Is your church reeling from the recession? Do you break into a cold sweat every time you think about the budget? Does the church treasurer walk around with a numb expression and a glassy stare? Have you thought about buying some lottery tickets with the offering money and praying that God would let your church win the jackpot? Or maybe, on a more practical note, you’ve thought about fleeing to a big budget church that is out of the bone-grating grip of the recession?

Daydream no more. Here are a couple tips for how your church can survive a recession.

1. Think like the early church.

Do a mental rewind to about A.D. 30-40. This is the early early church period. Things were a lot different back then. But there was still a church. It didn’t have much money. They didn’t even have church buildings (gasp). A paid staff? You gotta be kidding. Padded seats? Try the floor. Things were stripped-down-plain-and-simple. But it was a church. A pretty good one. They had pastors, apostles, deacons, a lot of attendees, baptisms galore, and major working of the Spirit. But they kept things simple. Really simple.

We can squabble over whether the early church as described in the book of Acts is prescriptive or descriptive. Whatever you think, the principle holds true. There is nothing wrong with simplicity in the church. A church can be healthy without money. And can even thrive. What is important is that you determine necessity from nicety. Can you do church without new pews, a larger building, additional Sunday School rooms, free coffee, choir robes, hymnbooks, VBS, and even a church building? Doing an early-church throwback in 2010 is a bit radical, but it may be necessary.

The church is always necessary. Accouterments of tradition are not.

2. Make major faith-steps.

The American culture is built on a house of cards. It’s called the American Dream. The American Materialistic Dream has infiltrated the American Church, unfortunately. The result is churches big on debt, big on size, big on flash, big on pizzazz, and big on money. The result is that we’re big on problems. Part of the solution is kicking aside the faith-killing crutch of money and throwing ourselves into the arms of our loving heavenly Father.

We talk about giving our money to the poor, and then decide not to on the principle of  “being wise.” We talk about living in a dangerous part of town or the intercity slums for ministry purposes, then contrast that with “making a wise decision.” We consider adoption as a Christian ministry, then decide against it on principles of wisdom. Yes, there is a fine line between faith and stupidity, but where does our human wisdom end and faith begin?

Perhaps our wisdom, so called, needs to learn some lessons from the biblical ideal of faith in God. Like “Barnabus and Paul: men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:25-26). Like “Priscilla and Aquila: who for my life laid down their own necks” (Romans 16:3-4).

Okay, so what does this have to do with my church’s recession problem? Everything. Take steps of faith. Big ones. Pastor, refuse a salary. Sell the church building and move the church into people’s homes. Disband Sunday School and have small-group fellowships. Split the church, intentionally, and start a mission in a needy part of town.

3. Some detailed suggestions.

So maybe this doesn’t give you any direction on how you’re supposed to dodge the wrecking ball of the recession. Here are some specific suggestions.

  • Make a cost-effective media choice. Churches today communicate using media. In fact, using a projector instead of pew Bibles and hymnals is a cost-saving choice. Sharefaith helps you do that. A small investment in a Sharefaith membership is a money-saving decision. Start saving money this week.
  • Cut your salary by 15%. If you are a paid church staff member, can you do without 15% of your current income. Find ways to cut back and do it.
  • Hold fewer services. Opening up the church means spending money on utilities, especially during weather-extreme months. Save money by holding just one weekly service, and in lieu of midweek or evening services, meet in people’s homes. It takes a bit of administration on the front end, but the result will pay far more than just financial dividends. You will find that small group accountability will be a spiritual boost to many.
  • Depend on volunteers. If you’ve had to trim down paid church staff, don’t be afraid of soliciting volunteer help. There may be people in your church who will gladly minister if given the opportunity. Divvy up responsibilities, and solicit volunteer help.
  • “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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4 Responses

  1. Brian Lee

    Excellent article. I am brand new to blogging and have a section on my blog for churches. I would like to post this article on my blog as a helpful article. Can you help me with this?

  2. Florence Johnson

    I thank God for this article. Before moving to Texas my former church was small and on limited budget. Even before the recession I thought nothing of volunteering my time, money and effort to assist the church. That is how I found you. I payed to use your bulletin covers etc to do the weekly church bulletin every week. We shouldn’t have to wait for a recession to know that it is about service and love for the people of God and the love of the ministry that we are a part of. Will be joining again because I want to continue utilizing the services here.

    Thanks for such a timely article

  3. Sue Ellen

    It’s a ridiculous statement of yours that staff can do without 15% of their salary. I’ll cut 15% of mine (as a minister) if the people sitting in my pews cut the same amount out of their budgets and give it to the church as I am. All it would take is 1 meal and 1 golf game less a week for many of my folks…or 1 less weekend trip with their huge expensive RV’S. I have ministerial expenses on paper, but the money has never been there so I don’t submit receipts. I have to forgo our General Assembly because the money isn’t there to help. The problem isn’t always salary as much as it’s our people who CAN will not dig deeper … regardless that membership is growing and tha programs have the largest attendance ever. There you go … that’s what is happening in my church and I’m sure many smaller churches around the country. Church survival is not a proirity to many members as it was in the past.

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