You may or may not be surprised to find out that running a startup, any startup involves quite a bit of business. This includes Church plants son! You can’t get away from it. There are bills to pay and revenue to find. I know, I know. It all sounds so unspiritual. “What can be less spiritual than revenue and bills? Can’t we talk about vision or something?” Nope. The subject today is being responsible with finances. Here is the reason: If your bills outstrip your revenue, you go into the red. If you go too far into the red, your Church plant or ministry startup will fail. I know what you’re thinking, “It’s all too overwhelming!” That’s why I’m here to help.
#1 – Think Like a Businessman
You owe it to your ministry. Your ministry needs someone who does finances well. This means being down on the earth not up in the clouds. You have to think about finances dispassionately. This can be hard at times. You may have big dreams and you want to make them happen now. To state the obvious, if you spend money on programs hoping that the revenue to support it will come in at some point, you are taking a big risk. Take too many risks and you will deep-six your ministry under a mountain of dept. We are called by God to trust in Him but we are not called to go into debt. We are, in fact, warned not to explicitly. (Pr. 22:7) How do you not go into debt? It’s easy: Spend what you make, no more. If you do go into debt, it has to be for a good reason, you have to know you can pay the bills even in bad times and you must evaluate all of this with the dispassionate strategic mind of a businessman. You owe it to your ministry not to let your dreams rule finances. Sometimes it is okay to wait on your dreams.
Passion also comes in when the bills stack up and the pressure builds. Panic leads to bad decisions. You may have a “sacred cow” program you don’t want to close. Don’t let your emotions rule you. Be ruthless when it comes to your sacred cows. Be smart. Separate yourself from the situation. I know a friend who went through hard times during the housing crisis. He had this down to a tee. Housing prices were crashing and he lost his job. Many people in his same position tried to hold onto their house and went into foreclosure. Not him. He sold his house early on. It was the house his kids grew up in. He move out and moved down into a much smaller and cheaper house. It was a big step back. That had to hurt. He held onto that house, though. When he got a new job a year later, he was able to buy a house equivalent to the one he lost. He was ruthless and dispassionate with his finances. That is what I’m talking about. You must be ruthless and dispassionate as well. Sometimes you cannot save a program and you will have to let it go.
#2 Get Yourself a Treasurer
Responsibility in non-profit finances means two eyes on every check. That means you, Mr. Joe Church planter, cannot be handling the finances. You need to get someone else to do it. Find someone responsible, who wants to be involved. If they are a CPA, bonus! The key, though, is that it is someone else. This person will make sure you stay on budget. This will also deal with the passion issue. A Treasurer has no interest in any program. A Treasurer can separate themselves from all other considerations and make sure the entire venture is on secure fiscal ground. I recommend not getting your cousin Henry who has declared bankruptcy three times to handle your finances. Make sure they are good with the books.
Eventually you may want to hire a bookkeeper. A Treasurer is still needed. The Treasurer is the one responsible for the finances. There is a whole lot more to that than keeping the books. Make sure you get a bookkeeper that knows non-profit finances as it is a bit different than for-profit or personal bookkeeping.
#3 Seek Revenue
“What!?” you say, “You capitalist swine! This is a ministry, not a business! We’re not in it for the money!” I know that. You still have to pay the bills. Revenue may seem unspiritual but if you want to get to the point where real, true field ministry is done, you will have to pay those bills. There are only two ways to work towards being in the black. 1. Limit your expenses. 2. Raise more revenue. Do both. If your revenue is donations, fundraise. Get more donors. If your revenue is from giving from the congregation, be intentional about expanding that congregation and making sure they know the Biblical view of giving. Don’t short yourself on paying attention to this. Don’t think you are seeking profit. If you are a non-profit you can’t by definition seek profit. That extra revenue will go towards a fiscally stable ministry, though. When you get extra, you get the funds for other important ministry items. This may all seem unspiritual but funding will make the difference between planting a secondary Church or not, between doing a mission trip or not and so on.
This is by no means everything you need to know. It is a start. Hopefully it is a good start. Planting a Church, starting a ministry is a complicated business but it is one you can do and do well. May God bless you in your efforts.