Friday, August 29, 2008

Staying the Course in Changing Economic Times

What should a leader do in 2008 as change swirls and carefully prepared goals for the ministry seem threatened? Who could have predicted the disruptions that would be caused by $4.00 gas prices, shrinking home values, a stock market in decline, which impacts 403(b) and 401(k) retirement accounts, rising unemployment and the specter of inflation raising its ugly head after many years of not being a major factor.

As consumer confidence drops, how far behind can be donor withdrawal? I pray it will not be so. But now is the time to revisit mission strategies and prepare for operating in an environment we haven’t seen for quite awhile.

There is no scriptural promise that is conditioned on the economy. God’s Word never changes and it declares Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Christian leaders and donors who lived during the Great Depression probably understood that better than today’s generation.

All through history, whether in good times or bad, the Church of Jesus Christ has endured every hardship as God placed His hand on men and women who partnered together to meet the needs of their day and proclaim the “good news” of the Gospel.

Think of this: Today’s ministries have tools at their disposal that no previous generation has had. The ability to communicate quickly and efficiently, to analyze and plan and to put creative ideas into action has never been better. But they all must be carried out in the framework of time tested biblical principles.

A common tendency in addressing income shortfall is to simply increase fund-raising activity. It’s one thing to make donors aware of a need or situation—it is something else to engage in manipulative, guilt-trip or “gimmicky” tactics. God does not need that kind of help. The recent published book, Revolution in Generosity, edited by Dr. Wes Willmer (available from ECFA or your local Christian bookstore), underscores the promise that there is no shortage with God.

If you haven’t reviewed your operational costs lately, now is a good time. Strong income covers operating inefficiencies and mistakes while weak income exposes them.

For most churches and charities, many dollars spent have been donated. Be sure that certain costs such as travel and other visible spending don’t convey a poor image to your donors or the public. Revisit expansion plans; it is not unspiritual to delay or change direction when conditions indicate an unwise risk to the basic mission of the ministry.

Ask board members to join together in prayer with and support of the CEO and staff. Scripturally, there is protection in the wise counsel of many. Times of challenge are an opportunity for a team to pull together!

Today’s environment suggests a possible cycle that has occurred before—a tighter economy resulting in lower contributions at the very time that charitable needs increase. This is an election year with change in the air for 2009 and beyond regardless of who is elected to federal, state and local offices. New tax laws, tightened charity regulation and cultural changes could all impact your ministry. Plan now for various possibilities, including building partnerships, to reach your goals.

Most of all, acknowledge one more time that the ministry to which God has called you exists for His glory. Avoid turning your faith into presumption. At the same time, don’t be afraid to exercise your faith by stepping out of the box and taking prudent risks to accomplish some extraordinary things for God and His Kingdom. As has been said, “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”