Stewardship & Giving Through Crisis with Jim Sheppard

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In today’s live session, I interviewed Jim Sheppard, Principal at Generis and Tim Stevens, Vice President Consulting at Vanderbloemen about strategies, tools, and practical ways for churches to steward well during COVID-19.

Jim and Tim have provided leadership and consultation through multiple crises. They both agree that  the most important thing for leaders to remember during the COVID-19 crisis is the need to lead in excellence. From experience, Jim has learned that challenging seasons do subside and churches will bounce back, so while this season is a struggle, remember: it is only a season.

Being aware of the many challenges churches are facing, Jim shared three positive ways to approach leadership in the midst of this crisis: 

  • Welcome disruption. Even though the unexpected will shift your plans, it will help your church examine everything under a microscope. Sometimes your non-negotiables are not in alignment with your reality and they need to be adjusted. The skill of agility is invaluable, so see this as an opportunity to grow in adaptability.
  • Oftentimes a crisis tends to accelerate innovation and creativity. There has never been a more pressing time for churches to get creative with the way they operate than now. This is a chance for you to implement new technology and strategies and continue to reach your community (maybe even more powerfully).
  • Remember that God is faithful even now. Be led by the wisdom of God and be filled with peace and resilience in the midst of the unknown. Refer to scriptures where God has led faithful (and even unfaithful) leaders through their wilderness. He will do the same for you.

Churches and ministries with a decrease in giving

There are many churches that have begun setting their projections during this time. Tim mentioned that some churches are projecting their finances will increase and others are preparing for their finances to decrease. The most common occurrence amongst churches that Tim and Jim are noticing right now is, the foundation and culture of a church’s online giving system prior to COVID-19 is directly impacting their experience now. 

Jim mentioned the importance of an online giving system and the need to provide clear instructions to your community when you begin to implement it. People tend to like habits so if your members are used to giving with checks and cash, you want to make sure they know exactly how to give electronically as well.

Jim and Tim emphasized three practical ways to effectively give online: 

1. Anchor your key givers – Jim acknowledged the hesitation of churches when it comes to segmenting givers. However, he explained that churches typically have “giving leaders” and most of the time they are staff or volunteers. It is always good to pour into your staff and volunteers even when we are not facing a crisis, but this is also a perfect time to reach out to them.

Tip: Make it a priority to genuinely check on your key givers and make sure they are okay. Refrain from using this time to ask them for something. Chances are, if you notice a drop in gifts from your top givers, it’s as much on their mind as it is yours. Give them grace and love them through this challenging time.

2. Do your offering effectively in the online church environment – Jim shared the correlation he has seen between the quality of the online giving experience and church revenue. He encouraged churches to create a focused and special offering moment online. The fewer assumptions people have to make with online giving, the more comfortable they will become with the new ways of giving. It’s necessary for churches to have as many ways to give as possible. It may not be the most cost-efficient, but it is worth it to invest in the ways people will use the most. 

Tip: Create a slide with clear and specific instructions. If drop boxes are available at your church, be sure to provide that information for those who prefer to give by checks and cash. 

3. Communicate with your most engaged people – Make sure your community knows how to engage with your church. Utilize your social media pages, emails, and website so everyone will know how they can get in touch and stay informed with what your church is doing. This connection is important so your members can remain engaged and feel supported. If your church is not used to using a lot of technology, no better time to give it a try! 

Tip: Meet your congregation where they are while also being agile. Speed isn’t the main thing you need right now. Your church needs a sense of normalcy and consistency. 

Economic Crisis Awareness for Leaders

Although cutting staff is the one of the  first things that comes to mind during a crisis, Jim explained that it may not be the first step churches have to make. Measuring numbers is important, but you should also walk through different scenarios and map out all of your options to help you resist fast decision-making. Tim shared his understanding of the church’s tendency to overstaff which leaves them without financial reserves. Even in this situation, it is good to explore all additional options before cutting your church staff.

Balancing outside community needs with internal needs

In a crisis, it’s critical to  balance the community’s needs and your internal needs as an organization. In the middle of a global crisis, a lot of people don’t have extra capacity or are conserving their resources. In these times, it’s important not to push your congregation monetarily, but you can provide methods of fundraising or have your congregation get together to help the community in non-monetary ways.

Potential Reduction in Giving During COVID – 19

Jim talked about the reality that during previous global crises such as September 11, 2001, some churches needed a lot of time to recover from the financial blow and other churches  grew despite the crisis. Jim and Tim noted that churches who rebound the fastest typically have a clear vision and strong giving systems. That being said, churches should be aware that the giving culture of a church in a healthy, normal climate is a reflection of what will continue during a harder time.

Payroll and Reserves

If push comes to shove and hard decisions do need to be made, the church leaders will need to meet about what functions are  essential and what is more of a nice to have. Everyone at church is appreciated and every role is important however, some roles must go on, while others can be dropped if necessary. Jim shared another way to reduce costs through a story about a church that implemented a 10% cut across every role for the time being so that no cuts would have to take place. Reserves exist for this very reason. If you need to let someone go, then it’s best to do so while you can still provide some support for them.

Tip: It is best for churches to have at least three months of operating expenses in savings so you do not have to hit the panic button during a global crisis.

More resources for ministry and church leaders can be found at www.generis.com/COVID19 – Free 30-minute consultations are available to be scheduled. 

Don’t miss our upcoming Vanderbloemen Network LIVE sessions!