Wherever I go in my consulting work I ask, “How do you keep track of membership and financial data?” More times than not the answer is, “We use (whatever software vendor) but it doesn’t really work all that well for us.” Since managing financial and membership data effectively is crucial, how can we avoid this all-too-common problem in the lives of congregations?
Welcome to the unknown—the one place we are most afraid of.
We all cope with anxiety in our own way—some of us by getting angry, some by withdrawing, and some, apparently, by hoarding toilet paper! Fortunately, some of us, including many of my colleagues in ministry, are coping by moving toward the danger and figuring out new ways to worship and serve in the midst of a pandemic. I am so impressed with the way you imagine new things and learn from each other in these difficult times!
Everybody knows that congregations require money, and most leaders know that to receive gifts, you usually have to ask for them. But sometimes donors offer gifts without being asked. This is a good thing—usually! But unasked-for gifts often have strings attached. Accepting them blindly risks letting donors choose the congregation’s course. Paradoxically, one of the most effective ways to encourage gifts is to adopt clear policies about when you will say no to them.
New information technologies pose new challenges and opportunities for congregations and all other institutions. While many congregations have fallen behind the times, others have found effective ways to tell their stories, reach new people and live out their mission using social media, apps, the internet, news media, music platforms, and websites.
Congregations are often confused about the power dynamics of supervision. Supervisors know they are supposed to ensure good performance. At the same time, supervisors want to model compassionate, kind, collaborative behavior. Employees want to know what is expected of them but don’t like being controlled or micromanaged. Congregants don’t want anyone abusing power. It’s tough to put all those expectations together into one supervisory approach.
Many congregations belong to and support denominations, both financially and through their leaders’ service on denominational boards, committees, and teams. The identity of many congregations remains rooted in denominational affiliation: Methodists still feel a strong tie to John Wesley; Presbyterians to the basic principles of Calvinism, and so on. But denominations have become less important to congregations and their leaders, and face declining revenue as a result. How might regional and national bodies become more effective in the future?
I was asked recently to speak to a smallish, bedroom-community congregation about what ministers are looking for when considering a new call. The answer is complex, and often has to do with circumstances over which the congregation has no control—cost of living, cultural opportunities, athletic facilities—but I believe that virtually all candidates for ministry are hoping to serve a healthy congregation.