. How? Depends on your church and its needs. I’d start with staff. Who can you do without next year? Start off-boarding them now. What ministry budgets can be trimmed? Tell that leader now. Did you incur some overhead costs in the last two years as you pivoted to online that can be scaled back? Make a new online plan for 2022 and adjust your costs accordingly.
For me, I’m looking at all of these things. The challenge before us is also an opportunity. We have to be lean and mean and focused on what matters most. What dollars most directly contribute to our mission? Lean on those dollars and eliminate things that you can’t explain how they directly impact your ministry goals. Be ruthless – this is your opportunity and likely, your necessity.