Just Treading Water, Part 3

Sorry for the delay in posting to my blog.  I have had a bad cold, and trying to think critically [or think at all!]  has been difficult.

Back to my topic of Just Treading Water isn’t Enough, or congregations that create and sustain a sense of urgency.

In my last entry, I wrote about congregations that seize opportunities as new ones come their way. Today, I’ll tell you about a congregation that was creative in the face of great challenges.

I heard this congregation’s story at a meeting I attended recently. Here’s what happened: This small congregation had an part-time office person/bookkeeper who had been with them for several years. They also had a relatively new treasurer. Over the course of the last couple of years, the office person’s work became less and less effective. It turns out that she had the beginnings of some dementia, which they learned after she left her position.

Over the same period, the Board had difficulty getting current financial figures from the treasurer. The treasurer was trying hard to keep up with the work, but over time, he fell farther and farther behind, and he rejected offers of help from others. The Board members didn’t want to press someone who seemed to be trying so hard, so they let things slide.

The end result was that the Board learned recently that the office assistant had made numerous mistakes in bookkeeping, the treasurer was struggling with personal issues and totallyl overwhelmed,  and the church’s reserves — about $30,000 — had all been used up. There was no malfeasance — the money had been used legitimately to pay bills — but the treasurer hadn’t informed the Board that church operations were using more money than was coming in, and their reserves were gone.

So the Board was faced with a crisis. They wanted to move forward on a number of things — increasing the hours for their part-time minister, adding a few hours for their part-time religious educator — but they were very concerned about the church’s finances, as well as the reaction from the congregation once the news about the finances hit.

Well – the Board decided to get proactive. They informed the congregation about the financial situation and assured them they were working on it. They asked a former treasurer to work with the treasurer to go back over the finances, make corrections as needed, and bring things up to date.

Some Board members and other leaders donated money to a special fund, which could be drawn on, as needed, by the church over the next few years, with the money to be repaid to the members over time.

And the Board asked church members to make a “13th month pledge payment” — giving an additional month of pledge payments to end the fiscal year. Almost all of the members participated, which is a testament to their loyalty to the church and their confidence that the Board was handling this situation effectively.

In the end, the church was able to continue to move forward, put better financial practices in place, and get through this period of challenge.

In this case, the urgency wasn’t created by the leadership; it was thrust upon them. With careful discernment about their situation and what might be done about it, the Board communicated openly and effectively with the congregation, who responded with generosity and understanding.

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