This series covers a few of the items I discussed with a group of school superintendents back in April, for more background see this post.
Before I get into this post let me say – The economic recession in this country has been hard. While some areas of the country are faring ok, the impact in other areas has been a huge adjustment. Personally, I had to let go of a third of our team last year due to economic factors. They were good folks doing good work. It was very painful.
And for my international friends, yes I know it has been even more difficult in other parts of the world than in the US.
I was asked by the superintendents: How have these megachurches dealt with the recession?
My answer was – It has been a blessing to many of them. It all depends on how you look at it.
They were stunned.
Let me say that I am not in favor of recessions or pain. On some levels these adjustments have created a lot of pain in our whole society as we adjust to a “new normal.” But the leaders who are proactive in dealing with it will be more healthy than those that don’t.
A few observations:
- Many of our clients began tightening down on expenditures three years ago. They slowed down expansions of staffs. They delayed certain capital projects. They began adjusting budgets. When the real dip came, they were better prepared. I think smaller churches lived in the hope that the hard times would not come and continued on until the hard times came, which makes it harder and more of a struggle.
- Many of our clients used this as a time of re-evaluation of all parts of their ministry. To put it bluntly, they stripped away a lot of things they determined were not essential going forward. Many beloved and useful programs got the ax. But those “deaths’ positioned the church better for the future.
- There was a renewed sense of stewardship and generosity. I say this on two levels. One is corporate. Budgets were often pared to percentages of last year’s giving with opportunity funds on deposit to take advantage of special projects that were developed. And wise churches developed ways for their congregations to be more generous with local community projects that were suffering even worse than their churches. There is nothing like a money crisis to focus people on their own stewardship and many churches took that opportunity to disciple people in this area.
As the school superintendents talked with me, they spoke of niche programs that had been around for a dozen years that were at one time great, but now had low energy, low returns and low involvement, but they had a constituency that knew how to work the system.
Ditto large churches (and small ones too for that matter.) But now, if you cut it and tell the truth that this program has to go so more general programs can continue, people will understand it better now than a few years ago.
Budget shortfalls, which school systems are in way worse shape than churches, create opportunities to cut non essential stuff and restructure with political cover and understanding from many constituents IF YOU WILL BEAR THE PAIN AND OUTRAGE for a short season.
I don’t wish a recession on anyone. I would hat to be a school superintendent having to cut 10s of millions of dollars from the future budgets.
But let’s face it. It has to be done and most people will understand.