By Paul Dickerson, Congregational President
Near the beginning of last summer, our church was in a position we hadn’t been in for some time. We were growing both in terms of sheer numbers as well as depth of discipleship. Our finances had vastly improved from where they had been just a few years before. We had started dreaming again about how to expand our ministry. And so we found ourselves looking to fill several staff positions that had remained vacant for years.
But this opportunity also created a difficult strategic dilemma. When is the right time to add staff? Do you fill the positions as soon as possible even if that means stretching the budget or pulling back on other spending plans? Or do you wait and run the risk of stalling growth due to understaffing.
After much prayer and debate both internally and at our Voters’ Meeting last summer, we decided to add staff immediately. As a direct result of that decision, we have Pastor Matt Hein leading us to take a fresh look at how we view and engage in discipleship.
We have re-invested in our building and grounds by hiring Chad Moyer as our facilities manager.
And we have Andrew Osborne working to continue to improve our web and video presence while at the same time serving in a direct ministry role with the youth at our St. Luke site. Three months into our fiscal year, these men have already proven to be valuable additions to our staff and blessings to the ministry of our church.
Yet, any difficult decision also has a downside to it. If there were no downside, it simply wouldn’t be a hard choice.
To get our anticipated revenues to match our anticipated expenses, I reluctantly presented a budget that called for all of our ministries to be funded at 80% of their requested amount, with a plan to review our financial position in January to see if we could then commit more funds to ministry. And our congregation reluctantly approved this plan.
I say reluctantly because I don’t think anyone was excited about what felt like cutting some of the most important things we do as a church. But at the same time, I think everyone recognized that filling the vacant staff positions and maintaining our commitment to a balanced budget was important for the long-term vision and growth of our congregation.
As a body, I believe we were hopeful that through the grace of God, generous giving, and wise stewardship we would be in a position to fully fund all of our ministries for the remainder of the year.
So that brings us to today. We have reached the quarter pole of our fiscal year. And while we are not yet ready to make a decision on increasing the funding for our ministries, it seems a good time to pause and report on where we stand today. And the financial news is … mixed.
On the positive side, our expenses are down approximately 6.1% as compared to where we expected them to be after three months. This translates into a savings of nearly $25,000. Much of this is can be credited to good stewardship and planning by our staff and Administrative Board.
But on the negative side, our giving is also down 6.1% when adjusted for seasonal giving patterns. This means our congregation has raised approximately $23,000 less than we predicted we would have by this time in the year. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why our giving is lower than expected, but our staff and lay leaders are examining the available data to see what the culprit is.
So in fine Lutheran tradition, we ask: what does this mean? And again, the answer is mixed. It means that after the first quarter of the year we are just over $2,000 in the black. With giving down more than $20,000, we have still paid our mortgage and other bills, made payroll, and even had a little bit to spare.
Praise God! And we have reasons to believe that our cash position will continue to improve as the year goes on.
But the financial reports so far also indicate that if the current giving rates continue, we will not be able to increase the funding for our ministries in January as we had hoped. To do that, our giving needs to outpace our expenses by approximately $27,000 for the entire year. Right now we are on track to have a surplus of only $8,000.
The good news is that there is still more than enough time to change the current giving trends. We have only completed the first quarter, which means there are three quarters left in the year to give. And, because we are a multi-site church there are a bevy of opportunities to support our ministries through giving.
In fact, the St. Luke-Ann Arbor site “Gardens for Growth” already raised over $1,700 this year to help cover shortfall in our ministry budget! So generous hearts and visionary giving are having a direct influence on our mission as a multisite!
What else can you do to support our mission and ministry?
The most common way to partner in our mission is simply placing money in the offering plate each week as it is passed. These funds go directly into our general budget and pay for our mortgage, building repairs and upkeep, staff wages and benefits and are distributed amongst our ministries according to the approved ministry plan.
Another way to support our ministry would be to support the Common Cup: you could buy a cup of coffee, fresh coffee beans, or even some merchandise (we have travel mugs and t-shirts!) to support our college student ministry.
You can also invest in the future of our Living Water site by donating to the land fund: it has grown by over $5,000 since July! God’s people are generous! Or you could give to dozens of other specific ministries such as youth scholarships for Mexicali, our ministry to the homeless, or our ministry to special needs children and their families.
Another concrete way to participate generously in our joint mission is to attend the Spaghetti Dinner on November 16, 5:00-7:00 PM at the St. Luke-Ann Arbor site. We recently had a major unexpected repair at our ULC site (you can read about it here). In a generous response to this need, the Michigan District has agreed to cover part of the cos,t and Angel Food Catering offered to donate food for a benefit dinner.
Joining us for food and fellowship on November 16, and giving generously, will help us stay on track with our mission and ministry! Stay tuned for more information about that dinner to come in the days ahead.
I am confident that there is something for everyone in our community to support, both financially and with their service. Please prayerfully consider how God is asking you to partner with Him through His church to advance His kingdom by sharing the love of Jesus with those who do not yet know Him and discipling those who do into a deeper faith and love for our Lord.