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Make the most of your assets

17 October 2014

We are facing another year of struggles with money and stewardship issues. Is there a way to break out of the struggle?

I WONDER if, like many families before the recession, we grew to consider many luxuries to be necessities. Realistically, though, I find that most churches are profligate only with tiny sums, such as paper for notice sheets. Saving paper will not make a significant difference, but you should review your planned spending and ensure that it is all justified.

How much would you need to increase your income in order to stop having to worry about shortfalls - at least for a while? By 15 per cent? More? Review your budget and past accounts, and consider whether there are sources that are not at present well tapped.

Stewardship by the congregation may be a potential source of increase. Are most people still giving the kind of sums that they gave a decade ago? An impassioned exhortation seems to produce little change, as we are all accustomed to fending off impassioned sales pitches, but a considered explanation of the state of the finances and of realistic levels of giving will almost always bear fruit.

A structured approach, as in the stewardship programme TRIO, in Southwark diocese, has historically produced an average 15-per-cent increase in giving, and is re-usable in future years. It facilitates a well-prepared and well-presented case for increased giving.

Ad hoc donations may be a small item on the income side, but can they be increased? At every event in the church, is there an explanation of how much it costs to run the church, and how each individual can help? At each event, display only the relevant information (take away all the other posters and leaflets), and place a donation envelope on each seat. Have a donations bowl as the congregation leaves, if possible held by a friendly-looking person who says "Thank you." On your envelope, print, for example, "It costs £30 per hour to run this church; please help with your donation." Unless you explain the current level of cost, people will not realise that a larger donation is more appropriate.

It goes without saying that every stewardship programme should also hand the church's legacy leaflet to every person who attends regularly, and everyone on the church electoral roll. Use the Church of England's legacy leaflet as a model (apart from the uninspiring colours and line drawing), and you may become the recipient of a legacy to assist in the sustainability of the church in the future.

Spread the net wider. Most churches undercharge when letting out their church or hall. The set letting-rate should cover the real costs of using the building: utilities, maintenance, repair, cleaning, and administration. Take the overall cost of these items, divide it by the hours the church is in use, add ten per cent, and then you will be getting close to a realistic fee.

It is more than unreasonable to expect members of the Sunday congregation to subsidise the use of the church by community groups on weekdays, by having to meet more than their fair share of the costs. Set realistic and sustainable letting fees, and increase them each year by at least the percentage annual increase in the cost of utilities.

Remember, always, that discipleship is the underlying principle for our giving, and that enabling people to be good disciples through generous giving is part of their coming to maturity.

Issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com

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